1. Practice, Practice, Practice
In one of my undergrad editing classes, as soon as all the students arrived, our professor would hand us a page out of a newspaper, magazine, or textbook. After doing our best to proofread the text individually, we would come together as a group and discuss what mistakes we found. This exercise took us about 5 minutes, but a little practice a couple times a week went a long way. This would be a great exercise for a writing group.
2. No Multitasking
If you are nearing a deadline, you may be tempted to edit for content and proofread at the same time (I’ve been tempted SO many times). Not a good idea. Since proofreading should be the last step in the editing process, you should not be trying to do both of these crucial steps at once. For example, if you are reading a story and are focusing on the story line and character development, you probably aren’t doing a very good proofreading job. Both the content editing and proofreading will suffer. Make sure your proofreading is its own separate step so you can focus on spelling, grammar, and punctuation rather than the content.
3. Be Consistent
While there can be misspellings, punctuation errors, and other glaring mistakes, there are also gray areas of editing. Sometimes you have to make the choice about how to spell a word, how to use italics, or how to format a section of your poem or story. They key is to be consistent throughout your work. When in doubt, be consistent.
4. Step Away
Do NOT start proofreading your own work right after you have spent a long time editing it. Take a break, and then come back to your writing. Proofreading can be tedious and takes brain power, so you want to make sure you are alert and ready to catch small mistakes. This is why I really try not to proofread late at night. There is a big temptation to rush things so I can get to bed. There is no harm in proofreading a little at time as well.
5. Don’t Get Frustrated
When I first started a volunteer editing job with the school newspaper in college, I would get really get down on myself because I would miss errors, or I would compare myself to my peers who seemed to have an easier time editing and proofreading. Just remember, proofreading well takes time and practice. Making mistakes is normal. Just focus on where you are improving rather than trying to be perfect.