Sony PlayStation console controller
It may sound odd, but this controller is a useful editing tool. (Image: Unsplash/Pexels)

As a writer, there are easy things you can do to improve your writing and reduce errors, before sending it to your editor or clicking the ‘publish’ button.

Every writer finds it difficult to spot errors in their own writing. Even copy editors, like myself, can struggle to spot mistakes in our own writing. And it’s all down to how our brains work.

When writers read over work we’ve written, we unconsciously skip ahead, as we recall what we’ve written and know what we intended to say, and so we end up skimming over our mistakes.

To help reduce this ‘typo blindness’, try out these tricks of the editing trade.

Take a break, then re-read

Have a drink, attend a meeting, walk your dog, play with your kids, gossip with workmates, find a PlayStation buddy up for a Call of Duty match – do anything that doesn’t involve writing before reviewing your work.

Why should I do this?

This helps you see your work with fresh eyes because the text becomes unfamiliar – you set aside what you meant to say and see what you’ve really written. The longer the piece, the longer you need to take a break for: 10 minutes for a short article will help, but a book should be set aside for a couple of weeks.

New fonts, please

Changing the fonts before re-reading your work can show mistakes you’ve overlooked.

Pick one in a different typeface style to the one you wrote in – so if you used a serif font (eg. Times New Roman or Garamond), switch to a sans-serif font (eg. Arial or Calibri) and vice versa. Use whatever font works for you – even Comic Sans.

Why should I do this?

Changing the font and the layout makes the text unfamiliar to your brain and you read what is ‘on the page’, not what you believe is there. Typing out material that you’ve written longhand, or pasting text from a word processor into your blog’s CMS also has this effect.

Spelling and grammar checkers are great for making final probes for mistakes. But ensure your document’s language matches your audience’s before unleashing the robot. (eg. British English if you’re writing for the UK, and US English for North America.)

Edit from hard copies

Print off your article in a large, clear font with double-spaced line breaks, to give you enough room to make notes; grab a pencil or a pen (blue pencils are traditional for marking up edits, but I prefer green Biros) and a ruler (optional); find a spot where you can focus; and read the print out.

Use your finger, pen or ruler to keep your eyes fixed on the word or line you are reading, so you don’t skip ahead. And make sure to subvocalise the words and punctuation you see.

Why should I do this?

As well as making text unfamiliar, moving away from your computer helps you focus: there’s no internet and email to distract you.

Reading slowly using a finger or pen may make you feel like a child learning to read, but it will highlight small mistakes you may otherwise miss.

Subvocalising also slows your reading down. (Aside: not doing this and ‘following your finger’ is a speedreading technique.)

Loud out …backwards work your read, finally

Starting from your work’s last word, go backwards throughout the entire piece, reading each word out loud.

Why should I do this?

This forces you to pay attention to each word and trying to pronounce a misspelt word is hard. This is possibly the best way to spot typos and minor mistakes, such as doubled punctuation.

But…

…I have a deadline!

Not all writers feel they have the time to do this – especially content writers and reporters, who have multiple deadlines to hit each day. But the best writers I work with make sure they have enough time to re-read their work at least once.

…copy editors will fix these!

Yes, we will. But if we have a lot to fix, our work takes longer, and if you’re paying by the hour, you’ll be spending more money.

Copy editors also send you queries about your work. So you could end up spending more time (and money) replying to queries than you would’ve spent correcting your typos.

Just make sure you stick to just one Call of Duty match and get back to work.

Do you a trick to self-editing you’d like to share? Please let everyone know in the comments below.

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