Proofreading and Editing – what you can do yourself before you call in the pros – Part III

Since writing the first two parts of this series of three, my recently published second novel, Delusional Traits, has been through various editorial mills and I hope emerged a better beast for it. I am still awaiting feedback from eagle-eyed readers, but I remain confident that it is fairly clean. Certainly it went through plenty of scrutiny. It’s now out there – click on the panel to buy your copy.

The main thrust of this final part in the series is about spell-checking, which is a relatively straightforward process. But before that, an update.

In Part II, I was extolling the wonders of the Search routine in Pages (as opposed to Find and Replace). It’s an excellent tool that makes checking a long list of results very easy. So why on earth would the programmers of the new Pages that was released to coincide with Mavericks have removed it? Beats me, but it was  a shock to discover it when I upgraded the OS and then downloaded the new Pages that is one of the freebies that Apple put out with it. In fact, the new Pages has got quite a bit of bad press if you read the forums, which is a pity. (One interesting failing I discovered recently was I couldn’t attached a Pages document in the new 5.01 format to an email sent from Mail! Nor could I attach it to a gmail. I know Apple are a secretive organisation but do they really not want documents produced on their software to be sent around? Bizarre.)

But back to Search. It’s simply not there in 5.01, which for me has reduced the likelihood that I’ll be using Pages at all. But, all is not lost. Thanks to a forum post I found, I discovered that although I have upgraded to Pages 5.01, it wasn’t actually an upgrade but a new installation. Yes, the old Pages is still there. If you look in iWorks09 in Applications, version 4.03 is nestled safely in its arms. To put it in the Dock, you just have to drag it from the list. Phew! (I have saved a copy of iWorks to a hard drive just in case some automatic update to Pages 5 wipes the old version).

Along with my upgrades, I also bought Office 2011, which is certainly a prettier version over 2008. And guess what, there’s a search function just like the one that Apple have now removed from Pages. (I know I’m a bit behind the times on this but I suspect many people are like me – why spend money upgrading when it’s not necessary?) In Word, the Find function is a bit confusing – hit ⌘F and nothing seems to happen. That’s because Find is up in the panel on the top right of the screen. Hit the down arrow on the left of that and chose List Matches in Sidebar, and there’s a better version of the search results than in the old Pages. So now there’s even less reason to use Pages – good that they no longer charge for it – but given it’s free, I wonder whether Apple are really taking it seriously (I feel the same about Aperture, even though it’s not free).

This post was supposed to be about spelling. Typos (and poor spelling) are what they are and any spell checker in any of the word processing programs should pick up the obvious ones. The difficulties arise when a typo fools the system.  This is mainly going to happen when you type in a real word, but the wrong word. From/form; then/than; cloth/clothe; breath/breathe; discreet/discrete; absorb/adsorb are ones that spring to mind. My approach on this is to keep a running list and then search the document for them, one by one. (This does assume you know the difference between some of the words – I can’t believe how many time lately that I’ve seen ‘than’ instead of ‘then’ from people who really should know better). The list is clearly long and in some ways personal – you might be aware of particular words that you regularly misspell. As and when you discover them, put them in a document for later reference.

Then there are things that confuse some pedantic spell checking routines, such as Mr/Mr. Dr/Dr. etc/etc. To some extent these can be personal choices – I always leave out the stop in Mr (but I’ll put it in etc.) Not strictly speaking correct (Mr, that is) but language and spelling are fluid, especially the English language.

A good one I came across when checking my book was the apostrophe to precede an abbreviated date, i.e. ’14 instead of 2014  – it should be a right single quotation mark : ’14, not a left one. Of course, if you are not using curly quotes, it doesn’t matter, but personally I like them.

A dilemma I had in writing Delusional Traits was whether to use US or UK spelling for nouns like license or licence. This is not normally a problem – I’m British and I spell the UK way. But most of the book is set in the US and the words sometimes came up in speech. I erred on the side of UK English except where it would have been silly – Driver’s License is an American term and therefore should be spelt that way.

The problem I have found with spell checkers is that they are limited to typos. Some programs claim to go further and look contextually at the script, but frankly I haven’t found any that are impressive. About the only use I’ve found for any of them is highlighting repeat words. I don’t mean just ‘the the’ etc., but repeated use on the same word in close proximity. ‘It was a great day and they had a great time.’

Finally, your list of things to keep in mind should include terms or words that you need to be consistent about: wifi or wi-fi, scifi or sci-fi, MB or Mb, short hyphen v. long hyphen etc. They are small things but I feel it’s important to remember that the last thing you want to do is irritate your readers by distracting from the gripping thrust of your plot. It’s a bit like tripping over an obstacle when running along a woodland path – it ruins the flow and is best avoided.

If you do all the things I’ve mentioned in these three posts, and I know there are plenty of others you might include, you might ask yourself whether you need your work edited or proofread. The answer is you do. There is no substitute for a professional pair of eyes to examine your work. The decision on whether you go ahead and do that must be simply an economic one – editing and proofreading are not cheap and their costs have to be weighed against how well your book is going to sell. Of course it will sell! It’s a blockbuster. OK, well that’s fine then.

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