Errors are bad, right? Even though we’re often our own harshest critics, we often miss certain annoying little details. But the answer to our question is more life-affirming than you might think: the reason we slip up and our manuscripts include typos and other errors isn’t because we’re stupid — or even careless — but because we’re focused on conveying meaning, a high-level task neurologically speaking. To really catch errors, a person needs time, focus, and to be in the right frame of mind. So, what are some ways we can go about doing this?
Below are five tips you can employ to drastically decrease the chance of mistakes finding their way into your manuscript as you prepare to submit it for publication.
#1 — Have a professional copyeditor edit your manuscript
The most common mistakes are minor, such as misspellings or incorrect use of punctuation. Other common errors are incorrect word use (their, they’re, there). A professional editor is skilled at noticing and correcting these kinds of mistakes. Do not make the mistake of relying solely upon a computerized spell-checker, which cannot tell the difference between “worse” and “worst” since they are both properly spelled words. Use an editor — a human one.
#2 — Get a second (and third) set of eyes
Even if you do not wish to pay a professional, anyone who reviews your writing will find mistakes you invariably missed. Since you are overly familiar with your own work, you are much more likely to miss obvious mistakes because your mind already knows what the text is trying to say, rather than what it actually says. When someone else reads your work, they have no preconceived notions about your intent. In addition to finding mistakes, a professional editor can offer helpful suggestions to make your writing stronger.
#3 — Come back to it later
Do you wait long enough after writing something to begin editing it? Many writers edit their work as they write it. Not only does this slow down the creative process, it increases the chances that your mind will ignore blatant errors in deference to your intentions. Once your brain thinks a paragraph is free from errors, it tends to overlook any new errors that are introduced during the rewriting process. Put your writing away for several hours, days, or weeks and revisit it later. After some time away from your work, you will be more likely to read the words as they appear on the page, not as you envisioned them in your mind. The mind is error-free, the page is not.
#4 — Read your material backwards
You are only familiar with your writing in one direction — forward. Reading your material backwards makes it seem entirely different and fools your mind into ignoring the content and only concentrating on the reality. Furthermore, your critical view of the writing at its most technical level will not be corrupted by the flowing exposition you have massaged into sparkling prose. When you read your manuscript backwards, it becomes a collection of words. Without contextual meaning, the brain has nothing to focus upon other than the words and punctuation. Mistakes literally jump off the page!
#5 — Read your material out loud
When you read words aloud, your brain must slow down and concentrate on the material. How fast can you read the following sentence? The quick brown fox jumped over the lazy dogs. Now how fast can you read it out loud? It takes at least twice as long, and those precious milliseconds sometimes make all the difference between a typo that is missed and one that is caught and corrected. An extra bonus for reading your material out loud is that you may discover stumbling blocks like awkward sentence structure and choppy dialogue.
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