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Proofreading Tips

When you're writing it's easy to become blind to what's on the page. When you check through your work, you may find that you end up reading what you think you've written, rather than what's actually there. Here are some tips and suggestions on how to make the proofreading process a little easier.

Make the most of your word processor's spell check feature: start off by checking your manuscript using the spell checker that comes as part of your word processing software. Be careful not to rely on this feature to find all your mistakes though. A spell checker will pick uo on the obvious things, but will miss lots of others. However, it's a good place to start.

Print out your story: once you've run the spell check, print out a copy of your story. It's better to proofread from a hard copy, rather than on screen. Mistakes are much easier to spot on paper and you can also mark up changes on a hard copy proof.

Go somewhere quiet: move away from distractions. Read your work somewhere quiet away from the television, background music, or talkative friends or family. Concentrate carefully on each word as you work through the manuscript. When you're proofreading, it's vital that you focus on the job at hand. One tiny lapse in concentration could allow an error to slip through.

Read it out loud: it can be useful to read your work aloud, It will help you to pick up on misplaced commas and missing question marks, and also help you identify overlong or awkwardly constructed sentences. If you struggle with a sentence as you're reading it, it's likely that your audience will too.

Get someone else to check your work: it's amazing how quickly a fresh pair of eyes will spot the errors that you have overlooked.

Things to look out for

Cliches: you will hopefully have cut the cliches from your story during the editing process, but the final proofread is your last chance to spot any that you've missed.

Consistency: check your manuscript for consistency. This could be in the spelling of a name. For instance, if you introduce a character called Alan on the first page, make sure he isn't called Allan on page four. Or if your protagonist has brown hair in one scene, don't give her blonde hair in the the next.

You should also be consistent in the way you format your work. If you choose to put your dialog into double quotation marks "like this", don't introduce dialog in single quotation marks 'like this' later in the story. If you hyphenate a word once, use that same format throughout the story. For example you might refer to someone as a character's ex-wife. Don't then mention an ex wife (without the hyphen) at a different point in the story. It's advisable to pick up on these kind of inconsistencies, but don't worry too much if you miss one or two: the editor will invariably correct these minor points should they decide to publish your story.

Contractions and apostrophes: be very careful about the differences between words such as your and you're. They sound the same, but they have different meanings.

You're is a contraction of you are, so you could say:

You're going to the match tomorrow, aren't you? or

You are going to the match tomorrow, aren't you?

Both of the above are correct. However, the following would be incorrect:

Your going to the match tomorrow, aren't you?

Another common mistake is the misuse of its and its. Which one you choose will depend on whether you're using the word to show possession or abbreviate it is.

It's is a contraction of it is as in:

It's a long way to Tipperary.

Its is the possessive pronoun and needs no apostrophe. For example:

The cat licked its paw.

The easiest way to check whether you've got it right is to expand the contracted version of it's.

It is a long way to Tipperary. This is right and so the correct form here is it's.

The cat licked it is paw. This is obviously wrong, so the correct form here must be its.

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