How to Copyedit and Proofread Your Own Writing

Copyediting and proofreading are terms used to describe the process of examining written work for errors. While professional editors recognize some differences between the two activities, this article focuses on their similarities. To make the process accessible to beginners, the activities involved in proofreading and correcting basic errors are referred to as “copyediting.” After reading this, you have the information you need to perform basic copyediting tasks, which benefits writes at all stages. For complex writing projects, you may find it helpful to work with a professional editor.

Steps

  1. Read through the text without changing anything. This will give you an idea of what the author is trying to say, which will be helpful when you begin editing.
  2. Return to the beginning of the piece and examine the first sentence for errors in spelling, grammar, punctuation, and logical flow. If you discover any problems, fix them.
    • Example: “i like when the sun is shning to walk my dog in central park!!!!” should be changed to: “When the sun is shining, I like to walk my dog in Central Park.”
  3. Move on to the next sentence and repeat step 2.
  4. Do a final read-through. When all the sentences have been edited, return to the beginning of the text and give it a final reading. Double-check your work, correcting any errors you may have missed the first time.
  5. Submit, post, or publish the edited text.

Tips

  • “Copyediting” differs from so-called “substantive editing” in that the goal of the copy editor is to avoid changing the original text any more than necessary. Copyeditors do not generally make heavy-handed changes to an author’s work. Instead, the goal is to correct the obvious problems, make the text readable, and preserve the author’s “voice” (which is his own unique way of expressing himself).
  • Basic proofreading is always a part of the copyediting process, but it can also involve some deeper restructuring. If a sentence just doesn’t flow the way it should, a good copyeditor will improve the sentence by rearranging or rewriting it. See step 2 of this article for an example of this. Rewriting should be done only when necessary, as the goal is to preserve the author’s unique voice as much as possible.
  • If you find it difficult to get the hang of copyediting, remember that it is really just a combination of good English skills and simple common sense. Put punctuation where it should go, remove extra punctuation, get rid of extraneous words, be sure that sentences make sense when you read them, and watch out for misspellings and typos. If the text sounds good when you read it out loud, you’re on the right track.
  • A helpful way to find mistakes is to read it backwards. If there is a mistake in the writing, your mind may ignore it and assume it says the right thing. This happens a lot. Your brain has to actually understand each word if you read it backwards. Read it out loud, too.
  • If you are proofreading your own work, you might find it beneficial to proofread it again the next day. People often read what they thought they wrote, rather than what is actually written.

Warnings

  • Copyediting well is not always easy. If you do not have a natural eye for errors in spelling, grammar, punctuation, and logical flow, you may want to ask someone else to do the copyediting. However, if you do have the ability to copyedit well, you can take pride in providing a valuable service to others. Even valuable work by talented authors will be poorly received if it is full of technical errors.

Related wikiHows

Article provided by wikiHow, a collaborative writing project to build the world’s largest, highest quality how-to manual. All content on wikiHow can be shared under a Creative Commons license.

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