My Two Cents

Why you should battle the proofreading ogre and how to manage the war

by Jan 3, 2012Writers3 comments

Proofreading is so much more than reviewing text for errors.

It is a masochistic activity that follows close on the heels of the euphoria of producing your final draft. It is an ogre that demands you subject yourself to a mind-numbing, euphoria-fizzling, eye-blearing, ego-destroying evil. Over and over again.

Why take on the battle? Why subject yourself to something that is guaranteed to reduce you to a whimpering shell of a writer? Something that will change you from that person who shouted “I did it! I finished the manuscript and it rocks!” to a sniveling, dull-eyed penitent who admits, “I can’t spell, punctuate or marry a noun to a verb to save my soul.”

There are plenty of reasons to take on the proofreading ogre. Here are four:

  • Proofreading will catch many typographical mistakes. The computer spell-check program won’t catch all of them – it won’t pick up homonyms that are really typos, it might not detect the missing period at the end of a sentence, or the closing quotation mark, and it won’t alert you to the sentences that don’t make any sense at all because you inadvertently cut too much when you moved a section of text. But it will get you 90% there. The other 10% is up to you or another human proofreader.
  • It could save your query or submission from the garbage can. How many agents and editors have you heard say: “Please send me your queries with all the typos and mistakes. I love to read garbage?” None. How many have you heard say: “I put garbage in the garbage can. Quickly.” Every one of them.
  • Your manuscript deserves every chance you can give it. You have worked on your manuscript for a long time, perhaps years. The agent or editor may still reject your submission, but by presenting it in the correct format and free of typos and grammar errors, you give it a fighting chance. It’s your baby – are you going to send it out into the world without the protective sheen that proofreading can give it?
  • You owe it to yourself. You are not a sloppy writer; you are not a lazy writer. You are a talented writer, one who cares about the product. You do not write garbage. Don’t allow your manuscript to say otherwise.

Even though we know the reasons we must proofread, the process can remain a disheartening one. However, there is one thing you can do that will turn the process into an activity that is, if not enjoyable, at least positive. It’s this:

Decide that you are not searching for errors you made. You are searching for errors the computer made.

And let’s face it – probably all the errors in your manuscript are computer errors.

Sure, you were in charge of the keyboard, but if it’s like my computer, it has a mind of its own, especially late at night or early in the morning. Often it forgets periods or closing quotations. It insists on spelling “the” as “teh.” Sometimes my computer deliberately changes the text overnight so that when I reread a passage in the morning I find myself asking, “who wrote this piece of horse-pucky?” And the answer, invariably, is “not me.” If not me, who? Who else – the computer. It’s plotting against me, I’m positive.

The search for computer-generated errors in your manuscript could turn a masochistic activity into a challenge. Man or woman against machine. You may feel a sense of well-being, perhaps even superiority, as you find the mistakes your stupid computer made, or the ones that your devious, evil computer deliberately planted as a test of your intelligence. You might even regain that euphoria you felt when you finished your final draft.

That’s my secret to managing proofreading. What’s yours?


  1. Eliza

    Beware of the urge to read fast (like a regular reader, not a proofreader) in order to get it over with, which will leave you wondering if you really saw what’s on the page. Slow down and pay attention to each word by holding a coloured index card under the line you’re reading (this works on screen as well as on paper). Extra-tricky content: read it out loud, pronouncing each syllable. After proofreading, run spell check again to catch any errors you made inputting your corrections. And then look at each page at 55% view, to check the layout for inconsistent subheading styles, justification, etc.

  2. Elizabeth Macfie

    Eliza, above, is really Elizabeth Macfie.

  3. Charlotte Morganti

    Eliza/Elizabeth: Many thanks for this! I had never heard the 55% view idea and it sounds like a great tip. We used to read the text backwards, from the end to the beginning — which helps spot typos, but not glitches with content.

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