Proofreading: Choosing a Better Word

During the final proofreading of a novel, a writer can be tempted to change a word, deciding another word is better. I try not to cave to the temptation at this stage, but sometimes I just can’t help myself.

One thing I’ve learned while proofreading is that I need to be very careful during the final reading. It’s easy to introduce a typo, but worse, what if the new word doesn’t fit with the surrounding text?

How to I test this?

First, I replace the word. Then I read the entire scene to determine if it sounds right in the whole context. I often find that I’ve chosen a word already written in a paragraph before or after the one I’ve just altered.

The word change might sound better or it might not, but without testing the scene I wouldn’t know.  To make the process faster, I could search for the word, to find out if it’s anywhere near, but I still think it’s worth reading the scene to make sure the change makes the story better.

Are there things you look out for in the final proofing?

Thanks for reading . . .


12 thoughts on “Proofreading: Choosing a Better Word

  1. Repeating words within a few paragraphs is the worst. When you’re going through and editing line by line, you’re so focused on the specific line you’re working on that you tend to forget what came before (and by “you”, I mean writers in general :D). I definitely look out for repeated words in final proofing. Typos … places where semi-colons could exchanged for an em-dash or a period … awkward dialogue … etc. Ain’t final proofing fun? 😀


  2. This methodology also will allow us to approach these first pages from a variety of different angles. That’s not entirely coincidental. Throughout our ongoing Pet Peeves on Parade series, I’ve been encouraging you to read and reread your manuscripts (preferably IN YOUR BOOK’S ENTIRETY, IN HARD COPY, and OUT LOUD, just in case you hadn’t added that mentally) not just at the story or proofreading levels, but also to spot repetition, favorite phrases, and other patterns in the text.


  3. What sometimes happens is that I’ll change the word, and find that I’ve used it somewhere else, then I’ll change THAT word, and on and on …
    So sometimes it’s best to just walk away from the manuscript for a bit!
    Strangely enough, I don’t hate proofreading but actually find it somewhat soothing, like knitting or doing a Sudoku puzzle. 🙂


  4. Great question. I usually regret changing a word when I review the section and see it came up in the next paragraph. I try to ask myself: Was this word a problem at the time I wrote it? Sometimes I throw in a word as a placeholder because I know there is a better one but I want to keep going. If not, then I try to leave it alone. When doing a final proof read I try to see if there are bits that are rambling that are better off deleted. Thank you for posing the thought-provoking questions. e


    1. It is hard to know if a change it better or not. At then end, I try and change a little as possible. Deleting is a good way to get rid of unneeded words, but I try to do this before the final proof. Did someone say this was easy?


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