How to Proofread and Edit Your Writing


These editing and proofreading tips will improve your writing, and help you become a successful writer. I tend to edit as I write, which many a writing coach has spanked me for.

How to Proofread and Edit Your WritingIf you’re as weak at editing as I am, read Copyediting and Proofreading For Dummies. There’s no doubt about it: editing and revising the words you labored over will rip your heart out. But, fellow scribes, if you’re not crying over your revisions, then you’re not really writing. Proofreading, editing, and revising are the keys to great writing.

One of my goals is to separate writing from editing, which I believe is a faster and better way to write. Here’s what I’ve learned about proofreading and editing my writing….





5 Tips for Editing and Proofreading Your Writing

“The work was like peeling an onion. The outer skin came off with difficulty… but in no time you’d be down to its innards, tears streaming from your eyes as more and more beautiful reductions became possible.” ~ Edward Blishen

Print your manuscript and dig out your ruler

Don’t just proofread on the computer screen (do as I say, not as I do!). Print your article or book chapters, take out your ruler or a piece of paper, and cover everything except the sentence you’re focusing on. This way, you’ll focus your attention on one sentence at a time – and catch more errors.

Go “Double Dutch” when editing

In The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Creative Writing, Laurie Rozakis writes, “Read the paper twice. The first time, read it slowly for meaning and to see that nothing has been left out. Then read it again (for grammatical and structural errors).” The first time you proofread your article or chapter, focus on clarity, content, and “grabbiness” (is your writing compelling? Unputdownable? Fascinating?). The second time you proofread, focus on the mechanics of sentence structure, active versus passive voice, unnecessary words, fragments, wrong verb tense, grammar, typos, etc.

Pay special attention to edited sentences

When you find and fix writing errors, reread those sentences. Rozakis says that when writers spot and edit errors in their sentences, they tend not to notice more errors in those same sentences. One of her most interesting editing and proofreading tips is to pay special attention to sentences that have already been edited.

Proofread your writing from the bottom up

How to Proofread and Edit Your Writing

How to Proofread and Edit Your Writing

This is way to proofread your writing works best when you’re focused on grammatical and technical errors, not content or organization! Read one sentence at a time, from “The End” to “In the beginning…” Reading backwards helps you see each sentence in isolation, which makes you a better editor.

Grab your partner and for a twirl ‘round the dance floor

Figuratively speaking, of course! “One of the best ways to proofread is to ready your writing aloud while another person follows along on a typed copy,” writes Rozakis in The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Creative Writing. “Say the punctuation marks and spell out all names. This is a very effective method, but it’s as slow as watching paint flake and just as dull.”

Use the “find” feature to eliminate certain phrases

“When writers have finished their first draft, they should use the “find” feature to identify the phrases “there are” or “there is” or “to be.” There are always better ways to write sentences — without using those phrases. This type of editing makes writing more action packed and creative.” – Meghan Sager, public relations specialist.

Fellow scribes, can you spot the irony in Meghan’s writing tip?

If you’re a new writer, read Strategies for Beginning Writers.

If you have any thoughts or questions on these ways to proofread your writing, please comment below…


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12 thoughts on “How to Proofread and Edit Your Writing

  • Bob

    It’s useful to read the article out aloud. If you don’t want to read it out yourself, Microsoft Anna on Windows 7 and Vista can read out your writing for you. Her voice is clear and natural. Just install a text to speech program on your desktop or laptop, then you can listen with your ears. Now there are many text to speech ( TTS ) software programs, Panopreter Basic ( http://www.panopreter.com ) is one of the best free TTS tool.

  • Tom

    Excellent ideas. I’m going to try number one. Normally when I profread I do it to fast and not really read it through. I know what I meant to say and sometimes just assume that is what it says.

  • Laurie Pawlik-Kienlen

    Reading from the bottom up is a great way to edit your writing — and so is picking a chapter, paragraph, or section in the middle of your piece, and proofreading from there. When I edited my pet loss ebook, I picked random chapters in the table of contents. That really helped me read each chapter on its own.

    Susan, yes, editing and proofreading on different colors of paper, different font, and even in different environments is a great way to revise! Though I admire that you have a virtual assistant to catch your typos, I think it’s good to proofread and edit one’s own work…I think it strengthens writing skills.

    Be careful of those wordpress plugins and software programs that supposedly catch errors! They’re not infallible…

  • Rahul solanki

    thanks for tips,i too agree that proofreading is must and if you are using wordpress then there are many plugins which will tell you about you mistakes.

  • Susan Johnston

    “There are always better ways to write sentences — without using those phrases.” That IS ironic! 🙂

    Laurie, proofreading my own work is one of my biggest challenges, so thanks for the tips! One tip that I’ve heard is to print your manuscript on brightly colored paper, because that forces the eye to focus more carefully. We’re used to seeing plain white paper but hot pink paper takes our eye out of the normal routine so we can catch things we might not see otherwise.

    Personally, I’ve found that it’s actually more time efficient for me to keep generating new content and have my virtual assistant proofread check for typos and other issues (she’s got an eagle eye for that sort of thing!).

  • claire

    Hi Laurie! I especially liked you tips on reading your writing from bottom up or from end to beginning. This will definitely work for me. Thanks again!

  • Laurie Pawlik-Kienlen

    Tammi ~ the idea of editing part of a sentence and leaving the rest “error ridden” was new to me! That was the best proofreading tip in the bunch, I think. Editing your writing has a domino effect: when you fix one word or phrase, you need to make sure it hasn’t affected the other words and phrases.

    Randayle ~ the first draft isn’t your best draft, which is why it’s crucial to proofread and edit. And, editing your writing makes you a better writer because it helps you get closer to your own writing. That is, you learn more about how YOU write when you revise your writing. The more you edit, the more your writing skills will improve. This increases your chances of getting happily published 🙂

    Debra ~ Thanks for catching the irony in that last proofreading tip! And, I love your tip about pronouncing each syllable in your writing. It’s painstaking, but incredibly helpful.

    George ~ yup, letting your words marinate overnight or over a few days is an excellent way to edit your writing. The fresh eye you bring is priceless.

    Happy writing, fellow scribes!

  • George Angus

    Hi Laurie,

    I would also add to these the value of letting your work soak overnight. Actually, depending on the circumstances even a month. That’s what I did with my Nano novel and when I did print it out to start the editing process, I was refreshed and could look at the thing from a new perspective.

    George

  • Debra Torres

    “There are” always bits of irony in tips like Meghan Sager’s. 🙂

    Thanks for your insight on editing and proofreading. Something I’ve recently discovered to be helpful in my copywriting is reading my piece aloud and slowly – pronouncing every syllable. I must sound pretty funny doing this – but it works! I was missing too many small 2 and 3 letter words in copy that I was submitting to my clients. The piece was good, but my client was always saying: “I think you need an “is” there or did forget to put an “and” here?”
    Reading my piece like this before I submit has helped alot!

  • J Randayle Greyson

    Great tips!! I love the ruler, and reading backwards. I struggle putting the time in to edit. Once the book is complete, I tend to think of it as “done,” when I really need to go through it a couple more times.

    Thanks for sharing!

    The Survival Mama

  • Tammi Kibler

    My weakness lies with number 3. I edit part of a sentence and then leave every other part vulnerable to errors in tense or pronoun usage. By the time I get three consecutive phrases in agreement, I usually find the original subject needs to be massaged to fit the new predicate.

    Thanks for this list. I like the bottom up idea.