Monday, March 8, 2010

Never Miss a Typo Again

Proofreading is one of those necessary evils of writing. If we expect any self-respecting reader to take our stories seriously, we have to make sure we’ve presented them as flawlessly as possible—and that means avoiding typos at all costs. Misspelled words, oft-repeated words, missing words, incorrect grammar, misplaced punctuation—all these things are the mark of unprofessionalism. And yet, they’re also mistakes that all writers struggle with, in large part because we’re often blind to our own stories. We read what we think we’ve written, rather than the glaring error we actually typed.

So what’s a writer to do? Following are five tips for catching even the most camouflaged of typos.

1. Distance yourself.

If at all possible, put some time between you and your manuscript. If you’re able to gain a little objective distance, you’ll be more likely to read with fresh eyes and less likely to read things that aren’t there.

2. Read aloud.

Reading aloud does wonders, not only for catching typos, but for helping you gain a better sense of the rhythm of your words. For instance, when you start reading your dialogue aloud, you’ll be able to recognize when the cadence is off.

3. Read to someone else.

Reading aloud to someone else takes our proofreading to a new level by giving us a hyperawareness of our words. Because we begin to hear what we’ve written through our audience’s ears, it gives us a fresh perspective. The bloopers we suddenly become aware of as a result can be astounding.

4. Have your computer read to you.

Adobe Reader (standard on most computers) features a “read aloud” tool that verbalizes your work, so you can hear it while you read along. You can purchase more sophisticated voices in other programs, but this freebie (I call the voice “Howie”) works perfectly for me. After converting your manuscript to a pdf, open it in Adobe Reader, click the View tab in the toolbar. Select Read Out Loud at the bottom of the tab, then Activate Read Out Loud, then choose whether you want to Read This Page Only or Read To End of Document.

5. Dot each word.

Print a hard copy of your manuscript and arm yourself with a highlighter. As you read, place a dot under each word. This will force you to acknowledge each word on the page and keep you from reading words that aren’t there or skipping typos that are present.

Using these five tips—or any combination thereof—will keep your eyes and your mind open for typos, no matter how many times you’ve already read your story. If you have any typo-finding tricks of your own to share, please feel free to leave us a comment. Happy typo hunting!

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