Read it backwards!

Read it backwards.
A couple of years ago I tripped over this trick to editing. I was looking for a detail I wasn’t sure was the same as a previous reference and found an error I had missed I don’t know how many times. I thought how in the world did I miss that? I read more backward, going a paragraph at a time and found some more. Since then I’ve seen many others recommend the same method. Why? The main reason is no matter how many times you’ve read it from front to back, you’re still going to get into the story. Things like a misplaced comma, missing quotation marks, and awkward sentences either go unseen or, in the writer’s mind, make perfect sense. I’ve also found that I catch continuity mistakes that way, though I don’t know why. Personally, I hate going backwards. It’s time consuming, making me read at a slower rate. I do make myself do it at least once and always find something I missed while reading from the beginning. Reading backward increases your ability to concentrate on the words and punctuation, not the story.
Another very simply way to increase your ability to catch punctuation mistakes is to zoom in to about 150%. Commas and periods are so much more visible at that size. To keep your eyes from jumping ahead to the next sentence using a ruler helps some people as well. With a curser, I’ve found anyway, my eyes run ahead of it, not keeping my concentration on a specific line at a time.
Last tip for the day, pay attention to Word’s underlining, green and red. Keep in mind, Word has a limited dictionary, especially with compound words. Many combined words will register as misspelled. To see if you’re right, if they should be combined, hyphenated, or written as two words, a good source is For those who write historical, it also provides an origin to be certain you aren’t using a word that wasn’t used in the time period you have your characters in. As to the green lines, if you don’t understand what word is telling you is wrong with the sentence, play with it, switching the phrases around, adding a comma at the end of a phrase, or make sure it isn’t something as simple as a verb ending in ing instead of ed. When the green line disappears, even if you don’t understand why, it’ll be correct. 😉


Posted on November 17, 2011, in New introduction. Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

  1. I have learned to edit on the computer, but nothing beats the printed page and the red pen. I see many more things that way than I do on the computer. Perhaps it’s just my non-fiction training. I know it’s time consuming and expensive to print out but when I did it that way on my new novella, my editor commented on how little editing it needed. That’s all I needed to hear to resolve to go to paper and red pen for a final edit before submitting anything. Thanks for the tip on reading backwards. Time-consuming but if it helps to get a more perfect book, it’s worth it.

  2. Some very great tips! Thank you Sandy 🙂

  3. Excellent tips. I haven’t heard of reading backwards but will definitely give it a go.

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