how to proofread a novel

How to Proofread a Novel: Find-and-Replace Checklist

By the time you reach the proofreading stage, you’re probably ready to be finished with your manuscript. You’ve already spent countless hours writing, revising, and editing each sentence. Now, the only thing left to do is catch residual errors. Learning how to proofread a novel efficiently will help you spend less time on simple, repetitive issues. Then you can focus on catching other errors.

After investing so much time and energy, the last thing you want to do is speed through the proofreading process and let mistakes wind up in your final version. But you still want to figure out how to proofread quickly.

Make the proofreading process easier on yourself by using Find and Replace to catch common formatting issues. This checklist will help you ensure your work is as clean as possible for your professional editor, interior designer, or literary agent.

Clean Up the Formatting

A big part of proofreading involves making sure the formatting is correct. If you’re self-publishing, this is especially important. Extra spaces and nonstandard formatting can result in unsightly issues in your final book.

You’d be amazed at how much trouble an extraneous space or manual tab can cause during the interior layout process.

If you’re pursuing professional editing (and want to be a dream client), make sure the formatting is standard and clean. The editing process is all about consistency. Nonstandard formatting can make it more challenging for your editor to focus on the words. Plus, they’ll have a hard time resisting the urge to fix it.

Finally, if you plan to submit to agents or publishers, using clean, standard formatting will make you and your work appear professional. Give them one fewer reason to say no.

Start with Standard Manuscript Format

Begin with standard manuscript format for novels:

  • Times New Roman
  • 12-point font
  • 1-inch margins

Sign up for our email list to receive access to the free resource library, which includes a standard manuscript template.

Once your work is in standard manuscript format, then you can run some quick Find and Replace searches in Microsoft Word to eliminate common issues.

1. Double Spaces

​Although double spaces after sentences were once the standard, that is no longer the case. Typewriters have gone by the wayside, and so have double spaces.

Eliminate extra spaces by searching for two spaces and replacing it with one. You may need to run the search multiple times to catch instances of triple spaces.

2. Spaces After Paragraphs

​It’s easy to hit space before the return key and wind up with extra spaces after your paragraphs. Catching these extra spaces can be a bear, but with Microsoft Word’s wildcards, the process becomes simple.

Make sure wildcards are enabled. Then run the following search (not including quotation marks).

  • Find: “^p “
  • Replace: “^p”
How to proofread a novel with spaces after paragraphs

​The ^p is the wildcard standing for paragraph break. So this search finds hard returns followed by a space and replaces them with only a hard return.

Note that you will want to either run the search for multiple spaces first or run this search multiple times, in case you have double or triple spaces after your paragraphs.

3. Spaces Before Paragraphs

​To find and remove spaces before paragraphs, you use the same method as above, with the space before the wildcard instead of after.

  • Find: ” ^p”
  • Replace: “^p”

4. Straight Quotes

Quotation marks may be straight (“dumb”) or curly (“smart”).

How to proofread a novel with quotation marks
How to proofread a novel with quotation marks

​Standard manuscript format calls for smart quotes. If you’re working in Microsoft Word, you can enable smart quotes by selecting Tools – Autocorrect Options – AutoFormat As You Type. Then check the box labeled ” ‘Straight quotes’ with ‘smart quotes’.”

To replace all straight quotes in a document with smart quotes, simply follow the above steps to enable smart quotes. Then in the Find and Replace dialogue box, search for double quotation marks (“) and replace them with the same symbol. Word will automatically format them as smart quotes.

​Note that single quotation marks and apostrophes can also be straight or smart. Consider apostrophes used in contractions.

How to proofread a novel with apostrophes
How to proofread a novel with apostrophes

Again, smart quotes are the standard. Enable and replace smart single quotes using the same steps you used for double quotation marks.

5. Bold

Standard manuscript formatting includes no bolded text. (Of course, there are exceptions to anything. I’m looking at you, The Invisible Library.) To remove any bold that may have sneaked into your manuscript, go to advanced Find and Replace.

Expand the dialogue box with the button in the lower left corner. Under replace format, select font. Then select “bold.”

How to proofread a novel with bold text
How to proofread a novel with bold text

For the “replace with” option, select font again. But this time select “not bold.” All of your bold text will be replaced with unbolded text.​

6. Placeholders

​If you use placeholders when you write, such as brackets or asterisks, be sure to run a search for those symbols. For example, when I can’t come up with a word while drafting, I will often place a reminder in brackets. This way I can keep my momentum and address the issue during editing.

But no one wants to see leftover [brackets] in the final draft, so using Find and Replace can help catch those placeholders early and efficiently.

7. Common Typos

We all have them, those words that somehow tie our typing fingers in knots. If you notice the same misspelled word a few times, run a search for it to catch instances you may have missed.

As you’re writing and/or editing, keep a list of these words. If you’re not fully comfortable with the type of English you’re using (American, British, Canadian, etc.), you’ll probably see some common errors in regional spellings.

Bonus Tip: Use a Macro for Manuscript Proofreading

For the ultimate in efficiency, save this entire process as a macro. Then you can run every Find and Replace search with one click.

How to Proofread Quickly

We all want to proofread faster. It’s not nearly as fun as drafting, after all!

But we also want to make sure it’s right. The whole point of proofreading is ensuring that the manuscript is free of errors, so we never want to prioritize speed over quality.

Here are a few tips for balancing speed and effectiveness during manuscript proofreading.

Read Out Loud

You’ve probably heard this tip. It certainly leans toward the “effectiveness” side of this discussion, but it’s still worth considering.

Reading out loud will likely slow you down, but it can help you catch errors that would otherwise have slipped through.

Proofread a Hard Copy

Printed manuscripts can be much easier to proofread. You tend to catch more mistakes, and it’s easier on your eyes. That allows for longer proofreading sessions and a faster overall proofread.

The downside is the printing cost. But your local office supply store can likely print your manuscript for an affordable price.

Try Night Mode

Why do computers use any color scheme except light text on a dark background? It is so much easier on the eyes. Night mode is available now in most apps, including Microsoft Word and Scrivener, my favorite writing software.

In addition to night mode, you can try increasing the size of your text and using a warm screen tone. (For Mac users, go to settings and turn on Night Shift.)

Stop When You’re Fatigued

We might be tempted to push through when we get tired. I’ll just proofread a few more pages. But that’s when we will make mistakes.

When your eyes or mind are fatigued, put away the proofreading for the day. Have a rest and a cup of tea. Come back to the work when you’re fresh.

Use Spell Checkers as a Tool

Spelling and grammar checkers can be immensely useful. They provide another layer of defense against the dreaded typo. However, it’s important not to rely on them too heavily.

Only accept these tools’ recommended changes when you understand the reason behind the change.

These tools include integrated spell checkers, Grammarly, and PerfectIt. While useful, these tools are often wrong. Back up any changes you accept with your own knowledge and your style guide of choice. (For fiction authors, this is typically the Chicago Manual of Style.)

How to Proofread a Novel Efficiently with Find and Replace​

Using the Find and Replace tool can help you cut down on the time you spend looking for simple, repetitive formatting errors. I like to run these searches before and after each proofreading pass.

While learning how to proofread a novel quickly can be very helpful, it’s much more important to proofread effectively.

With practice and the right strategies, you can achieve both for an efficient proofreading process.
When your manuscript is clean and ready for professional editing, check out our professional editing services. If you’ve used this checklist, you’re sure to be one of our favorite clients!

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