Why It Pays to Do Some Proofreading on Your Own Before the Experts Take Over
Remember the teacher who said, “You won’t have a calculator in your pocket when you’re grown”? The joke was on Ms. Eganberger, but in fairness to her, she predated smartphones. However, technology can’t always save you from typos and troglodytic writing. Yes, there are spelling and grammar checkers, but do their algorithms fully understand the phenomenally complex subtleties of human language? It doesn’t seem so. Grammarly has no problem with this sentence: They're our know rules.
Proofreading is important to do with your writing. It makes you read your work differently, which may change how something sounds in your head. Even Thomas Jefferson made typos, so don’t beat yourself up over every silly little oversight. The best results will always come when a professional proofreader scrutinizes your work, but before you have enough text to send them, you should proofread as you write.
Proofreading differs from content editing. It’s the mechanical hand that looks for technical errors rather than stylistic, more substantive ones. It won’t help you if your sentences are clunky and awkward, and it doesn’t care whether your narrative is cohesive—for that, you need developmental editing and copy editing. Proofreaders hunt down these errors:
- Spelling and grammar
- Numbering and tables of contents
- Headings and captions
- Deviations from a style guide (when applicable)
Why proofreading is invaluable
You’re used to reading in a particular way. Editing and proofreading make you read differently. In a perfect world, your mind shuts off your inner critic and gets down to objective scrutiny. When you can emotionally disconnect from your book (which is difficult to do completely), you can be more impartial and honest about what needs work. More than one writer has said they become aware of content issues when they’re struggling to edit a chapter.
One trick is to take a break before revising your work. Just leave that chapter for a few days or weeks and return for an edit when the content’s not as fresh in your mind. Now that your creative passion has abated, you can see it more as your readers will and might realize that some of the details aren’t as brilliant as you originally thought.
Promote positive perception
Even the world’s top bestselling authors aren’t immune to linguistic errors, but typos and misspellings can make you look less capable even if your readers are prone to similar mistakes. Writing without errors is like speaking without stumbling on your words: It conveys authority. On the other hand, publishing a work riddled with typos and errors sends a message of laziness and apathy toward quality—not the type of impression that will get you on the bestseller list. Words also have power—misspell someone’s name and see how fast they bristle.
Skills cross over. When you’re typing a professional email or checking over a business contract, proofreading skills will come out naturally. Proofreading will make you better at accurately writing on the fly.
There’s also the internet to keep in mind. Readers notice. If you show a preview of a work in progress and it contains a litany of errors, it may turn off people who would otherwise have liked it. If you publish your book with a slew of mistakes, expect that to come out in online reviews and affect sales.
Beware the limitations of software programs
There’s nothing wrong with using a spelling and grammar checker, but one can become dependent. And these programs…Well, let’s just say they’re a long way from developing human-like linguistic intuition.
Which sentence has an error flagged?
- Watt does the heir feel like?
- She wretched in the toilette.
- Racing drone the baron heat and pour, weather notwithstanding…
None of them! These might be wild examples, but imagine you’re tired, your fingers wearily working from muscle memory, plus, your internet is down, so no checkers. The best solution is a proper proofread. However, go to bed first. Really, give your mind some time to “detach” from the text so you’ll see what’s there more clearly. Relying on your own proofreading skills isn’t quite Oregon Trail levels of rugged independence, but it’s close.
Refresh old skills
Some people are just born with the right mix of attention and neurodivergence to catch typos like those sticky tapes catch flies. Most people need practice. It’s easy to get rusty with errors like to/too/two and there/their/they’re. By spotting and correcting common mistakes you make, you save professional proofers time so they can focus on the hard-to-catch ones, resulting in a more polished manuscript.
Proofreaders are invaluable as it takes a village to publish a book. It benefits a writer to collaborate with an expert proofreading service, especially when self-publishing. However, you can catch many mistakes on your own, and become a competent proofreader in your own right. However, even if you’re great at it, it’s still a good idea to get help from a third party that can look at your work with fresh eyes.