Pitfalls

Clean copy is king: 6 tips for catching errors in your work

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In my many years as writer, editor and English teacher, I have marveled at the number of simple errors that can be found in the stories and query letters I have received.

Before you send off that manuscript, pull out that red pen and give your work a good edit. (Flickr: irish-girl)

Before you send off that manuscript, pull out the red pen and give your work a good quality edit. (Flickr: irish-girl)

It’s certainly understandable. After all, most writers spend hours agonizing over each word, staring at a computer screen.

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Typos are going to happen. We’ve all been there.

But those errors – no matter how tiny or inconsequential – can sink your ship before it’s even sailed.

Read: Scary stories: Don’t become a victim of literary scammers

Before you send off that manuscript, or toss that query into a very tired, very cranky editor’s mailbox, pull out the red pen and follow these suggestions for catching your writing blunders:

Read aloud. Force your brain to hear the words as they are read aloud — to anyone or no one. Chances are you will not only notice small mistakes, but you’ll also become aware of sentence structure that reads awkwardly.

Step away or seek a second set of eyes. Sometimes, no matter how many times we have scanned a piece, we grow blind to obvious errors. Fresh eyes will pick up those slips.

Run spell check, but don’t count on it to be accurate. Despite the wonders of modern computers, spell check does not often catch the more nuanced gaffes. For example, what is the difference between let and allow?

Proofread block by block. By chunking up the content, you compel your eye to keenly focus on one paragraph, rather than become distracted by the whole document.

Re-read – from the bottom up. Reading backwards, from the end to the beginning, can provide a new perspective for glazed-over eyes.

Go with your gut. If something about a particular word or phrase in your work does not make sense or feel right, then chances are your readers will feel the same way. Revise or remove the offending passage altogether.

Kerri S. Mabee is editor at EducatedWriter.com. Learn more about her at kerrismabee.com.

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