A guest post by Amanda Laughtland
Most of the writers I know do a great deal (if not all) of their composing and editing on computer screens. With the portability of tablets and smartphones, it’s easier than ever for writers to set to work whenever they find a few moments to bring up their documents at the bus stop, on the bus, or anywhere else.
Ideally, I like to compose on paper first, and I still buy stacks of spiral notebooks during back-to-school sales in the fall, but for my work-related writing tasks, I do almost all of my writing and editing while looking at the 13-inch screen of my notebook computer, not my spiral notebook.
I’ve been teaching college-level writing online for several years, and in my experience, the strongest writers have the keenest eye for proofreading their own work. Below are three of my favorite strategies writers can use to find and fix errors in their own writing. Give one or all of these a try the next time you’re proofreading the work you’ve been composing and editing online.
Remember that proofreading happens after you’ve already completed editing the content of your piece. Start proofreading when you know that your writing expresses your ideas, includes enough evidence and examples, and has a clear sense of organization and structure.
1. Slow down. It’s especially easy to speed through a piece of writing when you’re reading on a screen. We read more quickly online, with more of a tendency to skim (think about how quickly you scan through content when clicking through websites).
A lot of mistakes slip by because writers don’t slow down enough to notice small, sentence-level details. Look at every sentence, every word, and every punctuation mark.
2. Try reading from bottom to top. After you’ve already proofread your work in the conventional way, from beginning to end, give your document a read-through where you start at the end and read back to the beginning, focusing on just one sentence at a time.
This technique also counteracts the quick scrolling and quick reading that tends to happen when you’re reading on a screen. Reading from end to beginning can help give you the sentence-level focus you need to find and fix errors.
3. Most importantly, print out your work. We get used to reading on screens, but studies show that we don’t read as closely when reading from a screen as from a printed page. Also, it’s helpful to look at your work from a new perspective rather than just scrolling through the same document over and over.
I learned a tip from novelist and nonfiction writer Skye Moody that it also helps to print out your work in a different font than you’ve been using as you edit on your document on your computer. Seeing the words in a different font can give you that little bit of distance you need to see your writing in a new way, and errors might jump out more readily.
After trying these strategies, you may also want to ask someone else to have a look at your work; we all have troublesome errors we don’t notice ourselves but which someone else might notice right away. Also, try reading your work aloud, or ask someone to read your work to you: we can often “hear” errors which we can’t “see” when reading our own work.
What strategies have you found effective in proofreading your own writing?
Amanda Laughtland is a writer, teacher, editor, and small press publisher who lives in Seattle. Visit her website (http://teenytiny.org) for more about her work. Her latest project is the interview blog, With Five Questions (http://withfivequestions.blogspot.com).
Now: get your writing right first time
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