An author contacted us recently requesting proofreading services. She was horrified that several mistakes appeared in her published book, even after a proofreader had reviewed it.
Of course, we understood her frustration. Errors slip past us every day in our emails, reports, websites, blog posts, and books.
There’s some talk about the acceptable error rate, from three to 10 errors per 10,000 words. But the fact is that no error feels acceptable when we’ve poured time and effort into writing.
Here are some things we can do to error-proof our work as much as possible.
#1 Take advantage of word-processing features.
The “Spelling and Grammar” checker in Microsoft Word helps find common mistakes.
“Find” and “Replace” locate specific mistakes, like inconsistent spacing after periods or the misspelling of last names. They’re also useful in catching every instance of a problem that isn’t necessarily a mistake. For example, we replaced the percent sign with “percent” every time it appeared in a paper for a graduate student. It wasn’t detected as an error by Word’s standards, but it was an expectation by the professor.
#2 Install better tools.
Install proofreading tools like Grammarly and ProWritingAid (or both). Their free versions detect more than the Word checker – and their premium versions offer even more value. And they can check your work across email, Word documents, the web — even your text messages.
These tools check writing in real time according to your purpose, whether it’s business, academic, or web. They pinpoint errors, eliminate repetitions, and suggest better word choice. Although many of the suggestions aren’t necessary, the color system allows you to quickly identify critical mistakes.
#3 Remember to fact-check.
Proofreading is about more than just grammar. While formatting an e-book for a client, we discovered 12 broken website links that needed to be corrected before publishing. Websites, dates, names, and locations should all be verified for spelling and accuracy.
#4 Sleep on it.
It’s amazing what a breather will do for your work. Resist the impulse to submit an important email or other writing the same day it’s written. With fresh eyes, you’ll be able to spot a mistake or reword a sentence with more clarity. Even better, ask colleagues to take another look with you before the writing is finalized.
#5 Hire a professional.
Sometimes it’s worth hiring a proofreader to pick up on problems that are missed by automated tools. A professional will pay attention to tiny details as well as the big picture, such as inconsistencies among headings, page numbers, timelines, and the Table of Contents. Proofreaders vary wildly in their rates and processes, so here are pointers to find the right fit:
- Agree on a method of communicating corrections. For anything longer than an email, we recommend Track Changes. (Here’s a brief tutorial.)
- Invest in redundancy if your budget allows. A team of two proofreaders is better than one. Also, a review of the formatted product – whether a website or book – is better than a review of just the manuscript.
- Find out if there’s a guarantee. It’s best if the proofreader is held accountable for the quality of the work.
#5 Communicate proofreading notes to other project members.
Pass your proofreading notes to the rest of the team to ensure nothing gets lost in the shuffle. For example, let your formatter know about common norms in the writing. Your formatter can help ensure consistency in spacing, dashes, and ellipses – and alert you to any overlooked detail. Your notes can be used to create a checklist of standards for future projects.
#6 Duplicate every revision in the original work.
If you correct an error in your formatted design, make the same correction in the original manuscript. Your original manuscript may be useful for later projects, such as marketing materials or an audiobook. Be sure to keep your original work up to date.
#7 Know that the final (probably) isn’t the final.
A mistake can usually still be corrected even after publication. Digital technology allows us to quickly fix websites and even print-on-demand books by simply uploading amendments.
Of course, it’s not ideal. You may have already distributed copies containing the error. And making changes at this point is more costly. You’ll need to revise all formats of your book, such as your e-book, paperback, and hardcover.
But rest in the knowledge that, ultimately, your work may be still be perfected long after “the end.”
P.S. Did you catch the proofreading mistake that made it into this post?
Ella Ritchie is the founder of Stellar Communications Houston, a book publishing team that provides a peaceful process and pride in every product for nonfiction authors, business leaders, nonprofit organizations, and federal government agencies. For more information, connect with her on LinkedIn or on the website.