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Wednesday, April 05, 2006

What's a worn?

Recently I've been reading Stephen King's latest bestseller "Cell". As you'd expect it's a tautly written thriller, though dark even by Stephen King standards. However, one thing that spoiled it a bit for me was the number of proofreading errors I noticed.

For example, on page 323 a character says "I think there was a worn in the original program". The first time I read this I thought a word had been omitted - a worn what? - then I realised that it should have been "worm" (for those who don't know, it's a kind of computer virus).

This kind of thing seems to happen increasingly in books nowadays - presumably it's a sign of cash-strapped publishers cutting a few corners. But it does mean that proofreading your own work has never been more essential. So I thought I'd offer a few hints and tips on proofreading for writers.

My first advice is to leave it as long as possible between finishing a piece of writing and proofreading it. If you've just finished writing a book or article, you are still too close to the material to proofread it. Your eyes will see what your brain expects to see, rather than what is actually there. You need to put the text away for a while, and then approach it with fresh eyes.

My second piece of advice is NEVER proofread on screen. I don't know why exactly, but you can read a piece of text a dozen times on screen and not see anything wrong with it, yet as soon as you have a printed-out version in front of you, you notice a glaring mistake on the third line. If you hate the 'waste of paper' this entails, you can always print on the back of previously printed pages.

Thirdly, if at all possible, read through the text not once but twice. The first time read for sense, checking for possible omissions, passages that don’t make sense, inconsistencies (e.g. the same name spelt differently on different pages), and so on. Then go through a second time looking for mistakes in spelling, grammar and punctuation.

In proofreading an eye for detail is essential, and experienced proofreaders train themselves to notice errors and omissions the average reader will often miss. This means you must read slowly and carefully, taking in every letter of every word, and considering spelling, punctuation, etc. Proofreading is the direct opposite to speed reading!

Even so, there is a lot to be said for getting someone else to proofread your work as well, especially if you are planning to self-publish. Apart from anything else, we all have our blind spots. For example, for many years I was convinced that smooth was spelt with a final 'e' and restaurateur had an 'n' in it.

A professional freelance proofreader need not be expensive. As readers of my E-Writer newsletter will know, my colleagues Philip and Nona Langley offer a very competitive service from their base in Australia. They say: "Our aim is to be so darned good at what we do, to give so much better service than any other proofreader on the planet, that we become the automatic "recommended proofreader of choice" for people like you."

The Langleys have done proofreading jobs for well-known e-book authors such as Joe Vitale, Declan Dunn, Larry Dotson, Chayden Bates, and many others. They can proofread either in US or UK English. And the best news is that for a limited period they are offering an exclusive 10% discount to readers of my blog and newsletter. To take advantage of this offer, or just to find out more, visit http://nd.perfect-proofreading.com.

Happy proofreading!

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