Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Editing Guide & Proofreading Rules for Freelance Writers

Journalists who work for newspapers or magazines usually have copy editors who scrutinize their work before sending it to a proofreader who will give it a final once over before it hits the printed page.   As a freelance writer, you will sometimes have the luxury of paid staff to fine-tune your words, but often projects you write won't have those safeguards and it will be up to you to do your best to present a polished piece.

That means you really have to do three jobs:
1. Write
2. Edit
3. Proof
Your editing job starts once you reach the point when you are happy with what you have written.  That's when you take out your red pen and get to work.  Oh, and by the way, just hitting "spellchecker" on your computer doesn't cut it.    

According to The Complete Reporter: Fundamentals of News Gathering, Writing, and Editing by Kelly Leiter, Julian Harriss and Stanley Johnson; a copy editor's function is to read the story carefully, eliminate mistakes, improve the language and write the headline.  They say being a copy editor is one of the most important and painstaking jobs on a newspaper because the possibility for errors in a news story is so great.   

A copy editor: 
1. Checks the story for accuracy, checking background information and doubtful statements
2. Makes corrections of grammar
3. Eliminates verbosity, making the writing clean and crisp
4. Eliminates libelous statements  (When in doubt, leave it out.)
5.  Simplifies the story, getting rid of all confusing or ambiguous statements and professional jargon that will not be understood by the layperson
6.  Eliminates editorial opinions 
7.  Checks story for adequacy, making sure all essential facts are included
8. Shortens story if necessary
9. Makes the story conform to the style of the publication
10. Attempts to polish and improve the story
11.  Writes identifying labels and instructional notes for publication purposes
(The above list is from The Complete Reporter.)

Whew!  Although some of these duties are specific to a newspaper, I believe most will benefit any writing you do and the list gives a good idea what an important job editing is to you as a writer.  One famous author acknowledged that importance in his own unique style:

“Write drunk. Edit Sober.” – Ernest Hemmingway

Once you've done all that editing, you still have to proofread your project. I used to spend hours proofing my work. I would read it over and over until I was absolutely POSITIVE there were no mistakes. Then I would send it in for publication. There was only one problem -- there were always mistakes ... sometimes big ones. Since then I've learned some tips that help cut down both the time I spend and the chance of missing mistakes.
Proofreading Rule #1:  Leave time for proofreading.  

Rather than just reading your project over and over again, letting your work sit a week or at least a day or two will enable you to see it with renewed clarity.  If you're like me, you'll undoubtably find some changes or corrections you want to make each time  you read it over.  If  you don't have days or weeks to complete your project, take a short break very now and then to restart your critical eye.

I have made this letter longer because I have not 
had the time to make it shorter. - Blaise 

Proofreading Rule #2: Vary the way you proof your work.
Reading your work aloud, slowly and carefully, will allow you to fine-tune your words and find mistakes.  Read it forward, then read it backward, from last sentence to first.  Try reading the pages or paragraphs out of order.  Proofing out of order interrupts the logical flow of the piece and will help you find additional errors.

To improve is to change; 
to be perfect is to change often. - Winston Churchill 
Proofreading Rule #3: Don't trust numbers.
Just about the time you decide to trust that you remember a date or an address or a telephone number ... you'll get it wrong, or somehow transpose a figure.  Numbers are notorious.  Be sure you double-check the source, then read each number aloud.      

Proofreading Rule #4: Find a second proofreader.  
For several years I helped a nonprofit organization print a year book.  It held mandatory information about meetings, members, protocol and bylaws.  I would have the pages printed, then bound into a booklet with a spiral binder.  One year, after agonizing over the project for days, I finally let it go.  Choosing the color for the pages and the cover were my final duties.  I was satisfied.

The day I got it back from the printer, I took one look at it and stifled a scream.  The cover read: Karneetsa Chapter, National Society Daughters of the American Revolution, 1997.  It was 1998.  My mistake was on the front cover!

I doubt that would have happened had I taken the time to have another member proofread the yearbook instead of just reading it myself over and over.  Somehow, we sometimes see what we think we wrote or meant despite what is a glaring mistake to another reader.  Any project will benefit from being seen by a new set of eyes.  Chances are someone reading your words for the first time will catch something you missed ... like the wrong year on a yearbook.  And if not, think how great you'll feel when they tell you, "Hey, it was perfect.  Couldn't find a thing."

Proofreaders report they find mistakes 90 percent of the time.

Finding another writer interested in reading your work can be challenging, but if you are willing to proofread for others, you'll probably find someone willing to help you when you need it.   One great way to find other writers who might be willing to proof for you is to join a local or online writing group.

Proofreading is really a win-win situation.  By offering to proofread for others, you will have someone to help you proof and the exchange will help you grow as a writer.


Jennifer Rova said...

Excellent post...informative and fun!

steve warner said...

Nice information its usefulness. The way you covered all the basic necessary information is really impressive good work keep it up..

Marjorie Turner said...

I am confident that those who works in a best proofreading and editing services tested all these powerful guides.

moon akondo said...

lovely sharing!

moon akondo said...

I fully abide by your Proofreading Rules and i am agree that it need time for quality proofreading service !