writing process: proofreading I

May 7, 2010

8. Proofreading I:

I run the story through the spell checker and grammar checker, but I don’t rely on it. The spell checker won’t catch embarrassing mistakes like this one:

Nora resolutely put away needle and threat.

I keep a list of my most common errors and commonly confused words, and I use MS Word’s search function to make sure I didn’t make any of those mistakes.

I print out the story. It’s easier to see mistakes on a page than on a screen. I do a complete read-through to catch any grammar or spelling mistakes or any inconsistencies that my revisions might have caused.

And I often send off long lists of grammar questions to my poor beta reader and a few grammar experts I know. Here are a few examples:

  • What would be the correct plural, possessive form of a name like “LeCroix”?
  • Griffin watched as Jorie continued to write, oblivious of her presence. Is it “oblivious to” or “of”?
  • Brian used his free hand to tug on Tarquin’s ear, pulling at it as if Tarquin were an unruly child. Do you tug on or at something?
  • Her green eyes looked at Rhonda as if she was betraying her by defending Griffin. Would you use the subjunctive mood here (“were betraying”) because Rhonda is not really betraying Leigh (even though Leigh might think so)?
  • Instinct made her avoid stepping on twigs and kicking loose stones that might have alerted whatever or whomever had killed the deer. Isn’t it “whoever”?
  • There had been a time when every race kept to themselves. Is “themselves” the correct reflexive pronoun here? Or would “itself” be better? Or maybe rewrite: “the members of every race kept to themselves.”

Sometimes, even native speakers are scratching their heads at questions like these. Often times, when I find myself asking really complicated questions, it’s a good indication that the sentence is too complicated and needs a rewrite.

How about you? Do you ever find yourself asking questions like these?



  1. Those are great questions, and I’m embarrassed to admit that while I can take a guess at them, I’m not 100% certain.

    How did you go about finding these grammar experts?

  2. Don’t feel bad about that. I found that most native speakers will be able to give you an answer, but for most, it’s more of a “feeling” they have, and they can’t really provide an explanation. It would be the same for me if you asked me about the finer points of the German language.

    For the most part, I try to find the answer to these questions myself. I read a lot of grammar books and style guides, so my lists of questions to my beta reader become shorter and shorter 🙂

    And for the really difficult questions, I have a fellow writer who is also a teacher and actually teaches ESL. A few times, she took questions with her to school and discussed it with her colleagues.

  3. So I’m guessing you know the grammar rules for English better than the German ones. 🙂

    • Yes, I actually do. And I have a feeling that if I had to learn German as a second language, my grammar questions would be even more complicated 🙂

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