Proofreading Tips

This picture doesn’t have anything to do with proofreading. But it’s of a small “detail” lots of people wouldn’t notice. Plus I’m missing Yellowstone, and that’s where we found this pretty bird.

Because I finished a big proofreading project over the weekend, I thought I’d offer a few proofreading tips for this month’s Writing Tip Wednesday.

  1. Don’t put all your trust in the spell check. There are too many words that have multiple spellings. And sometimes autocorrect will insert the wrong word unnoticed.
  2. Don’t put any trust in the grammar check. It’s almost never right. If you get that squiggly green line, check out the suggestion for sure, but do your research before you accept it.
  3. Don’t just look for misspelled words and missing or misplaced punctuation. Pay attention to formatting, too—font, page numbers, orphans and widows . . . And if the document includes dates, times, names, or titles, double-check the spelling.
  4. Create a style sheet. Don’t know what that is? It’s a document that keeps track of the rules you’re using—word spellings, serial comma, how to format numbered lists, etc. In some cases, you’ll want to have a style sheet for every document. In other cases—like a business setting—you’ll want to create a style sheet to use for everything you print. It’ll keep everyone who does any writing or editing of your documents on the same page (no pun intended!). You certainly don’t want the editor taking out all the serial commas only to have the author put them all back in.
  5. Back up every time you find an error. This suggestion comes from The Christian Writer’s Manual of Style. Apparently studies have shown that most missed errors are near other errors that were caught. CWMS recommends backing up a few lines whenever you find an error.
  6. If you’re editing your own copy, don’t edit right after you wrote it. Take some time away from your work and do something else. The more time you can let it sit, the better, I think. Then when you come back, you’re seeing it with fresh eyes. You’re more likely to catch things.
  7. If it’s your own copy, have someone else look at it, too. When you’re close to a project, it’s hard to catch things. I can prove that—at work, I send out a weekly newsletter, and two weeks in a row I was under a time crunch and edited my own copy without having someone else look at it. Guess what happened? Two glaring mistakes two weeks in a row. Oops.
  8. If you’re able, read through the document more than once. Bonus points if you look at it once, walk away for awhile, and then look at it again. When I can, I scan for formatting, do a thorough proofread, and then do another quick proofread.

If you have tips of your own, feel free to leave them in a comment.


Bonus Writing Tip Wednesday: Affect vs. Effect

You get a bonus writing tip this month because I’ve been seeing this one A LOT lately and I’d like to set the record straight.

Affect vs. Effect

Affect is a verb.

Effect is a noun.

In case you’re struggling to remember your parts of speech, here are a few definitions to help you out:

Verb: a word that shows action or state of being

Noun: a person, place, thing, or idea

Here are a few examples:

The weather always affects the farmers’ crops.

A parent’s own upbringing often affects the way she raises her children.

The special effects in that movie were impressive.

The painting technique produced the desired effect in the living room.

Writing Tip Wednesday: Get to the Point

Note: This week’s tip is an updated version of a post from last August.

For whatever reason, we often don’t write what we want to say. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve read something and thought: “That’s a lot of words that don’t mean anything. I have no idea what I just read.”  Sometimes it happens because we think what we have to say is offensive. Sometimes we’re trying to hide bad news with pretty words. Sometimes we just don’t know what we want to say. No matter the reason, the result is always reader confusion and a lot of wasted words.

So whenever I edit this type of piece (at least in my world, it’s typically some kind of communication at work or a student paper or essay), I ask one simple question:

What are you trying to say?

Nearly every time I’ve asked someone this question, they’ve been able to give me a coherent answer that makes a lot of sense. I always respond with, “Write that.” And their writing always improves. Simple question, impressive results.

Last time I posted about this, someone commented that what the reader gets out of a piece is often very different from what the writer meant. Sometimes that’s okay—especially when your purpose is to make the reader think. But sometimes a writer needs to convey a specific point (maybe in an office-wide email explaining a new procedure or a flyer to promote an upcoming event). In those cases, it’s vital for the reader to understand your point. But regardless of the type of piece you’re working on . . .

What are you trying to say? Write that.

Lately I’m . . .

Seeing life in hi-def. Okay, not really. But I got new glasses yesterday and everything seems way sharper. Nothing like having crappy vision to make you appreciate the finer things in life (okay, pun intended—sorry). Though I’m still not sure if I like them.

Planning our trip to Yellowstone. ROAD TRIP! I can’t believe we leave in less than two weeks. We’ll be staying in a different place almost every night, but we’ve got reservations for KOA cabins so we don’t have to haul a tent all over the place. I can’t want to see Mt. Rushmore, the Tetons, and Grand Prismatic Springs again. A few years ago, I visited the area with some of my family, but Jonathan has never been west of Minnesota. Seriously.

So we didn’t actually see this moose in Yellowstone (it was in the river next to the place we stayed), but close enough. This year my goal is to see a bear. From a safe distance.

Rethinking my wardrobe. I’m so tired of waking up every morning, rifling through my dresser, and coming up empty. I feel like I hate every article of clothing I own. But really, the problem is more that I hate the way I look in the clothes I own. I’ve been seeing a lot of blog posts about the 30 x 30 challenge, and it’s helped me realize I need to stop buying clothes and work with what I have. ‘Cause I have A LOT. And, in case you’re wondering—no, I do not have enough self-confidence to post pictures of said clothes like Kendi does. This pile of clean laundry is all you get.

Staying inside. It’s freakin’ hot here. And humid. Today’s heat index was 104. And we’re under air quality (thank you, Colorado wildfires) and heat warnings.  Having grown up in a house with no AC, I am SO grateful for ours. And I am taking full advantage of it.

Editing a book. My friend Kristie (Jeff’s wife) is turning a Bible study she wrote into a self-published book, and I get the honor of copy editing for her. Sometimes I wish I could do things like this full time, but for now, I’m enjoying where I am.

Reviewing like six books. Okay, that might be an exaggeration, but I’m pretty sure I’m reviewing at least four this summer. I have one review due Friday (watch for the post!), another due at the end of the month, and two more books on the way. So much for a slow, easy summer ; )

Preparing for my little sister’s visit in August. I haven’t seen her since Thanksgiving, and 8/16 can’t come soon enough. I’m making all sorts of lists and mental notes of things we need to do. Like walk through Uptown, visit the Stone Arch Bridge (I’m pretty sure she’s never seen the Mississippi), take pictures in the sculpture garden, and go to a concert at Lake Harriet . . . And that doesn’t even include the list of restaurants I want to hit while she’s here!

Writing Tip Wednesday: Be Your Own Siri

I don’t know about you, but when I’ve been working on something long enough, I can’t tell if it’s good or not. I get tired of looking at it and I begin to see it as the best thing I’ve ever written simply because I just want to. be. done.

So I read it out loud. And that’s my advice for you, too. Read your writing out loud and listen for the awkward places—words, phrases, sentences that just don’t seem right. If it sounds awkward when you hear it, there’s a good chance it’ll sound awkward to your reader. Reading out loud forces you to slow down and think about each word. It’ll help you catch misspellings, misuses of punctuation, run-on sentences, repetition, and redundancies. No matter what you’re working on—emails, term papers, articles, novels—this simple trick will help you self-edit.

And yes, reading something out loud can be weird when you have an unsuspecting audience. I sit in a cubicle at work, and I do most of my blogging at Starbucks, so I understand. Print it out and take a walk, or whisper it to yourself. Sometimes just mouthing the words is enough to show you where your writing needs improvement.

Okay, so I don’t have an iPhone and I don’t really know what Siri does, but I suspect “she” can read things to you. If not, hopefully you still get my point. And if she can, maybe she can even read  your writing for you.

Obviously I’m a writer, not a techie : )

Writing Tip Wednesday: Consistency

Consistency improves and polishes your writing. Some parts of writing are more prone to inconsistency than others. Below are some of the problem areas I see most often.

Note: My preferred style is the Chicago Manual of Style (CMS). Other common style guides include MLA, APA, AP. There are A LOT of style guides out there. I’ll usually defer to CMS, but be consistent with whatever style you prefer, even if it’s your own.

Spell your words correctly (and don’t trust spell check). If you ever have doubts about a spelling, look it up. My go-to dictionary standard is Merriam Webster. Sometimes a word will have multiple spellings. If that’s the case, pick one and use it throughout your piece. Some examples:
toward/towards (Typically, British style is with the “s” and American is without.)
website/web-site/web site
through/thru (but please don’t use “thru”)

Just make sure the meaning is the same regardless of the spelling or you could end up with problems. A few examples I see often:
alter vs. altar
accept vs. except

Use contractions or don’t, but be consistent. Only mix them if you’re doing it for a reason—such as emphasizing a point. For example:
She’ll go to the party on Saturday.

She will go to the party on Saturday.
Don’t play with your food.

Do not play with your food.

If you have to abbreviate something, make sure you use the same abbreviation every time. For example, if you’re talking about the state of Michigan, don’t shorten it to MI in one paragraph and Mich. in another.

Punctuation and Formatting
Most style guides can help you with these. Here are a few areas that come up often:

Book, movie, and song titles are typically either put in quotes or italics. Different style guides have different rules. Pick one and stick to it. For example, CMS puts book and movie titles in italics and song titles in quotes.

The question of the serial (or Oxford) comma is always a good way to start a debate. Decide which side you’re on and stay there. I think NOT using a serial comma can change the meaning of your sentence, so I always use it. CMS uses a serial comma: Hannah took her books, notes, and planner to class. AP does not: Hannah took her books, notes and planner to class.

Dashes. Use the right ones, or at least use them consistently. CMS uses three different types:
Hyphens (-) are for combining words, such as: mother-in-law, full-time job, off-site.
En dashes (–) are used primarily with numbers, dates, and times, such as: July 14–22, 5:30–8:30 p.m., pages 10–15, Proverbs 3:5–6.
Em dashes (—) set off phrases, often in place of a semi-colon or parentheses, such as: “They went to the store—you know, the one by the church,” or “They read her favorite book—Anne of Green Gables—until she drifted off.”

Know which words need to be capitalized and which don’t. This is something to think about when using job titles, room names, college classes, departments, and pronouns referring to God.

Tone is the way your writing sounds. Is it academic? Conversational? Formal? Informal? This will often depend on your audience, but take it into account when you’re writing. Keep your tone the same throughout your piece.

Verb Tense
Are you writing in the past, present, or future? Make sure all your verbs are consistent. Need help? Visit Purdue’s writing page.

Point of View
Are you writing in first, second, or third person?
First person—I, me, my
Second person—you, your
Third person—he/she, his/her, their

Are there areas where you struggle with consistency? Do you have any tips or tricks for being consistent? Please share.