Saturday, October 22, 2011

The Challenge of Proofreading

If you're a financially challenged indie-author like me, you probably do your own proofreading. My English is passable but the occasional typo and punctuation error does creep in.

So, how did I do my own proofreading?

My book started as a series of Facebook notes which I then copy-pasted into MS Word 2003. Then I rewrote the whole book, adding more stories and changing some passages to make it more readable or fun to read. When I decided that the book was finished, I began proofreading.

I went through the whole book, correcting as I went. I used no aids, just trusting in my own abilities. Not surprisingly, I found a lot of typos. I also found errors in punctuation and, on one instance, a missing period. I made several proofreading passes through the book and found something to fix each time. I lost count of how many times I went through the book before I decided that it was well and truly finished and then uploaded it into Smashwords. About a month or so later, I had to download a copy from the website after I accidentally deleted my own copy in my computer. I reread it again and, imagine my chagrin when I found a couple of errors. Where had they been hiding? I thought I'd found all of them.

I am going back through the book again but I've had to revise my methods of proofreading to do a better job of it.

Lesson 1: Use the MS Word spell checker

Did I hear a gasp? I've read dozens of articles or warnings never to use this tool. The spell checker, however, is great for finding misspelled words. The problem with this tool is that it won't catch misused words. If your sentence is:

I will bee seeing you.

The spell checker will not consider "bee" as a misspelled word because the word "bee" can be found in an English dictionary and it is correctly spelled. Your eyes are better at finding these types of errors.

MS Word also has a grammar checker, which I use sparingly. I tend to use passive sentences occasionally if I think it works better than an active one but I do take its advice sometimes.

Lesson 2: Don't run a marathon

No, I don't mean don't run before proofreading. What I mean is, don't go through the whole book or document in one go or in a few sittings. Take frequent rest stops to keep yourself alert. If you keep proofreading for several hours, you'll get fatigued and might miss a lot of mistakes. If you have to go to the bathroom, go now; don't wait until you're bursting because your mind will concentrate on the discomfort rather than on the words.

Lesson 3: Read each word

This runs counter to a tip one former teacher taught my classmates and me. When you read, don't look at one word, look at two or more words. You'll finish faster and understand better. That's fine when you're studying or reading silently but not when you're proofreading. You have to look at each word. A variation on this method is to read aloud. I've caught a lot of errors with this one. It also helped me to revise certain sentences that "didn't sound right."

Lesson 4: Have a dictionary handy

If you use a word that you're not familiar with or sense that your spelling is not correct, there's a chance that it really is misspelled. Look it up in the dictionary. You might even discover that it didn't mean what you thought it meant. I have a dictionary in my computer but I also have a large paper dictionary. You can also use online dictionaries on the Internet.

Proofreading isn't a job for the impatient. I've read several ebooks that I banished into the recycle bin in my computer because of the quantity of errors. A book full of errors is not going to make a good impression and readers might tend to avoid the authors of those books.