Save $$ With A Manuscript Proof Checklist

Editor_OpDoes your proofreader charge by the hour? If the answer is yes, you may be able to reduce your bill by taking steps to find and repair basic typo-type errors that slip by during the editing phase. Let’s face it, when we’ve read a (fiction or non-fiction!) manuscript a thousand times, we miss a lot. This is my basic run-through before I send my baby to beta readers, then again before I submit for the final proof.

Um, bad news, it’s a manual process. It can be time-consuming. You’re going to hate it. It offers the best payback when you scroll through your document several times, focusing on one type of problem with each pass. But good news, it works! Use this as a template to create your own proofreading checklist. Note: Before you begin, you might want to make a copy of your mss and rename it to retain the previous version.

Start with a Word document in standard format (portrait one column):

Add character names to the Word dictionary
Before I begin the process I add all character names to my Word dictionary so the mss won’t be cluttered with squiggly red lines when I do a visual review. HOW: find a character name Word has designated questionable spelling. Right click on the name. Choose “Add to Dictionary.” Be sure to add a sample that’s spelled correctly!

Visual spelling and grammar check
Scroll through the entire mss and review every squiggly line that denotes a misspelled word, grammatical error, etc. Repair everything you find that is incorrect. Do not read for content during this process unless adjusting a grammar issue. Move through the doc slowly! You can also use this run-through to verify that the info in your story is accurate by double-checking the spelling of proper names, cities, book titles, historical figures, and everything else you’ve used.

Use the find (or find and replace) function
Word’s “find” and “find and replace” (F&R) functions are indispensible. You can use them to locate overused words and phrases, locate and delete extra spaces, and all sorts of cool things like that.

  • Remove extra spaces mid-sentence. This is a simple way to remove extra spaces in the midst of a sentence: Click the word “Replace” in the Word menu. (Word 2010, top extreme right) in the “find” box, type in two spaces (hit the space bar two times). In the replace box, type in one space (hit the space bar one time.) Then choose “replace all.”
  • Remove extra spaces after a period. If you’re my age, you were taught to type “period-space-space, new sentence.” That doesn’t apply to novels, of course, so you need to remove any that may have crept in. Use the F&R function and type “period-space-space” in the find and “period-space” in the replace boxes.
  • Check for habitually misspelled words that spell check won’t get. I consistently type “form” in place of from; obviously I don’t want to replace every “form,” so I use the find function to review the mss.
  • Check for over-used words and phrases. For some reason, I suspected one of my characters was apologizing too much in my current WIP so I used the F&R function to locate every “I’m sorry.” Yep. It appeared about 100 times. I also consistently over-use the word “gorgeous” and “nice” in my first drafts. I consider these placeholders and search and destroy – er, I mean edit them out.

Scroll through again with the pilcrow enabled
The pilcrow is also called the “paragraph mark, paragraph sign, paraph, alinea, or blind P.” It’s a character or icon that denotes the end of each paragraph. It looks like this: ¶. You can use it to find and delete the extra spaces that creep into hard returns in your mss. The F&R function won’t get these for you, and they can mess with your ebook formatting.

Note: I’m so excited! Here’s a tip from Belinda Pollard – see below in comments: “I use this to find those pesky spaces at the beginning of a paragraph when I edit a book: In Find/Replace, enter ^ + p + space in the Find field, and ^ + p without the space in the Replace field, and click Replace All. ^p is the code for a hard return. The ^ is above the number 6 on my keyboard. Saves me lots of time!”

Here’s how to use the pilcrow:

  • Enable the pilcrow by clicking on the ¶ sign in the top menu bar. In Word 2010, go to Home > Paragraph section > ¶
  • Your entire mss will now display the sign at the end of every paragraph, and at the beginning of every blank (white space) line.
  • Enlarge your mss with the zoom function to about 125%, which will increase the font size enough that you can easily see the TINY dash that denotes an extra space that has weaseled its way into the beginning of a graph. The dash indicating an unwanted space will look like this: – (only much SMALLER!) Manually remove them, or try Belinda Pollard’s F&R process (see above and in comments).
  • You should also remove the extra spaces that appear at the end of the sentence, after the period and before the -¶ sign. These are a bit harder to see, so watch for them!

WARNING: This process is not mentally challenging, but it’s time consuming and tedious. I recommend a glass of wine and a good TV program in the background.

What are you left with?
This process won’t help you ferret out missing words, commas that need to be swapped for periods (and vice versa), and other incorrect punctuation (don’t even let’s get started on the overall comma issue). You’ll also miss words that are spelled right but used incorrectly, such as my “form” that should be “from,” or “too” that should be “to.” Here’s how I find (most of) those:

Proofing in booklet layout
After the manual review (whew!), I put the mss aside for a few days to a week, then read it again in a booklet layout, also called key line layout, which is a Word doc formatted “landscape, two column” and try to catch what’s left.

Proofing an ebook
If you’re a diehard, you can add one more review, which is to read and proof an ebook file – this will really make issues jump out. Read about making an ebook using Calibre, or you can also make a Kindle-friendly file using Mobipocket. Both are free. Yay!

Readers, what have I missed? Do you have shortcuts that beat my system or tricks and tips you use that you can share?

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35 Responses to Save $$ With A Manuscript Proof Checklist

  1. Anne R. Allen March 17, 2014 at 3:55 pm #

    Great tips as usual, Molly! I have so many favorite misspellings that spell check can’t catch. I dont’ know why, but my hands type “sum” for “some” all the time. I have a team of small illiterates living in my fingers.

    I’ve never tried the booklet layout. What a great idea!

    • Molly Greene March 17, 2014 at 4:05 pm #

      Thanks, Anne! I actually have a lot more favorite misspellings than I confessed, and a LOT more placeholders that I over-use then have to edit out. And FYI, you’re going to love the booklet layout – it’s a game changer.

  2. Belinda Pollard March 17, 2014 at 3:58 pm #

    Great stuff, Molly! Clever ways to use the features Word already provides. And I know it works because I’ve seen how clean your manuscripts are. If only every author in the world did such a thorough job before sending their work to an editor or proofreader, there’d be a lot of happy publishing people. 🙂

    What a great idea to search for those words you know you mistype. One of mine is typing “you” when it should be “your”, so I’m going to do a search for that now!

    Also, another tip: I use this to find those pesky spaces at the beginning of a paragraph when I edit a book…
    In Find/Replace, enter ^ + p + space in the Find field, and ^ + p without the space in the Replace field, and click Replace All.
    ^p is the code for a hard return. The ^ is above the number 6 on my keyboard. Saves me lots of time! 🙂

    • Molly Greene March 17, 2014 at 4:08 pm #

      OMG! I’ve Googled and Googled and Googled to find a code or character for a hard return and never found one. YOU ARE FABULOUS!! I’m going to add a note to the post for people to read this, it’s much faster than my pilcrow review. YAAAAAAY!

    • MM Jaye April 10, 2014 at 12:08 am #

      Fantastic tip! I do that a lot! Thanks, Belinda!

  3. Julie Musil March 17, 2014 at 4:08 pm #

    Such great tips! I haven’t done the Calibre thing before sending to an editor. That’s a great idea.

    • Molly Greene March 17, 2014 at 4:15 pm #

      Hi Julie! You’ll be astonished at how much jumps out at you when you review your WIP in an ereader. Happy editing!

  4. Helen Sedwick March 17, 2014 at 4:11 pm #

    I also suggest writers upload their manuscripts onto a word cloud site such as to The more often a word is used, the larger it appears in the word cloud. If you see words such as looked, sighed, back, like, waited, glanced… time to search and replace those as well.
    I also search for words like just or even. Most of the time they are not needed or are misused. Also search would, could and any word ending in -ing. Again, these indicate a sentence that would and could be rewritten.

    • Molly Greene March 17, 2014 at 4:13 pm #

      BRILLIANT! Thanks so much, Helen, for this tip!

    • Belinda Pollard March 17, 2014 at 4:25 pm #

      Scrivener users can also use Project > Text Statistics and click the Word Frequency arrow. You can sort the list alphabetically by word, or by frequency to show which ones appear most often.

      It shows me “sudden” and “suddenly” appear in my WIP a total of nearly 60 times!! Haha. Reminds my of that Monty Python skit. “Suddenly, nothing happened.” Gotta get onto that one. 😉

      I like Helen’s tip about searching for -ing. I have a horrible habit of saying “was walking” when “walked” would do just as well.

      • Molly Greene March 17, 2014 at 4:37 pm #

        Thanks for the Scrivener tip, Belinda. I own it but one of the reasons I’m dragging my heels about learning the program is all these tools I use in Word. I’m sure Scrivener offers all the same and more, but re-learning is a mountain I’m not ready to climb. And so far I’ve learned a LOT – your hard return shortcut alone will save me a lot of wine 😉

  5. Dannie Hill March 17, 2014 at 7:04 pm #

    Great ideas. I’ll keep this post and comment in a Word document for research. Thanks very much.

    One thing that wasn’t mentioned but I’m sure you do is make a copy before the editing is done– in case you do something unintended. I’ve learned the hard way when my fingers get ahead of my brain. For m that’s not too hard to do.

    • Molly Greene March 18, 2014 at 8:14 am #

      Thanks, Dannie, and yes, always make a copy!!

  6. karensdifferentcorners March 17, 2014 at 9:54 pm #

    Hi Molly

    My favorite misspelled word would be ‘his’

    I find I miss the ‘s’ more times then I’d like to admit.

    • Molly Greene March 18, 2014 at 8:13 am #

      It’s because our brains are racing to the next scene 😉

  7. Shirley Ford March 18, 2014 at 2:34 am #

    Thanks again Molly for some really helpful advice.

  8. Pamela Beason March 18, 2014 at 4:26 pm #

    Great tips, Molly! I find not enough people know how to use the power of Replace. You can use to change paragraph formatting, replace tab indents with first line paragraph indents, switch fonts, change bold to italic, almost anything!

    I always advise checking results after using Replace, though, and remember Ctrl+Z=”Undo that last stupid thing I did.” Anything as powerful as the Replace command can also be dangerous.

    Especially when you’re using it with a glass of wine in hand.

    • Molly Greene March 18, 2014 at 5:05 pm #

      LOL, so true, Pam! Maybe I shouldn’t have rec’d that glass of wine. I myself highly respect the power of Ctrl+z, as well as the power of the “copy document” backup. Thanks so much!

  9. ML Banner March 20, 2014 at 6:58 am #

    Thank you Molly for a great list. I started a proofreading list after my editor sent me back her first read of my manuscript (it’s being reviewed a final time now as I write this). My list consisted of about 10 grammatical nuances and typo/spelling errors I committed constantly. For example, I mixed up “her” and “here” all the time. Anyway, my proofreading list just grew, a lot. So, many thanks!

    • Molly Greene March 20, 2014 at 8:15 am #

      Thanks ML! I think proofreaders worldwide will be happy with us if we use a pre-proof process of any kind.

  10. e a lake March 20, 2014 at 8:28 am #

    My fave is to type “tot he” instead of “to the”.

    Both ways the words as in the dictionary. But in the first (wrong) phrase, it makes no sense.

    I’m waiting for idiot check to come out. It should help me a lot!


    • Molly Greene March 20, 2014 at 9:21 am #

      So funny! I’ll need that check, as well. Thanks so much for sharing!

  11. L. Darby Gibbs (Elldee) March 28, 2014 at 12:04 am #

    Great tips, Molly. My own favorite is the reverse edit. I have a terrible time not dropping into the reading rut when I am proofing. But the reverse edit keeps that from happening. I start at the end of my manuscript and read each sentence as I work my way to the beginning of the work. Facing each sentence in isolation makes many problems standout: spelling, punctuation, capitalization, diction, repetition, the list goes on.

    • Molly Greene March 28, 2014 at 9:07 am #

      Another great idea to add to our tool box. Thanks so much, Darby!

  12. Iola April 4, 2014 at 2:03 pm #

    Another way to proof via ebook is to save the file as a .doc (not .docx), and email it to your Kindle with ‘convert’ in the subject line. The conversion isn’t perfect, but it’s good enough to catch errors like overused words, -ping words and adverbs. You can find the email address of your Kindle in the Settings menu.

    • Molly Greene April 5, 2014 at 2:51 pm #

      Iola! Your method is waaaa-aaaay too easy. (LOL!) Thank you so, so much for sharing – makes my process seem like it takes hours. I appreciate your help!

  13. Christie Stratos April 20, 2014 at 8:51 pm #

    I found this blog post through MM Jaye’s website and found it really useful and proactive for authors. As an editor, it’s very helpful to get a manuscript that’s as clean as possible so that I can focus on the nitty gritty details of the manuscript instead of getting caught up on extra spaces and consistently inconsistent punctuation. While I’m happy to take care of the latter, I much prefer spending the majority of my editing time closely examining the story, plot, style, and characters of the author’s work.

    Thanks for some great advice to authors, both new and experienced!

    • Molly Greene April 21, 2014 at 9:17 am #

      Hi Christie, thanks so much for the read and taking time to leave a wonderful comment. It’s great to hear from an editor’s perspective that we’re on the right track with this!

  14. John Chapman May 13, 2014 at 3:33 am #

    I use Lola’s method of sending the file to my Kindle email address to check the document. In some way reading on an e-reader works better than reading on-screen in my wordprocessor. I suppose that you made the mistakes on a wordprocessor and will overlook them again if you read on it.
    A few points:
    • It’s no longer necessary to send a doc file. It will now cope quite happily with docx.
    • Before you send the file, make a backup copy and use File > Info > Prepare for Sharing > Check for issues to remove everything it offers – Comments e.t.c. Then use Save and send to send the file to your Kindle e-mail address.
    • Use an older Kindle (Keyboard or touch) or a Kindle Fire if you have them because these will read the text aloud to you. That makes spotting errors easier since it reads what is there rather than what you want and expect it to say.

    • Molly Greene May 13, 2014 at 8:56 am #

      Thank you so much, John! All great points and although I’ve yet to use the audio function on my Kindle, I now see what a benefit that could be. Cheers!

  15. Stef October 25, 2014 at 9:48 am #

    A bit late to the party, but here is a list of possible typos and homonyms for writers to search (especially if they haven’t a budget for a proofreader).

    Nit checks:

    an and

    she he

    breath breathe

    form from

    then than that

    if of or

    born borne (usually born)

    for fir

    the they

    rode rose rise ride

    sang sung

    spilt split

    to too two

    breech breach broach

    led lead

    misled mislead

    chose choose

    slight sleight

    know known

    who whom

    sigh sign

    suite suit

    main man mainly manly

    ran run rub

    discreet discrete

    though thought through tough

    decent descent

    bare bear

    principle principal

    their there they’re

    bated baited

    cant can’t

    hanger hangar

    four for fourth forth

    stationery stationary

    compliment complement (ary) (ed)

    who’s whose

    dominate dominant

    where were we’re

    its it’s

    lets let’s

    each other *one another (*more than two)

    past passed

    shear sheer

    clamor clamber (ed) (ing)

    brake break

    Styrofoam (insulation block) polystyrene (cup)

    disintertested uninterested

    draft draught drought

    hurtled hurled

    mined mind

    affect effect

    your you’re

    conflicting conflicted

    begun began

    exited excited

    wrung rung rang

    email *e-mail (*usual US usage)

    lightning lightening

    elude allude

    alter altar

    forbid forbade

    base bass

    wet whet

    raise raze

    rack wrack (ed-ing) (nearly always rack)

    peak peek

    pair pear pare

    flair flare

    knight night

    lessen lesson

    retch wretch

    lay lie laid

    course coarse

    pedal peddle

    lose loose

    lead led

    queue cue

    leach leech

    currant current

    dye die

    dual duel

    safe-depost box – not safety

    creak creek

    council counsel

    site sight (and cite)

    cord chord

    birth berth

    fair fare fear (ed)

    nit knit

    jam jamb

    de rigor = de rigeur

    *vise vice (clamping device)

    quit quite quiet

    rained reigned

    roll role

    • Molly Greene October 25, 2014 at 2:41 pm #

      OMG, Stef! Great list, and much appreciated.

  16. Stef October 25, 2014 at 3:22 pm #

    One other thing:

    Writers often miss compound numbers (they write twenty four instead of twenty-four)

    So…a search and replace for these is something I do as standard before I format their baby.


    type into the “find” field: twenty (*and also add a space character) then click thru the “find next” to check and insert a hyphen to replace the space character where needed — “replace” data would be: twenty-

    but it’s faster to fix manually unless the writer has missed most of ’em.

    Then do the same with thirty, forty, fifty etc.

    In around 40% of conversions I find at least one to fix…even after the proofreader has had it (it’s a tough one to spot when reading the MS)

    • Molly Greene October 26, 2014 at 8:28 am #

      Thanks again, Stef – such great suggestions. We’re all about DIY and saving money around here, so we deeply appreciate your help!