We all make mistakes when we write, from spelling errors to grammar blunders. Good writers go back over their work to find and correct those mistakes before their readers see them. But editing your own work isn't easy. The longer you work on a memo or article, the harder it becomes to see those pesky problems. Ideally, you can ask someone else to proofread your work for you, but that's not always practical.
If you are your own editor, you need to convince your eyes and brain that they are reading something new for the first time--otherwise you will only see what you think is there, not what actually appears on the page or screen. Here are eight tips that can help you see your mistakes more clearly.
1. Take a long break.
The easiest way to convince your brain that it is reading something new is to put some time between your original writing and your editing. Waiting a day or two is best, but even a couple of hours will help. Do something that doesn't involve the written word (file that big pile of paper on your desk or make some phone calls). If you must continue to write or read, work on a topic that's unrelated to the material you need to edit.
2. Print it out.
If you wrote your document on a computer, change the medium for editing and print it out. It may seem like a waste of time to make your changes on paper and again online, but you're much more likely to produce an error-free document that way.
3. Change the background.
If you prefer to edit online or don't have immediate access to a printer, you can still make the document look completely different to your eyes. For example, try changing the background color of the document. In Microsoft Word, go to "Format" then "Background" to change the color. This changes the color of your document on the screen only.
4. Change the type.
Another option is changing the look of the words themselves. If your entire document is in the same font, you can easily "select all" and change everything to a different font for editing. Pick a font that looks significantly different from the one you usually use. Once you are done editing, you can "select all" again and change it back to your normal font. You can also change the point size of the font to make it significantly bigger, change the color of the type, or change the paragraph spacing to double spacing.
5. Change the view size.
If your document has a lot of formatting that you'd rather not risk disturbing with type and color changes, you can leave the document as is, but change the view size on your screen. Zoom in to 150% or 200% (Look under "View" and "Zoom" in Microsoft Word). When you are done editing, return to your normal view size.
6. Read it somewhere else.
If you can't make the document itself look different, then try changing your surroundings. Print it out and edit it away from your desk. Take a break and sit outside or try a conference room or a coworker's desk.
7. Read the paragraphs in reverse order.
You can also trick your brain into thinking it is reading something new by changing the order in which you read the material. Start at the end of your document and read a paragraph at a time, starting with the last paragraph and ending with the first paragraph.
8. Read it out loud.
Try reading your document aloud, but read it s-l-o-w-l-y, emphasizing each and every word. This is also a good technique for identifying run-on sentences. If you can't get a full sentence out in one breath, chances are it needs rewriting.