Ten Proofreading Tips to Improve Your Submission

Manuscript by Seth Sawyers
A recent SCBWI Q&A session with professional editors confirmed a poorly presented manuscript was one of the biggest mistakes they see. To kick off our Everything Editorial month, professional proofreader Catriona Tippin shares her top tips for polishing your novel before submission.

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.

Hard Copy 
Some prefer to proofread a printed copy, this may work for you.

Margin Call 
Read through, make corrections and remember to ‘Save’. Then change the font size, or the margins, and read through again. Typos hide at the beginnings and endings of lines, so changing the font size or the margins will flush them out.

Typos hide at the beginnings and endings of lines, so changing the font size or the margins will flush them out. 

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’. I prefer ‘ise / yse’ as it’s conventional in the UK and looks better in the usual fonts. . Using the UK spelling also 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.

On Your Own? 
Read your work aloud. This helps 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 here.

Read your work aloud.

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 finetune your ‘Autochecker’ function you can pick up your regular typos, but nothing beats a painstaking readthrough.

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.

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.

Use your Find function to look for exclamation marks and think about them. 

Facts Facts Facts 
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.

Increase Your Wordpower 
Consult style guides: Times, Telegraph, Guardian – they are all available online. They are helpful for established opinions on usage, spelling of controversial words, use of hyphens, etc.

We hope you've found these suggestions useful. We'll be posting more of Catriona's tips on a monthly basis.

Catriona Tippin has been a member of SCBWI since 2006 and helps organise venues for SCBWI North East. Details of her writing and illustrating here. She proofreads study guides, house magazines and publicity material for two national educational charities, in addition to working on a variety of proofreads and copyedits for the growing self-published world. Her monthly column is intended to give you food for thought, remembering “Any correction of the speech or writing of other will contain at least one grammatical, spelling or typographical error” (McKean’s Law, named after its inventor Erin McKean, editor of the Oxford American Dictionary).


  1. Thank you Catriona! I am off to delete some exclamations marks! Whoops theres another... very difficult as I have written a children's picture book so exclamations sometimes appear natural - any advice on when we SHOULD use them would be really helpful :-)

    1. F Scott Fitzgerald said using an exclamation mark was “… like laughing at your own joke” but I agree the occasional ! does have its place in writing for children. Try the sentence with and without and only keep if it seems essential. And I’d be wary of using more than one at a time!!!

  2. Thanks for the tips, Catriona. I'm bookmarking this for future use.

  3. I love ellipses...
    Do they get the same bad press as exclamation marks?

  4. Thanks very much for this, Catriona. As a journalist & sub-editor, as well as a fiction wannabe, I can only endorse what you say here. You have to check copy cold, not when you've just finished. You know what you meant to say. The reader doesn't. I'd also say hard copy is vital for that meticulous last check. There's nothing like ink on paper to spot those typos. On the other hand, even pros sometimes only see that disaster in the first line the second after they've pressed the send key!

  5. Thanks, Catriona, this is really useful. Especailly the bit about changing the margins. My friend edits on her phone so she can see it in a different way and I'm just about to try it on my kindle with the font enlarged.
    I think I write for younger children because I love using exclamation marks!!!! They're great!!! And fun!!!! And lively!

  6. By correcting you as you write, and suggesting better ways to phrase things, an online grammar checker can improve your writing, acting as a virtual tutor. After using an online grammar checker for a while, you may find that your writing is better naturally, and you don't need so many corrections! See more english grammar check software

  7. Paraphrasing is the phrase "in your own words" is often used within this context to imply that the writer has rewritten the text in their own writing style.The rephrase sentence is a useful site for students.


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