To correct or not correct …

I recently discovered that I suck at proofreading. At least I think I do. And the only way to stop sucking at something, is to practice it. A lot. But how do you practice something that you (obviously) don’t know how to do? You’ll need a method, guide or step-by-step plan of some sort. Here’s how I intend to do it from now on:

1) Leave it. If it’s my own text that needs proofreading, I’m going to leave it for a day or two (or more), and come back to it when it’s less fresh in my mind. Not always possible of course, but still a good rule.

2) Print it. On paper, that is. The environment might suffer some, but your text will benefit. Only reading it on a computer screen will normally not get you where you need to be – at least in terms of proofreading – you’re more likely to overlook errors. Be sure to do both though, as reading the text on different formats might let you spot different errors.

3) Read one sentence at a time. OUT LOUD. Then read it backwards. Look at every word. Cover the rest of the text with white sheets of paper to isolate the sentence you’re concentrating on. The point of this is to eliminate distracting typographical errors before you move on.

4) Read one paragraph at a time. Out loud. Concentrate on sentence structure, punctuation and grammatical errors.

5) Investigate. Are there words in the text that you don’t understand? Other facts that might be wrong? Find out.

6) Read through the whole text. Preferably out loud. Does the text make sense? Do the words make sense in the context they’re used in? (I tend to write the opposite of what I actually mean. Recently, I used the word static where it should have said dynamic, and I didn’t notice it until someone else pointed it out.) Should something be moved to somewhere else, elaborated on or simply deleted? Be aware though, when dealing with other people’s texts, that proofreading doesn’t necessarily mean changing the text to suit your own preferences. The fact that you don’t like a particular word, or a particular sentence structure, doesn’t make it wrong. You are not writing-god (and yes, this can be hard to accept).

7) Repeat. Go through steps 1-6 again. At least a couple of times. More if you want to be thorough. OK, no. 5 might not need repeating over and over again, but the others do.

You’ll need to use tools, both to proofread correctly and to optimize the text (if it’s your own). Here are some resources:

  • Google Translate. Doesn’t always get things right, but can be helpful all the same. I often translate back and forth a few times to try to make sure I’ve got it right. (This is probably only useful if you’re bi- og multilingual.)
  • Merriam Webster. English dictionary. Loaded with ads. (I only use this when my Google Translate-strategy fails me).
  • Norwegian dictionary. Mandatory for Norwegians. Will also provide you with the different inflections of each word, should you need it. (Now, I used Google Translate, Merriam Webster and the Norwegian dictionary to find the word inflection. I assume it’s fairly correct, but since I’m not sure, I should probably investigate further, as instructed by myself in no. 5 above. I’ll do it tomorrow. Or some other day. Or perhaps I’ll just wait until someone tells me it’s wrong. Which most likely will never happen.)
  • Korrekturavdelingen. Deals with Norwegian grammar and other textual stuff. Will tell you that what you thought was right, is actually wrong. Enjoy.
  • Store norske leksikon på nett. Encyclopedia in Norwegian. Very useful (for Norwegians). Also has a fun blog, Lille norske, and nice photos on the search page.

I’ve used a few other internet resources to write this blog post, be sure to visit them as well:

Need more? Try googling «blog proofreading» or «amateur proofreading». You’ll find tons of resources. Help is out there…

«Read through your text several times, concentrating first on sentence structures, then word choice, then spelling, and finally punctuation. As the saying goes, if you look for trouble, you’re likely to find it.»

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