Tips on Proofing Your Manuscript

(Above image is part of T.S. Eliot's poem "The Wasteland" with edits/suggestions from his friend Erza Pound.)

I've spent the last month doing the first major proof of my manuscript for the publisher.  And since I know many of you who read this blog also write, publish, and submit, below are a few tips I realized over the past month.

If you skip through this entire list, please read #7 if you are currently submitting your manuscript.  Had I done #7, I would have saved myself a lot of headache!

Advice for proofing your manuscript--

1) Point to each word and read each word out loud.

***Because we know our own work so well, it's very easy to actually be *reciting* our poems from memory rather than reading them.  I find putting my pencil down on every word so I say it helps me most.  It takes longer and I feel foolish doing it, but this has been the way I've caught most of my mistakes.

Note:  I do this when no one is home because I feel so ridiculous, but I tell you, it works.

2)  Have a friend (or friends) proof your manuscript as well.

***What is interesting about this is that each person has a different strength.  One person will catch spacing issues, another is very tuned into hyphenated words and misspellings.   One friend notices size of font and consistencies.  Each person tends to find something that someone (including myself!) may have missed.

3)  Find a friend and give him the Table of Contents and you hold your manuscript and read off EACH title to make sure they are consistent.  Then switch roles--you read the Table of Contents and have him read off the titles in your manuscript.

***It's amazing how capitalization and words change in the Table of Contents.  Make sure all your titles are consistent.

4)  Do this same thing for your acknowledgment page!

***This was a surprise for me as I found there were poems listed in my acknowledgments page that were no longer in the manuscript!  Oops.

5)  Keep a notebook and pen by your side as you proof of things you want to research or possible corrections you aren't sure of.

***For example, as I proofed I wrote in my notebook, "Does eighty-million have a hyphen in it?"  "Shoe boot - one or two words?"  "Etch-a-Sketch - hyphens or not?"

I didn't want to stop proofing to check on all these possible errors as they appeared, but I also didn't want to forget them.

6)  Break your manuscript up into 3, 4, or 5 sections depending on your ability to focus and proof them separately.  Don't attempt to proof your mss all in one sitting.

***I say this because I found that by the time I got to the end, I was tired and  just wanting this task to end.  When I broke it up into smaller sections, it was so much easier to stay focused.

7)  Use SPACES instead of TAB STOPS when formatting your work in MS Word before you submit it to a publisher.

***This is advice for BEFORE you submit your manuscript, but it was so huge learning this I thought I would share it--

I just learned this and WISH I had done to my manuscript because the biggest issue in my manuscript proof right now are problems with the form of the poems.

I learned from a friend this weekend that when you move a poem (or mss) from MS Word to InDesign or other publishing applications, many times it DOES NOT read TABS correctly.  But if you use spaces instead of tabs, it will usually read those exactly correct.


Final thoughts:

I'm amazed that I sent this manuscript out for a couple years with errors in it.  It kind of sickens me to know that, but I am human and (as well as a poet), and it's hard to proof our own work.

If you can find all your errors BEFORE it falls into the hands of your publisher, it is better.  You'll have much less to worry about when the actual proofing for your book happens.


  1. Excellent tips, and I especially like that you offer them based on your own experience and without any "high tone" that so much advice is given. Thank you.

  2. If only I ever reach that stage! But it is sound advice and I hope someday I get to use it. Good to know about the tabs too.

  3. This might also be useful: create a "style sheet" or list of things you do, giving the page number of each time you do it. Things like whether you use one space or two after colons and periods, whether you spell tee shirt or t-shirt or T shirt or "T" shirt, what phrases you are capping or hyphenating, whether you italicize or use "" for dialogue or internal dialogue, etc. Sometimes you'll realize you've done it different ways in different poems and want to make it consistent within a manuscript. --Nancy

  4. You are welcome, Maureen. Glad they were helpful and yes, they all come from experience!

    Lori-- I believe you will reach that stage if you believe you will. Yes, that tab vs. spaces info was life-changing. Or manuscript-changing!

    Nancy-- GREAT advice. I realized I had cellphone in my manuscript as both one and two words. Annette was the one who caught it but things like that SHOULD be consistent. I appreciate your comment very much!


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