Updated July 2023
Before you submit your short story, poems, personal essay, or book manuscript to literary editors or agents, it’s vital that your work is proofread. For the best results, the experts at Writer’s Relief recommend trusting the fresh eyes of a grammar-savvy friend or, better yet, send your work to Writer’s Relief for a great proofreading experience. But that’s not always possible. Since you’re so familiar with your writing, it can be tricky to be your own proofreader—but if you’re diligent, it can be done. Follow these 7 tips for accurately proofreading your own work to get the best results.
Tips For Proofreading Your Own Work
#1 Set it aside
It’s time to take off your writer’s cap and put on your proofreader’s hat. But before attempting to proofread your writing, your first step should be to set it aside for a while. When the work is still fresh in your mind, your brain will often skip words and sentences that are actually on the page and replace them with the memory of what’s supposed to be there. As a result, you might easily miss instances where you used the wrong word or switched tenses in the middle of a sentence!
Time away from your work will allow it to seep out of your memory, which will make it easier to review your writing carefully and critically without inadvertently skipping over anything.
#2 Read the work aloud
Reading out loud is a critical step in proofing your own work. Saying it aloud slows you down and forces you to take in every single word on the page, which will help you catch mistakes you might otherwise skim over. Hearing your sentences spoken can also help you make corrections for overall clarity and flow.
#3 Read it again—backward
There are two ways you can do this: Read the entire work backward, word for word, or read each sentence normally, starting with the last sentence and working your way back to the beginning. You can do this aloud or silently. This mental trick prevents your brain from automatically supplying what comes next, since the words are not in the expected order. By reading your work backward, you’ll be able to focus more on the actual spelling and grammar.
#4 Use a hard copy of your work
Many writers create their work using a word processing program and a computer keyboard. Reading your writing on a screen is fine for some preliminary proofreading, especially since the software likely has tools to help auto-proof your work. However, autocorrect can only do so much—it won’t flag “two” if you meant to write “too.” Be sure to print out a hard copy of your work and go through it with a red pen. You can use this printed copy for all your proofreading notes while performing the other steps listed in this article.
#5 Check your style guide
If you’re not sure whether your main character’s thoughts should be in italics, or if you should say “lay” or “lie” in a sentence, a style guide will have the correct answer. Style guides such as The Chicago Manual of Style and The Gregg Style Manual will point you in the right direction for all your grammar questions.
#6 Avoid rewriting and editing!
The hardest thing about proofreading your own work is resisting the temptation to edit and rewrite. Sure, you may need to adjust a sentence here or there to fix a grammar error or continuity mistake, but you shouldn’t be rewriting major chunks of your work during the proofreading phase. If you find the work needs major revisions, stop proofreading and go back to the editing phase of your project. The proofreading phase should focus solely on making sure your work is clean and free of typos, grammar mistakes, tense issues, punctuation issues, misspellings, etc.
#7 Set it aside one more time
If time allows, put your work aside for a day or two once you’re finished proofreading. Give your eyes and your brain a break, then follow these steps again and go through the manuscript for a final review.
By following these tips, you’ll be able to thoroughly and effectively proofread your writing before making your submissions. But if you’d prefer to have a professional proofread your work, the expert proofreaders at Writer’s Relief are here to help! Learn more about our proofreading services here.
Question: What do you consider the hardest mistake to catch when proofreading your own work?