Proofreading? Wait a Bit.

Here’s one of the best tips I can give for creating clean, well-polished writing: Take whatever you’ve written, set it aside, and reread it later -- preferably the next day.

This puts some distance between you and the material, which can make a huge difference in how many errors you catch. I had to learn this the hard way.

My deadline for my newspaper column is 10 a.m. on Friday. For years I would start writing it at about 8 a.m. on Friday then give it a careful proofread before sending it in. Then, in the following days, I would blame the editors for the myriad typos. Sure, I typed ’em, but someone should’ve caught ’em, right?

It was a moot point because I already knew no one would. The paper where the column ran was understaffed and underfunded, and if I thought editors were going to magically improve their typo-catching stats, I was out of my mind.

So after the millionth time I caught superfluous words in my published grammar column (unnecessary little words like “of as,” “the in,” and “at from” are my most common typos – the detritus of rewritten sentences), I realized that spotting the typos after they came out in print was easier than it had been to catch them before. The reason: time. The few days between when I wrote the column and when I saw it in print gave me the fresh eyes I needed to see it clearly. And I didn't like what I was seeing. 

So I started writing my column on Thursday night, then rereading it Friday morning before sending it. This new procedure didn’t cure my sloppiness. In that arena, I’m hopeless. But it helped me see much of my sloppiness before the rest of the world could. And two or three published typos a year is a lot better than two or three a month.

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