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I have a problem where I often proof my own writing and I don't catch all the errors while I am reading through it. I often miss entire words out of sentences or find myself repeating words. I can read a document several times and I catch new errors every time. Eventually, I'll feel like I've caught everything, but I find out after I've posted or printed it that I left out some word. The whole process takes hours instead of a few minutes. This process is so frustrating that sometimes I just give up. Does anyone have this experience writing and if so, what techniques have you developed that help?

P.S:
For some reason, I make fewer errors and my writing is a lot speedier if I write it out long hand first. For some reason, the word processor makes it hard to keep your train of thought going because you find yourself derailed by the formatting. I also found using NotePad to be a useful tool. Since it doesn't have formatting, it is less distracting. I also set the width of the Window to be very short. For some reason, my thoughts are less likely to get derailed and I make fewer errors.

Edit: I haven't picked an answer because all of these responses are great! I also want to keep the suggestions coming so that others will benefit. Thanks a lot.

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migrated from english.stackexchange.com Apr 9 '12 at 20:58

This question came from our site for linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts.

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You would read alud recordering your voice. Next you could ear your text catching the errors. Then you could rewrite the text correctly. –  Carlo_R. Apr 9 '12 at 20:40
    
Definitely upvoting this. Typos like typos, errors: rise/raise, lie/lay, they are my bane nowadays. –  SF. Nov 10 '13 at 0:16
    
I had a program that did this for me when I wrote in French called Antidote. Maybe there is an equivalent for English? –  Seanny123 Nov 11 '13 at 1:28
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How about re-reading what you wrote? These kinds of typos are a result of hurried or skipped editing. You should spot them, when you read your manuscript, and if you don't, you need to work on your grammar or spelling. –  what Nov 11 '13 at 9:03
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@what I think writer's usually develop some kind of error/typo blindness the more they read their work. I read mine like 10 times and the errors/typos people found had nothing to do with my grammar. –  Alexandro Chen Nov 11 '13 at 9:07

16 Answers 16

Translate it (that is, manually, yourself, not using an app) into another language. If you are monolingual, consider learning Esperanto for that purpose.

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This is an interesting idea. I only hesitate to upvote it because I'm fairly sure more people are fluent in Klingon than Esperanto. –  Lauren Ipsum Jun 24 at 16:38
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But a true Klingon Warrior does not comment his code! –  EsperantoSpeaker1 Jul 13 at 9:23
    
::snicker:: Yes, Klingon code isn't released; it escapes into the wild. Your general point is valid; I just think Esperanto in particular isn't a widely applicable suggestion. –  Lauren Ipsum Jul 13 at 23:20

You could try using some sort of text-to-speech program. Once you've finished your writing, get the text-to-speech software to read it out to you. Missing words will stand out much more, and you can do it as often as you want without annoying a human :)

Some of the voices can be a bit awkward, but it should work well enough for your needs.

You can add a "Speak" command to Microsoft word, which will read out the selected text, by following these steps:

(copied from the linked page)

  1. Next to the Quick Access Toolbar, click Customize Quick Access Toolbar.
  2. Quick Access Toolbar Speak command
  3. Click More Commands.
  4. In the Choose commands from list, select All Commands.
  5. Scroll down to the Speak command, select it, and then click Add.
  6. Click OK.

Then just selected some text, and click the "Speak" button to hear it.

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Is it possible for you to practice Ernest Hemingway's advice of leaving some time between writing and proofreading so you come to it fresher?

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Are you doing any technical writing? I work for a professional services company that does a lot of technical writing. We use automated scripts to help us with the trivial stuff so we can focus on content. One example is dealing with acronyms and making sure that they are called out correctly. This can take hours of your valuable time if you do it manually but goes much faster with a little technical help.

Becoming part of a strong team would be my second advice.

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Welcome to Writers! There's some good advice here, but have edited your answer to remove promotional content. (If you want to add a URL to your profile, that'd be fine.) While self promotional content can be okay here, I suggest avoiding it for your very first posts. Again, welcome, and thanks for contributing to the community. –  Neil Fein Nov 18 '13 at 18:38
    
Thanks! Link moved to profile page... –  Silvia Paddock Nov 18 '13 at 19:30
    
Appreciated. And again, welcome. I'm looking forward to seeing more answers like this from you. –  Neil Fein Nov 18 '13 at 20:32

Print out your work, as others have suggested. Print 2 or even 4 pages per sheet, thus using fewer trees.

Newer versions of Word (and most other word processors, I'd imagine) attempt to catch words that are spelled correctly but used in the wrong context. An example I see all the time is 'been' for 'being'. E.g. 'Are you been serious?'. In Word, potential errors like this are highlighted in blue when the grammar checker's on.

Also, I use an online editor called Autocrit. It's one of the few pieces of software I pay for. It highlights commonly overused words, repeated words and much more. For the novel I recently published, I put the whole thing through Autocrit before giving it to my human editor. It took me ages to review and address the issues this showed up, but it livened up my writing no end and left my editor free to focus on higher-level issues.

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I find that most of my mistakes occur at or across line breaks.

After your first proof-reading pass, change the margin slightly on your window - perhaps just by half an inch. This will cause all the text to wrap at a different point and previously hidden errors will become apparent on the second pass.

Of course I think that (as others have suggested) reading it out loud is the very best way, this way is quick and will always turn up a few more. In fact, it will reveal errors that will be MISSED by reading it aloud.

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You could try reading the final draft out loud either to yourself or to another person. (That's what I have always had my own children do when they're working on school essays.)

Reading out loud slows you down so that you are less likely to read over a duplicated word and it will be more obvious when a word is left out. It is also a good method for detecting awkward sentence construction.

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+1: This is the foolproof way to proofread. If you read it out loud, every mistake is apparent. The only quibble I have is that frequently you find more to edit than you imagine, and so have to read the whole thing over again. –  Robusto Apr 10 '12 at 2:41
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Especially good if you put it down for a while, a couple weeks perhaps, then pick it up and read it to someone. That gives your brain time to clear out the auto-insert cache so you stumble over a missing word rather than speaking it anyway. –  Patches Apr 11 '12 at 17:03
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Great answer. If you had read it aloud, I'm sure you'd have noticed the "a" missing from "It is also a good method ..." ;-) +1 –  what Nov 13 '13 at 12:05
    
@what, Yes ... I would have. Thanks for improving the answer. :) –  JLG Nov 13 '13 at 14:29

You mentioned, that the formatting of your word processor is distracting you while reading through your text. One suggestion is using a Markup language like Markdown, that is also used on Stackexchange. This will separate your writing from formatting and you can use any text editor (like Notepad).

One tip for searching for doubled words is using the advanced search function of your word processor. Select »Regular Expressions« and use the following codes, then your doubled words will be found.

\b(\w+)\s+\1\b
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Or use a word processor in which you can turn off the distracting grammar-checking and then turn it back on when you're ready to review. –  Monica Cellio Nov 13 '13 at 18:25
    
@MonicaCellio this is helpful, but the formatting of the text won’t be disabled, so you still can be distracted from the formatting. –  rosetree Nov 14 '13 at 8:36

Use text-to-speech software. It's available on almost every computer nowadays, for free. The advantage of this is that the computer is stupid and will read whatever you have written, even if it makes no sense. (Of course, this approach assumes you will recognize the mistake when you hear it.) Human readers will instead often unconsciously fix textual mistakes as they read aloud.

(OT: My experience in teaching young children is that this human tendency to fix/guess often hinders learning to read, especially for comprehension. Watch for that with your kids. When they are reading aloud, don't let them paraphrase the text. Force them to read it word for word, phrase by phrase, exactly as written. [Scanning and speedreading are for skilled readers, not for beginners.] If your kids can't do this with age-appropriate texts, then they either need more phonics work, or they have dislexic issues, or they are rushing too much.)

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I don't know whether you do this or not, but one of the best ways of proofreading I've found is to print out the document and read it through in the paper format, rather than trying to proofread writing on screen.

Mark up your corrections on the paper in a particular coloured ink and correct them on-screen. Now take a break and do something else before going back to the paper proof again and correct the next set of errors in a different colour and so on until all corrections have been found.

Keep repeating this process until the draft is correct. Don't try and catch all errors in one read through, sometimes it can take several readings to catch them all.

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Yes, this. I catch most of my mistakes by being confronted by them on paper. In addition, proofreading on paper prevents me from switching into "edit" mode to fix it. Proofread, then edit; in my experience (both personal and team members), if you combine the two you miss stuff. (This doesn't mean never edit online, but don't check the "proofread" item off the to-do list until you've done it some other way.) –  Monica Cellio Feb 25 '13 at 14:00
    
Yes, reading off a screen is never the same as reading print. –  Mario Elocio Nov 15 '13 at 2:35

Something I have done with considerable success is to read the finished product in a much larger font. When you are reading along in your normal font, it is easier for your mind to anticipate and gloss over words, even when they are obviously incorrect. By increasing the font size, an error tends to stand out more clearly, making it more difficult to gloss over.

All of these are excellent ideas, and if you are planning to do multiple passes through your work, it would be good to use at least two different techniques. Anything that gets through the first pass might be more easily detected in the second pass by using a different technique. Either way, I strongly agree with the recommendation to set it aside at least a couple of weeks. That way you don't do as much anticipating as you are reading.

BTW - I read somewhere that people tend to use the creative side of their brain when they are writing using longhnad, but they use the other side of their brain when they are typing. As a result, typing out your story as you are trying to develop it can prove to be difficult for some people because their creative side is not being engaged as much.

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Steve did you deliberately misspell longhand, to see if anyone would spot it? ;-) –  spiceyokooko Dec 11 '12 at 17:43
    
lol - I wish I could take credit for being that clever, but it was an honest typo! :) Nice catch! –  Steven Drennon Dec 11 '12 at 19:15

Proofreading is the process of looking for errors. Revision is the process of improving the writing. The two aren't necessarily synonymous.

Yes, removal of errors usually results in an improved piece. But many other improvements require restructuring, better word choices, removal of stale idioms, switching passive voice to active voice, etc.

This sentence made me laugh out loud: The whole process takes hours instead of a few minutes. Forceful, effective writing takes more than "a few minutes."

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I love that last line. –  Aerovistae Apr 9 '12 at 22:00
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Yeah, but we're not talking about complex prose here. Just writing that question took at least an hour. I just edited it to change"though" to"through" a few minutes ago, for instance. This is a clear case were it would help if spell checkers had a tad of context checking. –  Joel Rodgers Apr 12 '12 at 18:03
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How is this answering the question? –  Shantnu Tiwari Jul 16 '12 at 15:22
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@Shantnu: Perhaps it doesn't answer the question directly, but it does address the issue of whether or not the right question is being asked, or if the question has a valid answer. The O.P. wanted proofreading tips to help shave the process down from "hours" to "a few minutes". Most of the answers here allude to the fact that there's no magic solution to this hard problem. Even tricks like "read from the bottom up" might help make the proofreading process more thorough, but not necessarily more quick. The O.P. asked, "does anyone have any experience...?" I do; I've learned it takes time. –  J.R. Jul 16 '12 at 15:46
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If you feel the question is wrong or not relevant, you should flag it up for moderators, or leave a comment. –  Shantnu Tiwari Jul 17 '12 at 8:23

I use a Mac. I use the built-in Text-to-Speech feature to read back aloud the words I have written. It is by far superior to reading yourself because the brain sometimes skips things right in front of your eyes! And the more tired your eyes, the ears usually hear better! You can achieve similar results if you use a PC.

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How does this technique help you to catch wrong word spellings such as their/there, road/rode, whet/wet and so on? –  spiceyokooko Dec 11 '12 at 17:56
    
@spiceyokooko Since rode and road are pronounced differently, you will spot the mistake more easily than if you just looked at the word. In cases where the pronounciation is similar (whet/wet), reading alout won't help you, of course. –  what Nov 13 '13 at 12:03
    
@what: Where are you from, that you pronounce rode and road differently? Not mocking; I'm curious. –  dmm Nov 14 '13 at 15:50
    
@dmm lol, yes, my mistake. Bad example :-) I had the feel/fell example in mind that is given in a related question. I'm German, btw. –  what Nov 14 '13 at 16:00

I just recalled a friend telling me years ago that he witnessed professional proof readers and editors, who work for publishers, use a pencil to plot a dot over each and every word as they read through a manuscript. It forces them to read every word. Of course, it is only a matter of time before your brain goes on autopilot again, especially on very long documents.

I thought of another idea from folks here about reading aloud and even a software suggestion. A speech synthesis program can help by reading the text back to you. It won't get the tone and pace right, but it helps as you read along.

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Joel, I moved the first paragraph here into your question above, as it's not really part of your answer. I see you've reverted my edit, and it's now in two places. Do you want to leave it here? If so, you can revert my edit to your question as well. –  Neil Fein Apr 12 '12 at 18:26
    
We were editing at the same time. I want to keep edits. Thanks. –  Joel Rodgers Apr 12 '12 at 18:41

Read from the bottom up.

It derails the comprehension so it's much easier to see individual words, and you catch many more typos and dropped words.

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I think the answer to your specific problem is that there is no simple solution. There is no trick. Reading out loud does definitely help, but ultimately if your mind is subconsciously fixing the errors as you go so that you read right over them without taking any notice, it's going to happen when you're reading out loud just the same.

You have to train yourself to see what's there instead of what you want to see.

It really is that simple.

The funny thing is that this is applicable to much more than just proof-reading. It applies to characters, to plots, to descriptions, to entire novels.

You have to see it as if you've never seen it before. It's difficult as hell, but you've got to learn it.

Just keep practicing. Go slow. Slow, slow, slow. Go slow enough and you'll only have to go once or twice.

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simple lol. Psychology suggests otherwise! –  Matt Ellen Jul 17 '12 at 7:59
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@MattEllen: So does the first sentence of the answer :D –  naught101 Aug 17 '12 at 4:25

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