Books by Melissa Bowersock

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Proof-Reading: Tips and Tricks

I’ve blogged before about typos, the bane of any writer. Proof-reading our own work is extremely difficult for writers. We know what the words are supposed to say, so very often our brains show us just that, not letting us see the misspellings, the incorrect words, the errors in punctuation. In the writers’ forums I frequent, there is often discussion of the ways to fool the brain into showing us what’s actually there. You wouldn’t think we’d have to go so far to outwit our own brains, but the fact of the matter is, we do.

Here are some of the tricks.

Change the font. If you’re using Times New Roman, switch to Arial; switch from a serif to a san-serif or vice-versa. Change the size of the font, or change the entire body of text to a different color. All of these things act to alert the brain that there’s something NEW here and to pay attention.

Read backward. When we read from front to back, our brains get involved in the narrative and stop seeing the errors. It can be very difficult to disengage from the story unless you read in a way that deliberately breaks up the narrative; reading from back to front does this. Read each sentence as a whole (how else are you going to check the flow of that sentence?), but read the last sentence first, then the next to last, etc. This forces your brain to consider just that sentence and you can zero in on the errors.

Read out loud. Reading out loud uses the brain in a different way and can reveal problems your eyes don’t see. Another trick is asking someone else to read it out loud to you. Either way, using a different mode of delivery engages the brain in a different way and makes it easier to find problems.

Enlist beta readers. All writers need beta readers, friends and family who will read our words with a red pen at the ready. Some invariably pooh-pooh their value, insisting they are not writers or editors or have no knowledge of story-telling. That’s okay. What we need are readers. We need to know what pops a reader out of the story, what distracts them from the flow of the book. I always tell my beta readers not to actively look for problems, but simply to report anything that interrupts their reading.

Last resort. One of my books is non-fiction and written in epistolary format with many letters and other sources within the narrative. I was already using different fonts, one for the narrative and one for the letters, and after the 10th go-round still finding errors, I realized I needed to take drastic measures. I hunkered down with the book and read … one … word … at … a … time. It took forever, but it allowed me to see the things my brain was still just cruising past when I read at a normal rate.

What other tricks can you think of? 

<a rel="author" href="">Melissa Bowersock</a>


  1. Great info, Melissa. The only thing is that I hate to hear my voice when I read aloud, but there are other tips here I can use. Thanks.

  2. Sandy, I'd be extremely surprised to ever hear anyone say they liked their own voice! There seems to be a natural, physical disconnect between the voice we hear in our heads and the one that comes out our mouths. Luckily there are other tricks that are more ... palatable.