3 Steps to Stronger Proofreading

Want to be a better proofreader? Go outside and play Ultimate for a few hours.

What's the secret to stronger proofreading?

Concentration.

Which is simple -- unless you're in a crowded coffee shop. Or your upstairs neighbors are pounding the floor playing Dance Dance Revolution. Or it's the first sunny Sunday in weeks and everyone you know is playing Ultimate in the park.

The thing is, it's actually easy to become a better proofreader, even amidst daily distractions. Here are three steps: 

1. Read it aloud. And read it to someone else. It's the oldest trick in the book, but it's still the best one. When you proof in isolation, you'll skim past sentences you've already read a dozen times. But when you read aloud to another person, it's almost impossible to skim. You'll cling to your words like a script. And this word-for-word concentration is the only way to catch all your errors. What's more, you'll get a sense of how amused -- or bored -- your audience is. (And if you're having trouble finding an audience, the Grub Street Reading Series can help.)

2. Get your exercise in. You love writing, but the fact remains: It's a sedentary, solitary pastime. Though it's fashionable to be an introvert these days, even writers require a daily dosage of not writing. You won't be able to sit still -- you won't be able to concentrate -- if your body is screaming for exercise and social activity. These breaks from your workload will also boost your creativity; Edward de Bono, a world-famous expert on thinking, actually refers to these breaks as "creative pauses."

3. Focus on one rule at a time. Writing is a rules-based art. Sometimes it's hard to simultaneously proofread for story rules (Is this scene plausible? Do my characters' motives make sense?) and craft rules (Do I need this adverb? Should that semicolon be a period?). So don't even try: Before you proofread, think about why you're proofreading. Tell yourself: "Today, I'll proofread for excess adverbs. Tomorrow, I'll proofread for consistency in my characters' voices."

In short, the secret to proofreading is minimizing the burden of concentration. You can do it by sharing the burden with others (reading aloud); by getting your mind and body ready for concentration (exercising and socializing); and by "chunking" the task into smaller portions (focusing on one writing rule at a time).

But the main thing is, don't proofread if you're not in the mood. If you want to play Ultimate in the park, do it. Your proofing will suffer if you don't.

About the Author See other articles by Ilan Mochari

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