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Friday, April 27, 2012

Overcoming the Red X


Who has not been the victim of the big, red X, scritch-scratched across a school paper by a teacher or marked on a manuscript at the hand of an editor? It's shocking when we see it. I dare say, it hurts, physically and psychologically. And almost always, it is associated with a violation of standard writing conventions.

Our primary goal, other than to compose a unique piece of writing that others cannot bear to put down, is to avoid the X. The best way to do that is to proofread with writing conventions in mind. And if we have violated any of them, to either correct them or to compose a suitable defense for them.

In that vein, I offer some tried and true proofreading strategies:

1) Put the piece down and walk away. After some time has passed, read through it again with a critical eye.

2) Read the piece out loud, preferably not in public.

3) Alert! Alert! Don't get cornered by a deadline or due date. Allow enough time for proofreading once the piece is complete.

4) Become mindful of your typical mistakes (maybe even keep a list of them handy) and actively look for those in the paper.

5) Ask someone else - someone who is familiar with grammar, punctuation, capitalization and usage - to read the piece.

6) Be a stranger to your own work. Put yourself in the place of your unknown reader and look at it through his or her eyes.

 7) Read one sentence at a time, paying attention to each word, each punctuation mark, etc. Reading from the end to the beginning makes this process easier.

Proofreading, like anything, takes practice. It can be very frustrating. The story is complete. There's nothing more to say. Yet, here we are still rehashing it, again and again. When we start to feel bogged down in the process and ready to call it quits, we must remember that we are giving our reader a gift: A beautiful, well-written gift.

Tomorrow: Your v. You're

This post is brought to you by the April A to Z Blog Challenge. Check back all through April for daily discussions of writing conventions.


Grover said...

The idea of reading from the end to the beginning of a piece of work is really clever. Thanks!

Jaye Robin Brown said...

It's why I prefer a purple or green pen.

Wendy said...

Excellent advice. When I was teaching I never used a red pen -- always green or a pencil. They didn't call me Mz. Sympathetic for nothin'!

mybabyjohn/Delores said...

No matter how often I read, I still miss stuff.

Dana said...

I always taught my students to proofread by reading from the end of the piece to the beginning. It'a an excellent tip--and as you say, it really does make errors more evident.

mare ball said...

Good tips. I was going to add what Dana above said, but she already said it...reading backwards. I find the best tip is walking away for awhile. Your work has to look new to you.

Catherine Stine said...

All good points. There's hardly a worse feeling than sending out a submission, only to find mistakes that you should have corrected beforehand.

Jocelyn Rish said...

All great advice, which I 'usually' remember to employ on a piece. :-)

And I also only use green or purple or teal when reviewing others work to avoid the negative connotations with red ink.

Jo said...

Never been good at proofreading. These days I have developed typing dyslexia, I frequently type things like form for from etc. I hope I catch them all but.....

William Kendall said...

I'm pretty good at proofreading, but the fact still remains that as writers, we're so close to our own work that we don't see things until it's too late.

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Lucy .. and don't rely on spell-checker .. it can let that through for than, or then ...

We type and think it is correctly typed, even if not so .. when I'm tired I know I make silly mistakes ..

Cheers Hilary

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