Can a Ruler Help You Proofread?

I’m fascinated by how difficult it is to proofread my work. Why can’t my eye see if on the page instead of reading of – that’s not really there?

What does a ruler have to do with proofreading? Let’s call it the new tool in my toolbox.

When I think my work is ready to send to my agent, I print the final copy and read it, line by line, very slowly.

I place the ruler underneath each line as I read it. This forces my eye not to stray forward to the next line. The ruler stays in place until I’ve read every word.

Out of 80,000 words, I found five typos. They were:

–       a missing quote

–       a missing word (had)

–       a missing period at the end of a sentence

–       you’re instead of your

–       color instead of colour

I don’t think I would have found the mistakes without the ruler. This may seem like a lot of work for just 5 errors, but I believe in sending my best work out. If I don’t take is seriously, why would anyone else?

Do you have any proofreading tips you’d like to share?

Thanks for reading . . .


9 thoughts on “Can a Ruler Help You Proofread?

  1. Your approach is very professional, good for you! You may have mentioned this in a previous post, the only thing I would add is to take a break if you find your eyes are starting to drift. Proofreading takes a lot of concentration.


  2. Very cool idea! I tried out proofreading by reading the paragraphs backwards — not the whole book, just backward up the page instead of down the page. I think it helped — although there’s no way of really knowing unless I go back in time and try it again 😀


    1. Hi Michelle, I’ve tried reading backwards, but I’m not good at it. It takes me a lot of time and I haven’t caught any errors. It was worth a try, but I like the ruler method better. I’m willing to try most tips at least once. That way I know if it works for me or not. Thanks for commenting.


  3. I’m impressed that you take such care to find errors! I think that kind of diligence might be what separates the pros from the aspiring writers.
    I find nits like missing quotes and wrong words (like ‘he’ instead of ‘be’) in published novels all the time, but still miss mistakes in my own work! I find it best to let another set of well-trained eyes proof the story for me. Of course, I’m always more than happy to return the favor. 🙂
    I’ve also found that the more I write and proofread my own words (and that includes blogging 🙂 ) the better I become at detecting goof-ups!
    (Wouldn’t it be embarrassing though if I made a typo in this comment … )


    1. Kirsten, you are right on both points. Having someone else proofread your work is a must. I like to give my novel after I think I’ve put it in the best possible shape. Then the reader has to look hard for a typos. I also find I am much better at it than I was two years ago. I guess practice makes you perfect 🙂


  4. Many years ago I saw an editor using a special ruler made for proofreading. It had a hole in the middle, the size of one line, so that you were forced to concentrate on that line without being distracted by the lines above and below. Have you any idea whether such a ruler is still available anywhere?


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