There's something weird about working with computer or electronic screens that seems to play tricks with the human eye. Or perhaps our eyes have simply had more time to grow accustomed to reading printed publications.
Yet as a digital writer who almost always works with a Mac, PC, and tablet device rather than typewriter or paper and pencil, I hold up my arms and freely admit that I too seem particularly prone to making obvious errors on first and second drafts, sometimes on third and later drafts too.
Yet over time, I've learned to develop a method that seems to work best for me, but which I have changed and modified when high resolution tablet computers became available. I suggest that you consider evolving your own "check your document" sequence that helps you spot and fix as many errors as you can.
To help craft the perfect document every time, consider the guidelines below.
Arguably, the ten most important "catch-all" editing / checking tips to consider - especially if you're writing "must be perfect" articles using a computer
The following 10-point checklist doesn't cover every scenario you may be faced with when writing a publication destined for print or the web.
If you're using an Apple Mac, you can most likely ignore the prompts below to save often, since your Mac software will most likely automatically save for you.
Also, if your word processor doesn't have a grammar checker referred to in Step 1, you may want to check grammar separately:
- Step 01: if possible, write your documents using word processing software that has a built in grammar checker - such as Microsoft Word. If you use a Microsoft Windows-based PC, another excellent option is to use StyleWriter - The Plain English Editor from Editor Software.
If you have an Apple Mac, unfortunately, Editor Software is not available for the Mac. However, at the time of updating this article, you can install Windows on a Mac using software like Parallels Desktop® for Mac. Be aware that by adding Microsoft Windows to the Mac, you may be increasing risks to your Mac.
Of course, grammar checkers aren't perfect. The English language is so complex that sometimes software simply can't make proper sense of a sentence - that is why your experience, judgment and ability to spot errors manually is so useful. However, the key point is, with grammar-checking software, you can identify most grammar problems early on - and provide a fast fix.
- Step 02: Run a spell check on your document and correct any errors. Run several spell check cycles. While spell checking doesn't check for grammar errors, you can check for those later.
- Step 03: When you think you have identified all faults, if your publication is especially important, that must be perfect, one additional option to consider is to print a copy of your publication. Today, I'm not a huge fan of printing. Why: twofold (1) toxic inks, and (2) we're supposed to be going digital as much as possible.
Nevertheless, if you opt to print an evaluation version, draft print copy quality is fine at this stage - you don't need higher resolution print quality - yet. Print text quality that is sufficiently clear for you to error-check your document is all you need.
- Step 04: Read the print version of your document slowly - backwards. Performing Step 4 is also often enough to identify a few more errors that for some astonishing reason, you may not have spotted when working on the PC version previously.
By reading your document word for word backwards, sentences deliberately make less sense - that's precisely what helps you slow down and focus on the words only. Since your mind is not as familiar with your document when approached in this contrary manner, you're less likely miss any spelling errors that did not get picked up first time in Step 2.
- Step 05: If you have identified any errors in Step 4, mark each error instance on your print version and then correct the same error on your PC version immediately, before repeating the action on any following errors.
Once you have corrected your electronic version, place a tick mark / check mark next to the fixed matching error on your printed version. Make sure your updates have been saved.
- Step 06: Go back to your now possibly further corrected print article, read it aloud slowly and deliberately to help identify any remaining faults or areas where you think you can improve the finish.
Curiously, reading aloud seems to helps highlight the writing flow and style better. Perhaps the act of reading aloud forces us to slow down sufficiently to help determine errors or shortcomings that can't easily be spotted using any other method.
- Step 07: Re-write or edit any sections identified in Step 6. If you regularly work with an electronic copy on your computer or tablet device, you may prefer to do this directly on your PC, Mac, or tablet device.
Again, remember to save your changes often, if your device or software does not automatically save your document every few seconds, or after a change to the document is made.
Run a spell-check again and fix any additional spelling errors. Save any changes made to your electronic copy in Step 7, then stop. Leave your document alone at least for a day to give your mind a rest and to provide a fresh perspective when you next continue to work on your publication.
- Step 08: Print a second draft copy from your previously updated electronic version. Repeat the relevant parts in Steps 4, 5, 6 and 7 above and make any remaining corrections and improvements that you consider are required.
- Step 09: Print your third draft copy. Ask a friend or colleague to read your updated article, document, or publication to help establish any remaining errors or points that could be improved. By all means, ask your friend or colleague for their opinion but remember, as the author, ultimately, you must determine what applies.
- Step 10: Make any remaining changes, carry out a final spell-check sweep, then save your electronic version. Print your final copy in higher resolution if required.
Key tip: following an editing checklist sequence such as the one outlined above isn't exciting. It's not meant to be - rather for such tasks, you want cold logic to take over from creative endeavor - and that's the secret here. Completing these simple but arguably boring steps can help ensure you have a perfect document - every time in the shortest time possible - and that's the key benefit.
Update: with the development of high resolution tablet computer screens, combined with a greater environment impact awareness or printing, I have learned to complete the process above without needing to print anything and simply work from the electronic version. With patience, increased focus, concentration, and practice, the digital only method can work just as well. To determine which method works best for you, try both approaches several times.