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.


Writing Tip Wednesday: Comma Rules

I’ve gotten questions about commas and hesitated to post a writing tip about it because, quite frankly, I can’t explain the rules. For two years, I’ve been telling coworkers to add and subtract commas from their documents, and when they ask why, I usually say, “Um, well, I can’t explain why, but that’s how it is. Trust me.”

I’ll be the first to admit that is not a good answer.

But then I came across an article that made it all seem so much easier. Rather than re-write it here, I thought I’d just send you over to so you can read it for yourself. So go read this article on comma rules. Yes, right now. I’ll wait.

Helpful, wasn’t it?

If you take nothing else away from this post about commas, remember that commas should make it easier for your reader understand what you’ve written, not harder. (Oh, and you can’t just throw in a comma wherever you would stop to take a breath. I don’t know why so many English teachers taught that rule, but I wish they hadn’t.)

If you’re still reading and can appreciate comma humor, here ya go:

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: When (not) to Use an Apostrophe

Okay guys, my writing tip is here early this month because I’ve been seeing abused apostrophes everywhere. It may actually drive me crazy.

Photo credit:

Pop Quiz: Which option is correct?
A) The Smiths live here.
B) The Smith’s live here.
C) The Smiths’ live here.
Answer: A) The Smiths live here.

What about this one?

A) Its’ time to go home.
B) It’s time to go home.
C) Its time to go home.
Answer: B) It’s time to go home.

Why, you ask?

Well, after doing a little research to make sure I have it straight myself, I have a few rules for you. But first, let me give a disclaimer: I use the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition. Some of these rules will be different if you use a different style guide.

If a word is possessive (showing ownership), you should use an apostrophe.

For example:
I read Jonathan’s book on the plane. (NOT I read Jonathans book on the plane.)

If it’s a contraction, you should use an apostrophe.

For example:
Jessica was disappointed Spencer couldn’t come. (Couldn’t is a contraction for could not. The apostrophe takes the place of the missing letters.)
Let’s pretend our work is done and go to the beach. (Let’s is a contraction for let us. Again, the apostrophe takes the place of the missing letters.)

If a word is plural and possessive, you should use an apostrophe and an s. If a word already ends in s, just use an apostrophe after the s that’s already there. (There are a few exceptions to this rule, but I won’t go into them here.)

For example:
She washed the children’s clothes.
She washed the kids’ clothes.

If a word is plural and NOT possessive, you should NOT use an apostrophe.

For example:
She asked the players for their autographs.
(NOT She asked the player’s for their autograph’s. Gross. Please don’t do that!)

The Smiths left early because their kids were getting grouchy. (NOT The Smith’s left early because their kids were getting grouchy.)

Let me pause here for a minute. I see the mistake in the example above more than any other apostrophe mistake. It drives me crazy and is, in fact, what prompted this post. Please, please, please don’t add an apostrophe to a last name unless it’s showing ownership.

This example shows ownership:
That dog is the Whites’. (The apostrophe goes after the s because we’re talking about more than one White. The s makes it plural so you know the dog belongs to the whole family. The apostrophe shows ownership.)

An example where a plural is needed and there’s no ownership:
She went to the cabin with the Andersons.

And a few really practical examples:
If you’re addressing a card to the entire Young family, you could write “To the Youngs.” No apostrophe.

If the card is from the entire Jones family, you could write “Love, the Joneses.” (Last names follow the same es rules as other words—if it already ends in an s, it needs an es to make it plural.)

And then there’s it’s and its . . .

This is an exception to the rules above.
If you mean it is, then it should have an apostrophe: I wonder if it’s time?
If you want to show ownership, don’t use an apostrophe: She gave the dog its dinner.

In the interest of not overwhelming you, I’ll stop here and post a few more apostrophe rules next week. So if you have questions about apostrophes, leave a comment and let me know. I’ll try to answer them next Wednesday!

For more information and a little history of the apostrophe, click here.

Writing Tip Wednesday: A Few Title Capitalization Rules

This month’s tip comes from something I learned at work when we were running a bulletin blurb for a new kids’ ministry coordinator.

Are you supposed to capitalize job titles? The church had been doing it for years, but I wasn’t so sure that was correct, so I pulled out my favorite book in the world, the 15th edition of the Chicago Manual of Style (okay, so it’s probably not my favorite book, but I do spend a lot of time with it), and learned a few things . . .

When a title (civil, military, religious, and professional) comes immediately before a person’s name (and is used as part of their name), it should be capitalized and usually replaces the person’s first name.

For example:
We really enjoyed Pastor Johnson’s sermon on Easter.
The family was disappointed with Judge Nelson’s decision.

When a person’s title follows their name or is used in place of their name, it is usually lowercased.

For example:
Joseph Andrews, the president of the company, called a mandatory meeting for all staff members.
Marcia Smith, the company’s communication director, disagreed with the graphic designer.

Sometimes, when titles are used in “formal contexts as opposed to running text,” they are capitalized.

For example:
(In the front of a book) I’d like to thank the following people:
Mike Jones, Developmental Editor at ABC Publishing
Rita Hanson, Fourth Grade Teacher at Washington Elementary
Megan Miller, Office Assistant at Apex Windows

If a title is used before a personal name as a “descriptive tag,” it should be lowercased.

For example:
He gave her a book by the poet Neruda.
Mary sent a letter to the Minnesota governor Mark Dayton.

This information was taken from The Chicago Manual of Style, 15th Edition (8.21–8.23).

Writing Tip Wednesday: An Announcement

I’ve been doing Writing Tip Wednesdays for several months now, with the intention of helping you, my readers, by posting little bits of writing advice that can help anyone, no matter what you’re working on.

But I also started it with the hope of taking the time to learn some new things myself.  Unfortunately that hasn’t been happening because I don’t have enough time in my week to work full time, spend time researching and learning, create three thoughtful blog posts, review books, and have a life. And I’m pretty sure I’ve blown through all the tips I can come up with off the top of my head without that extra time. Maybe it’s just because it’s summer and things are extra crazy. I don’t know. But I’ve made a decision . . .

I’m going to make Writing Tip Wednesday a monthly feature rather than a weekly feature.

I’ll plan to post a new writing tip on the last Wednesday of each month. Hopefully this change will help me learn new things so I can give you better writing advice. And maybe in the future it’ll become a weekly feature again, you never know. But for my own sanity and your benefit, this is how it needs to be for now.

I currently have a running list of writing tip post topics, but it’s pretty short. If you have anything you’d like me to post about, please leave a comment and let me know.

Since you probably came here expecting a Writing Tip, here’s some advice from’s Facebook page:

Writing Tip Wednesday: Writer’s Block

Whether you call yourself a writer or not, you’ve probably experienced the dreaded writer’s block. It happens to all of us, and it happens for a lot of reasons—we’re too distracted, we don’t know where to start, we don’t have enough information. Apparently, even Charles Schulz had writer’s block.

Some people will tell you there’s no such thing as writer’s block, but that doesn’t really solve the problem, does it? Here are a few suggestions based on ideas in Write on Target, a book by Dennis E. Hensley (one of my college writing professors) and Holly G. Miller. The book includes several more ideas (and a lot of other great stuff for nonfiction writers), so check it out if you want to know more.

Overcoming Writer’s Block

  1. Give yourself a time limit. Plan to focus on your writing for a set amount of time before you take a break. Don’t look at Facebook, check your email, or wander into the kitchen to find a snack. Just write. You never know, you might get going and discover you don’t need that break.
  2. Free write. Even if you’re struggling, even if what you’re putting on paper is awful, write down everything you can about your subject. Don’t worry about structure—just get it out. You may end up discovering some of it is useable.
  3. Map it out. Create an outline or a mind map (or word web, depending on who you talk to). It’ll help you simplify everything in your head and find any holes in your information.
  4. Get a second opinion. If you’re stuck, find someone to talk through it with you. Tell them what you’re trying to write. They might have helpful suggestions, and talking about it will help you sort out your thoughts. If you can explain it to a friend in conversation, you can put it in writing. Trust me.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve used these tricks to get going on a writing project. And I probably shouldn’t admit it, but I used all of them around 4:00 a.m. the day I had a term paper due for Dr. Hensley’s class. I only got two hours of sleep that night, but I still got an A on the paper. Shh—don’t tell. I may miss college sometimes, but I certainly don’t miss all-nighters at Steak ‘n’ Shake (at one point, Jonathan and I spent so many late nights there, they asked what type of music we liked to listen to so they could share radio privileges).

Anyway, next time you’re stuck, try these tricks. I find them most helpful in this order, but everyone is different, so do what works for you.

(I also used to put in my headphones and listen to Toby Mac and Owl City on LOUD while my roommate slept, completely unaware I was still awake. I may have even taken a few dancing breaks, but I’ll never tell.)

If you have any tips of your own for overcoming writer’s block, please share them in the comments.