A Guide to the Well-Written Text by Jan K., The Proofer. Part 2:
In Part 1, I gave you some ideas on how to write your text. When your text is finished, you will need to review it in order to spot the flaws, correct the errors and put a final coat of polish on your good work. In the publications industry this process is called “proofreading.”
I’m not going to bother with the minutiae of grammar and punctuation. Presumably, you faithfully use your spellchecker program. This will correct misspellings and point out some basic grammatical flaws. Remember to add words to the computer’s dictionary that are unique to your topic so that the spellchecker will continue to check your article-specific terms for accuracy.
However, spellchecker programs cannot catch everything—that’s where proofreading comes into play. In the “best-case scenario” you will hire a professional proofreader to perform this service. You are too close to the work. Inside your brain you know what you think you’ve written. You will not necessarily read what you’ve written. An objective pair of eyes can read your text and spot the errors that your subjective eyes may have never seen. A proofreader who is also a good copyeditor will help you sweep away any cobwebs that might cling to your work by suggesting anything from minor sentence re-writes to a complete restructuring of a paragraph.
In the “real-world scenario,” you may not have the luxury of hiring someone to perform this task. Below are a few tips and guidelines for how to proofread your own work, a task that should always be done before you commit your written word to its final use.
PROOFREADING YOUR OWN WORK
The best tip I can offer is that you never write and proofread your work on the same day. Your brain has a powerful short-term memory and you are too likely to “read what you want to read” rather than read what is actually there. So, write your masterpiece and then let it rest overnight. Busy yourself with other tasks, do a little reading for pleasure, or get out to play a round of miniature golf. Come back to your text when you are fresh—not rushed, not tired—and when you are ready to spend some time on reviewing the words.
Read your work in dis-ordered pieces. When you read your own text from start to finish, you tend to get a little cavalier with it, especially toward the end. You are still so familiar with your work that you know what comes next, and you may start glossing over text. So read segments of your work out of order. Read the middle, then read the introduction, go to the end and then read the first portion. Just be sure to read it all. Trust your brain to note any inconsistencies that might be in the overall work.
As you read, if you find that you have “stumbled” over a particular sentence—that is, something about the sentence made you skip or stop—then re-read the sentence aloud. Put your finger under each word and read it slowly. You might find that there is a word missing or that you started one thought but finished another. It might just need a little bit of re-writing to polish it up and have it make better sense.
Finally, when you think your work is done, have someone else read it from scratch, preferably someone who doesn’t know what you are writing about. This “objective” reader might find some weak spots that you didn’t catch. It may be difficult, at first, to accept criticism of your work, but remember this is how your readers will see it. So, when objective criticism comes your way, evaluate it for exactly what it is and see if there are any changes that should logically be made to your text.
So now you’ve written a well-ordered and logical text. You’ve proofread it and you’ve asked for an objective opinion. You’ve no doubt changed a number of things, some minor and possibly some major re-writes, and you’ve improved your own good work. You are now on your way to mastering the art of writing effectively!
Jan K., The Proofer is a full-time freelance proofreader and copyeditor. In business since 1995, she has enjoyed working for a diverse world-wide clientèle, covering subject matter including academic research, medical law, consumer surveys, and self-help materials. Please visit janktheproofer.com for more information. All rights reserved.