Thursday, July 26, 2012

How to See What's Really There (not what you think is there) when Editing the Little Picture

I've addressed tricks for seeing what's actually on the page rather than what's usually there when you're editing the "big picture". Now it's time to cover the tricks to seeing what's actually there—not what you think is there—when editing the "little picture".

In other words, how do you see your own typos?

There are several methods, and some work better than others—but the best one for you will depend on you.

Also, bear in mind: Even with these methods, it will take more work for you to see your own typos than it will for someone else. You also have to know what you're looking at to know if it's correct.

But once you know what you're doing (or if, say, you're writing for school or work and must edit yourself), these methods will help you find your own errors insofar as you're able.

• Wait before editing your text.

Wait between finishing a manuscript and starting the edit. Ideally, the wait's long enough that you'll have completely forgotten what you intended to write. The length of the original piece of writing, how long you spent writing it, and your own memory will influence how long you'll have to wait for this one to be effective.

This is why a writer might finish a novel and wait a year or more before looking at it again.

• Re-read your text.

The trick to re-reading effectively is to change the format of what you're writing. If you wrote by hand, read it on a computer or tablet screen (and a sans-serif font is best). If you wrote it on the computer, read it on paper or your E Ink e-reader (and a serif font is best).

If you must stick to working all on computer, due to time or material constraints, change the font and change the margin.

• Read your text aloud.

This means you read it aloud yourself—and yes, mumbling counts.

Tongue-twisters are flags for confusing sentences. And you might be surprised how much typos jump out when you're trying to say them.

• Have your text read to you.

While it's possible that you might find someone willing to read your story for you, this one's usually done by having your computer, tablet, or e-reader read your text to you.

Even with synthesized voices, once you get used to how they pronounce things, you can "hear" commas, periods, etc., and find lots of typos. (And if you lose track of a sentence being said…that's probably a confusing sentence that could use revision.)

• Read your text backward, word by word or sentence by sentence.

This one is all typo check, since you can't evaluate paragraphs this way.

I've only ever done it for an essay, and I didn't find it worth my time. If you're particularly prone to typos, particularly of types that your spell checker won't catch, then you might find the sentence by sentence version worthwhile to watch for homophones.

• Use editing software.

Be warned that grammar checker can be useful if you know what you're doing, but if you don't—avoid listening to it. It'll often auto-choose the wrong subject and verb in your sentence, or think that you're using a word as a different part of speech than what it actually is.

There are also some programs designed with the sole purpose of editing, like AutoCrit, EditMinion, and Pro Writing Aid. (If you use Scrivener, check the Text Statistics for a window listing how many times you use each word, which is handy for finding words you overuse.)

There you have it: six (6) methods for finding your own typos and other "little picture" errors when microediting.

What's your preferred method for finding "little picture" errors? Do you have another technique to add here?


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