Ten tips for manuscript checking


The easiest way to correct a text you have written is to leave it long enough to have forgotten it so you can come to it with fresh eyes. But deadlines are always looming, so this not usually a practical solution. Here, then, are some useful techniques, some pitfalls to avoid, and some things you can do to help fool your brain into seeing things anew.

Finish the manuscript before checking it

If you’re still changing the structure or tweaking details, you are likely to introduce more typos and will need to go back and proofread again.

Use your spell checker

But don’t rely on it to spot homophones such as their/they’re/there or to know that you meant flout when you typed flaunt.

Be wary of “change all”

Occasionally, it seems like a good idea to make global changes, for example a novelist might change the heroine’s name. But if it changes from Jan to Jean, it may have unintended consequences, such as the month becoming Jeanuary by mistake.

Use a dictionary

Before you add a word to your spell checker’s dictionary, make sure that it is actually spelled correctly. If you don’t, it will probably be wrong in everything else you ever write.

Slow yourself down

Experienced readers tend to skim read, so you need a way to slow down. When proofreading, you could try covering the up-coming text with a piece of paper so you can’t jump on ahead, or reading the manuscript backwards, paragraph by paragraph, so that you aren’t distracted by the plot or the logic of the content. Reading aloud can make you read more consciously, and also has the advantage of helping to identify awkward phrasing.

Work on another project

Before you go back and correct a manuscript, work on a different project: however retentive your memory is, if you fill it up with something else, your later checking will probably be more effective.

Watch out for your own regular mistakes

Het is a common mis-typing of the. But it’s also a real word, so the spell checker won’t catch it. If you see that your fingers often trip in the same way, remember to search your manuscript for these personal ticks.

Make a style guide

Devise your own check list of hyphenated words, names and specific terms that you use and make sure they are consistent throughout the manuscript. Unless you have clear instructions to follow a publisher’s style guide, it probably doesn’t matter too much whether you use American or British spelling, how your headings are capitalised, if you use or omit full stops in bullet point lists, or if you write 80s or Eighties, as long as you are consistent. If you have several people writing for your business blog, make sure they all know where the style guide is and keep it up to date.

Change the format

Fool your brain into thinking it’s reading something new by making the text look new. This may mean printing it out on paper rather than correcting it on screen in the same software you used to write the piece. If you don’t want to print the text, you can try changing the font style or colour or the background page colour. Remember that sans-serif fonts are easier to read on screen, while serif fonts such as Times are easier on paper.

Tidy things up

Once you’ve made your corrections, skim the whole document one more time to see if there are any unnecessary or awkward page breaks etc. Don’t forget to check titles and subheadings for consistent formatting and capitalisation.

I was the type who looked at discussions of What Is Truth only with a view toward correcting the manuscript. If you were to quote "I am that I am," for example, I thought that the fundamental problem was where to put the comma, inside the quotation marks or outside.
― Umberto Eco, Foucault's Pendulum

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