Fact-checking and proofreading seem to have taken a vacation lately. I’ve seen so-called professional news sites and even books with goofs that made my mouth hang open so long, a wren could have built a nest in it.
A few judicious checks can help you avoid making a big fat mistake in your posts, reports, and other documents. You can’t afford not to. Here are some ways to make sure you’re not posting what amounts to a first draft.
This handy gadget in your word processing program (Microsoft Word and Open Office’s text document feature have it) will automatically check your document for spelling and grammar errors, if you have that feature turned on. It underlines misspellings in red.
If you launch the checker under Review in Word, it will go through and recheck everything. You then have the option to correct. Make sure you’re picking the right word!
Spell Check is a first line of defense. The feature won’t catch everything. If I typed “Proofreding Your Wok,” it marks Proofreding but not Wok. The last one is a real word.
A typo I make frequently is form instead of from. I actually have to search for that one in manuscripts to make sure I didn’t do it.
When you go through your document on the first pass, try to remember what errors you make on a regular basis. It helps to make a list and keep it handy. You can also use the Find feature in Word to search for your most common goofs.
Look at it in hard copy
Anne Mini is a stickler for proper formatting. As she points out repeatedly, the best way to find mistakes is to read your manuscript, OUT LOUD, from a hard copy before you even think about sending it to anyone.
The eye gets tired reading off a computer screen. It’s much easier to miss errors than when reading a page. E-readers are a hit because their interface resembles a real page in a book, and it doesn’t give you eyestrain like your laptop.
I recommend printing your copy out, putting it down and walking away from it for a while, the longer the better. I can’t stay away from a manuscript for more than a week myself. If you’re on a deadline, try to aim for at least thirty minutes. Then come back and read it, blue pencil at the ready.
Have someone else look at it
This is especially good for novels. Once you’ve spent six months with your nose in a manuscript, you don’t see individual words anymore. You know it too well. It’s like ceasing to notice that freckle on your lover’s hip.
Make sure you pick someone who can get it done fairly quickly, and is adept at giving feedback rather than criticism.
Watch for unintentionally silly turns of phrase, too. I saw this sign at the grocery store today:
Juvenile of me to giggle throughout my shopping trip, but it really was funny.
Now that you’ve checked your text, you’ll have to make sure your facts / names / etc. are correct.
Ever notice that when you enter something in Google’s search bar it corrects your spelling? When I typed “evylin woug” it automatically pulled up English writer Evelyn Waugh’s Wikipedia page first thing. That’s pretty damn good.
Of course, sometimes it gets it wrong. Try Chrome’s Google page. If you click the little microphone, you can use your voice to look up stuff. Your laptop will probably have a mike. Mumble a bit; the results are hysterical.
Look it up in the dictionary
Most references are online now, at pages like Merriam-Webster.com, Thesaurus.com, and more. However, maybe someone gave you a dictionary to use in college. You may still have it. Keep it around for when the modem goes out or you just want to feel scholarly.
Use the library
If you can’t find something online, you can try the library. There’s bound to be a book or periodical about your subject. University libraries are often open to residents of the town, or if you’re an alumnus, you may have library privileges.
Haven’t been in the library since grade school? Did you use the Dewey Decimal system on index cards as a kid? Never fear, little boomer. The nice people at the information desk are there to help you.
Check and recheck your work. You’ll be glad you made it a habit. It will help you appear more professional, and your readers will struggle less.