Thank You Fearless Followers!

Friday, August 15, 2008

Proofreading Backward

Proofreading represents one of the most tedious and most avoided steps in the writing process. First, as we write we become attached to our words and sentences, to the rhythm and the placement. After spending so much time with our ideas, we begin to record them in our mind. As we begin to read over the words in search of errors, we stop reading what is actually on the paper or on the screen. Instead, we begin to recite what lives in our head, memorized and familiar. You may read over the same sentence 10 times and fail to notice that a word like the is missing. However, if you return to your writing a day or two later, you will quickly notice the omitted word. The elapsed time provides your mind a fresh and clear view of the previously imposed ideas. You no longer think the words or sentences. Instead, you find yourself truly reading the words in front of you. Therefore, I recommend writing and walking away from your piece for a few minutes, hours or days. If that is not an option, then try proofreading backward.

Have you ever proofread backward? Although it may at first seem uncomfortable, it offers the writer a way to combat the preconceived ideas and thoughts that prevent you from seeing your errors. Proofreading backwards just means you proofread your last sentence first and then the next to the last and so on until you reach the first sentence in your piece. Reading individual sentences which do not connect or flow into other sentences allows you to focus on each word and punctuation mark in the sentence. If something is missing or misspelled, you will see it. If your word choice is weak or your word order is disjointed, you will see it. If you have omitted a needed comma, used incorrect verb tense or written a fragment, you will see it. Proofreading backward allows your mind to focus on the little things within and not on the ideas or the flow of those ideas.

Our attachment to our thoughts may explain why it is so much easier to spot an error on someone else's writing while failing to spot the most obvious of errors on our own.


  1. Proofreading backward -- a great concept. All proofreading has a level of tediousness, of course, but this sounds like a good way to catch those things your eyes pass over.

    In my first job, all support staff had to do mandatory overtime to proofread the text of the state's code sections (as they were altered by that year's legislation). This was done in teams, one person reading out loud to another. It certainly was effective! Hard for most of us to do on our own work.

  2. I have never thought of proofreading backward - what a great idea! I ALWAYS spot errors for someone else, but often miss my own, which leaves me humbly remembering that Bible verse - take the log out of your own eye before trying to remove someone else's splinter (paraphrased, of course).

    My most common error is typing "you" when I meant to type "your."

    As always, another excellent read on your blog!

  3. Boy is this good advice! I was just proofing one of my chapters last night...I could almost recite every line by heart, and was feeling like "how can I read this like it's the first can I be a stranger to the words?"

    Definitely gonna give it a try...thx! :)

  4. I have to agree with you the both the author of the post and you Jennifer that proofreading is important and tedious. I dislike proofreading, but I am starting to get use to doing it in a more perfect way now I learned from experiences and mistakes from last year.

    As this will be my second year, I will learn to stop and proofread my own work. Not only that, but it helps to examine writings of others.

  5. An interesting concept...makes sense.
    I enjoy writing...I realized this when I was around forty as I never hand any reason or opportunity to write before this time. My dream is to write a novel someday!!!

    Writing/proofreading takes me forever...will give this suggestion a try...thank you for passing it along!!!


  6. I have to thank you for this tip! I have never been told this is a good way to edit and never thought of it myself.

    I know lots of times I look and look and look over my work (until my eyes blur sometimes), I read it out loud to myself, and I still miss things.

    In a peer editing setting, lots of times those mistakes can be caught. But I don't participate in peer editing so much anymore, and this is a wonderful way for a writer to rely upon themselves.

    I will definitely try this approach.

  7. To someone who can find grammatical mistake or mistakeS after the 20th times reading his own writing, this is certainly an unpresumptuous way to detach our mind from our writing.

    Will certainly give it a try. Thanks for showing the way.

  8. oooh that's tough. cool idea though. I am a fan of reading outloud, an old journalism technique. Love your blog btw.

  9. Great to know that some of you see the potential in this technique. If you do try it out, let me know if you find it helpful.

  10. Yes, a lot professional editors that aren't editing for content suggest this. I've not yet done it but I know people who have. I think it's something I'll try on my next manuscript. I certainly can see why it would work and be very powerful. Especially since I have parts of my book memorized; I've read it so many times in editing. As you say, it breaks that hold we have on our own words.

  11. wow is this good advice! I'll try to do it!!I have to thank you for this tip! I have never been told this is a good way to edit and never thought of it myself.
    Will certainly give it a try. Thanks for showing this fabuloso tip

    Monica Puelles


Thank you for visiting and commenting.