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Here are the Ten Proofreading Tips used as prompts for discussion at the SCBWI Conference Fringe session
with added input from the Fringe participants – Thank you!
1 Get in the Mood
Put your work to one side for a while. Don’t attempt to proofread immediately after writing The End with a flourish. Your creative brain isn’t the same as your proofreading brain, and you need to be in the zone.
2 Hard Copy
Some prefer to proofread a printed copy. This may work for you.
We discussed fonts, including the convention that is easier to read online with a san serif font, and easier to read print with a serif font. This article from May 2014 describes a few fonts and a future Proofreading Tips will expand on this.
3 Margin Call
Discussion followed on not only changing font size, but changing to a font you don’t like to keep you concentrating. Curlz and Comic Sans were suggested (of course).
4 Organising and Analysing v Organizing and Analyzing
Use your Spellchecker function, but remember it will probably suggest American spellings: theater, mold, jewelry, etc. Your Spellchecker may offer the American spellings of organize, analyze, etc. This may be what you want, but don’t mix with the UK English use of organise, analyse, etc. The choice of ‘…ise’ or ‘…ize’ is up to you – just be consistent. Most British publishers use ‘ise / yse’. British newspapers and the BBC use ‘ise / yse’. If you’re using Oxford spelling, as used by Oxford University Press for historical and etymological reasons, then it’s ‘ize / yse’. Using the UK spelling means you can use your ‘Find’ function to look for ‘ize’ and if it isn’t in ‘size’ ‘seize’, ‘maize’ or ‘capsize’… it probably needs checking.
We touched on the subject of ‘American’ speech punctuation too. It’s a vexed topic as publishers vary. Full stops in with the speech or not? Again, go for consistency.
5 On Your Own?
Read your work aloud. This helps you find sentences that need shortening and/or dividing. Obviously, if your WIP is a picture book rather than a lengthy novel, you’re a winner.
Using a read aloud program such as Word Narrator was also suggested here.
6 Search and Ye Shall Find
Use your Find function to look for your weaknesses. We all have regular mistakes, for instance typing ‘adn’ for ‘and’. When typing quickly I find I type ‘webiste’ for ‘website’ and ‘inovice’ for ‘invoice’ (doh). If you fine tune your Autochecker function you can pick up your regular typos, but nothing beats a painstaking read through.
Everyone agreed there’s a ‘regular mistake phenomenon’.
7 Greengrocers Apostrophe’s
Use your Find function to look for apostrophes and check them. Check all your possessives – ‘the greengrocer’s apostrophe’, ‘the cat’s whiskers’, ‘the footballers’ wives’. Check all your contractions – ‘don’t’, ‘won’t’, etc. Regular typos I see include ‘you’re’ for ‘your’,’ it’s’ for ‘it’s and ‘they’re’ for ‘there’ or ‘their’. Find and check.
Its and it’s – always search and check.
8 ! !@&!#?!
Use your Find function to look for exclamation marks and think about them. Colin McNaughton’s Preston Pig can get away with ‘Suddenly!’ and ‘Boo!’, but exclamation marks can nearly always be deleted. Your writing should get the reader exclaiming, not the punctuation.
Of course you can argue for a few appropriate exclamation marks when writing for children!
Check your facts as well as your spelling and grammar. You can use Wikipedia, but only for the links to actual sources listed as footnotes in each entry. Yes, you need to scroll right down the Wikipedia page to the small print, follow those numbered links and check them.
Remember all expenses accrued when checking facts are tax deductable.
10 Increase Your Wordpower
Consult style guides: BBC, guardian, Telegraph, TIMES– they are all available online. They are helpful for established opinions on usage, spelling of controversial (or topical, or foreign) words, use of hyphens, etc.
Explore dictionary websites too.
Finally, everybody agreed with this new word coined in New Scientist 3 October 2015. It was included in “...readers’ suggestions of feelings they lacked a word for”
Lexnesia: for when you write a word and suddenly it looks weird and you’re not even sure if it’s a proper word
Many thanks to all Conference Fringe Proofreading Tips session participants, your enthusiasm was appreciated.