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Writers Tips #79: Proofing Your MSS

writers tips

Great tips for soon-to-be great writers

When you read your story, does it sound off, maybe you can’t quite put your finger on it, but you know you’ve done something wrong? Sometimes–maybe even lots of times–there are simple fixes. These writer’s tips will come at you once a week, giving you plenty of time to go through your story and make the adjustments.

Here are ten great hints from professional proofer Randall Davidson, cofounder of ProofreadingServices. Us, a proofreading company that offers manuscript proofreading.He shared these with WriterUnboxed (a wonderful resource for savvy writing tips and tricks) and I’m going to share them with you. Enjoy!

  1. Put it away. Proofreading your novel immediately after you have written it can lead to overlooking even the most glaring errors simply because you read what you expect to read. Give yourself a few days or even weeks so that you can review your novel with fresh eyes.
  2. Ditch the distractions. Just as it is difficult to write with the phone ringing or people interrupting, it is also frustrating to try to proofread surrounded by distractions. Find a quiet place where you will be free from interruptions before starting the process.
  3. Take frequent breaks. Most people don’t read an entire novel in a single sitting, so you shouldn’t either. Proofread your novel in chunks of several chapters at a time so that you don’t miss errors due to fatigue.
  4. Use the assistance of others. Ask someone with a solid understanding of grammar and composition and a love of your chosen genre to read your novel and give you an unbiased opinion. Ask them for some of their best proofreading tips as well.
  5. Don’t rely too heavily on spelling and grammar checkers. They are handy tools and certainly have their place in writing, but they are far from infallible. There is simply no replacement for the human brain.
  6. Read your paragraphs or chapters out of order. This will switch things up just enough that your mind won’t remember what’s next and you’ll be more likely to catch those little trouble spots.
  7. Be aware of your most frequent errors. Do you misspell words when you are on a roll? Are you a comma abuser? Is your work dotted throughout with ellipses? Print reminders to yourself on Post-its and keep them handy so that you can reign in your most annoying habits.
  8. Check and recheck. Those sentences that already required revisions need to be double and triple-checked for errors. Errors in tense, spelling, or phrasing may have sneaked past you due to the original correction.
  9. Keep reference books handy. No one can possibly keep all the rules for grammar, punctuation, and spelling straight all the time. This is where thesauruses, dictionaries, and style books come into play. You should use them often.
  10. Read your novel aloud. Sometimes your ears will catch the errors that your eyes missed.

These ten tips distill the hundreds of pages in proof reading books I’ve ordered to the basics. Thanks, Randall.


Jacqui Murray is the editor of a technology curriculum for K-fifth grade and creator of two technology training books for middle school. She is the author of Building a Midshipman, the story of her daughter’s journey from high school to United States Naval Academy midshipman.  She is webmaster for five blogs, an Amazon Vine Voice book reviewer, a columnist for Examiner.comEditorial Review Board member for Journal for Computing TeachersIMS tech expert, and a weekly contributor to Write Anything and Technology in Education. Currently, she’s working on a techno-thriller that should be ready this summer. Contact Jacqui at her writing office or her tech lab, Ask a Tech Teacher.

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15 thoughts on “Writers Tips #79: Proofing Your MSS

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  5. I have one that’s giving me fits. I’m fairly certain it’s content rather than mechanics though. I just can’t put my finger on what’s lacking though.

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      • Sometimes, when you’re stuck on how to reword a sentence, taking it completely off by itself helps – like when you’re trying to cut words or change tense.

        It’s starting to freeze nights, most nights, but it has yet to snow. Plenty of rain though.

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  6. #1 is my favorite whenever I write anything. Often when I finish something, I feel pretty tired, so it usually makes even more sense to close it up & revisit the next morning! It’s amazing how many times I’ll find some redundancy or other the morning after.

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