I consider proofreading to be a very important part of writing. From various reasons every writer, blogger or student should not skip this step from their process. While writers need to step up their game and maintain their reputation I need to improve my skills as a non-native English speaker/writer. We all have a lot to gain from proofreading our bits.
Proofreading is a grueling task, the sort of thing you never like doing, but often brings a lot of benefits.
Since I'm a member of certain technical and somewhat scientific communities I always felt a bit handicapped while trying to express myself so I decided to take proofreading serious. There is a lot of room for improvement but, looking back, I changed significantly during this time.
If you never did any kind of proofreading here's a list of what you're missing and why:
1. People will often not take you seriously
Online communities especially are sometimes harsh and quick to react in a judgmental manner which can set you back or even train your subconscious to refrain from participating on future occasions.
Not being taken seriously can also lead to a lot of frustration, which is best hidden in many cases, often times made public and nothing good comes out of that.
2. Bad habits get stronger
As much as I hate quoting Goebbels he had one thing that truly resonates with me:
“If you repeat a lie many times, people are bound to start believing it”.
Wrong things, done too many times, end-up somewhere deep in the back of your head and they are hard to pull out. Proofreading as a part of your writing can shift this repetition into a positive thing.
Even though I changed my process entirely I still have problems placing the right “its” or “it's” at times for example and this is not from my inability to spot the difference but from a wrong habit, repeated way too often. Proofreading from early stages will take care of that.
3. Your message is often weakened
I am guilty and I sit on both ends of the fence in this case. People that are not expressing themselves properly are having a harder time getting their message through onto others.
Depending on your line of work this can completely lower your chances at achieving certain goals in life. While I can complain about online communities one can only imagine what it means for a lawyer, sales person or professional writer to skip a proper proofreading process.
4. Writing is an art and it takes a healthy process to step up
As humans, we have our limits. We all reach that part in life when we start to stagnate. Every skill takes a lot of hours and practice to be mastered and writing is no different. The process can become faster by fixing your mistakes immediately but that entails awareness which can only be achieved through a certain regime and “education”. With the right set of tools, you will constantly improve.
How can you improve
People tend to think that proofreading means checking your writing for proper grammar and spelling mistakes. That is only a small part of it actually, one leg of the beast but a good place to start.
This is the actual part where you get better at what you do; when you make sure the right message is being sent.
1. Don't take a subjective approach
Once you finished your piece try to clear your mind. Do something else, take a break or do some related research. Whatever you do, it's important that you take some time off from your work. The reason behind this break is that it allows your mind to drift away from the subject and take a more objective path when you start proofreading it.
I consider writing to be like meditation in certain aspects. You have to train your mind to not interfere (by being too personal on the subject)…observe the traffic but don't take part.
2. Use tools but don't rely on them
Using tools is a good thing, a clear indication that you're willing to improve but relying on them is often a bad habit as you allow your mind to stop worrying and become lazy.
Good tools will point out your mistakes and that's a huge step in the right direction. They are like a “friend in need” that should not be abused, ready to help at any time.
Proofreading tools are like training wheels on a bicycle. The goal is to get rid of them by getting better, outsmarting them.
3. Make a list of your mistakes
Just by putting them on a list brings awareness. The problem is noted and it exists, you are aware of it and you will try to avoid it in the future. It may take time and many repetitions but that list will eventually shrink.
4. Read your work multiple times
Reading multiple times always seems to have a benefit on my writing. 99% of the times I spot something new that is unwanted, wrong or not clear enough. I hardly recommend you read your work at least twice before publishing.
5. Read it loud
Loud reading always sounds different from reading silently in your mind. Just by doing it differently will allow you to spot hidden flaws in your work.
6. Check the flow and the sentiment
Every story needs a good flow. Make sure your writing has a natural style of laying out the content. Start with a proper introduction, lay out the problem, the arguments, the facts and the conclusion. A good flow ensures readability.
I picked some wrong words and adjectives when I started writing on this post and Typley quickly reported my sentiment analysis to be negative so I had to change my style a bit and focus more on a positive approach. I spotted my mistakes and corrected them.
Make sure the sentiment of the story is the one intended…there's nothing wrong with being negative about something after all if you truly intend it but it can lead to the wrong message being passed on to your readers otherwise and, in some situations, the wrong message can go as far as losing your job.
7. Ask for a peer review if possible
I know great minds think alike but we are often limited on any given subject by our own list of prejudices, subjective experiences, education or lack of enough information. Reaching out for a friend to do a peer review adds an additional layer of objectivity on the work. This process allows you to decide if the message is clear enough, if you made mistakes or if there is room for improvement. I hardly recommend doing it.
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