February 17, 2010

5 Tips for Quick Editing: Proofreading in a Hurry

Proofreading and editing your article or work of fiction is crucial to its success, but occasionally you'll run into that last minute deadline where there's no time to pick apart every line for grammar errors. What's a writer to do?

These five tricks will catch a large majority of your most obvious grammar errors and the entire run down will only take you about 5 minutes. Save the more tedious editing for a day when you have extra time.

1. Run Firefox or Microsoft Word Spell Check

Mozilla Firefox users have the advantage of a built-in spell check feature. While it's not perfect, it will point out most spelling mistakes and by right clicking on the misspelled word you can choose the correct spelling, or add the word to the dictionary if it's spelled correctly already. For those who don't have Firefox or want a more detailed spelling and grammar check, copy and paste your work into Microsoft Word 2007 and run spell check from the "Review" tab.

2. Check your apostrophes

Look for all the apostrophes in your document using the "Ctrl + F" search feature. Check that contractions are formed properly and that you haven't added on an apostrophe to a word that is plural and not possessive.


Wrong: You're hat looks very nice.
Right: Your hat looks very nice.
This sentence didn't make sense with the contraction you are in it.

Wrong: Check for stray apostrophe's.
Right: Check for stray apostrophes.
The word apostrophes is plural, not possessive. The apostrophes don't own anything.

3. Use Commas to Find Misplaced Modifiers

Misplaced modifiers are hilarious in many sentences, but they don't work so well for serious writing. To catch these sneaky phrases, look for any commas in your sentences and see what the part before or after the comma describes. For example, The man stole the woman's purse, brandishing a gun. The part after the comma, brandishing a gun, sounds like it describes the woman's purse. Rearrange it to say, The man, brandishing a gun, stole the woman's purse.

4. Find Passive Sentences with a Fancy Online Tool

This nifty little verb analyzer will point out all the forms of the verb to be found in your sentences. Glance over the sentences it points out and see which sound long or awkward. Reword those to use the active voice, not the passive one. You don't need to change all your sentences, just the ones that don't sound quite right.

5. Read It Out Loud

While not quite as fast as the other tricks, taking a few minutes to read your work out loud will help you find awkward sentences and grammar errors. You may not catch them all, but even a quick 30 second reading of all or part of the article can make a tremendous difference. When you're really crunched for time, read at least the first third of the article so your editor isn't bombarded with grammar problems in the first paragraph.

Note: Using just these 5 tricks I found several errors in this blog post to correct before publishing!