Tag Archive for proofreading

Double-Spacing: Another Relic of the Typewriter Era?

I’ve already talked about what I think of typing two spaces after a period, but there’s really no standard requirement behind it. Double spacing between lines, however, is a whole different animal. Some editors still require double spacing in their submission guidelines, and most teachers still require their students double space their work per MLA format guidelines.

MLA format also says, “Leave only one space after periods or other punctuation marks (unless otherwise instructed by your instructor).” To me, this demonstrates that two spaces after a period is an artifact of academia: some teachers are enforcing it out of habit and because it’s how they learned, not because there’s a practical reason to do so, so MLA takes the middle ground.

Have we reached the point where double-spaced lines of text should be treated the same way? If an editor or a teacher requires double-spaced manuscripts, then of course the paper should be turned in that way, but why? It’s time to discuss letting it die as a standard, if not a habit.

The first argument is for readability, but as with two spaces after a period, that’s subjective. We spend hours a day reading without double-spaced paragraphs, both on the Internet and in print. This is when the argument turns to readability for proofreading, where the eye is better able to spot errors. I’m with you there.


I still prefer to proofread in print, but I don’t double space. For me, a printed manuscript is not so much for readability as it is the feel of taking a pencil (yes, a mechanical pencil, because that’s how I roll) to a manuscript to tear it apart. Some writers prefer the nostalgia of a red pen carving a bloody trail of destruction across their beloved manuscripts.

If a proofreader is reading carefully enough, it shouldn’t matter whether he’s reading on screen or on paper. Our eyes can—and should—be trained for both. So what are the red pen and the double spacing about? Efficiency and clarity in communicating corrections.

Yet there’s a computer sitting right there. Don’t worry, we’re coming to that.

Double spacing a manuscript is not for the proofreader’s ease in reading, but for the proofreader’s ease in communicating corrections back to the writer (or to a typesetter if we want to go way back). A red pen contrasts with the black ink so the writer sees every correction, and the double spacing gives the proofreader room to lay down edits and notes. If an editor or a teacher chooses to rewrite a sentence or make a longer note, they’re going to need room to write, right?

Do newspapers still work this way? I wrote and edited for a college newspaper in the ’90s. Our instructor was a former newspaper editor, and we did zero proofreading on paper and never fiddled with double-spacing. Do publishers still work this way? In the last decade, I’ve only turned in one double-spaced manuscript per the editor’s request. I haven’t handled a printed, double-spaced manuscript, proofread by an editor, since high school.

So why are writers and students still doing it? Habit, and because academia says so.

This is for 3rd graders. Elementary teachers love their comic sans.

Proofreading marks would make great Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader? questions. We all used (or at least saw) proofreading marks in school, but most adults have forgotten all about them. Hell, a college student at my karate dojo tried to remember some of them while we were proofreading a new manual we’re putting together for students.

We’ve replaced all of this with track changes, commenting, and similar functions in word processors. Even Google Docs now offers a Suggesting mode and allows users to see the entire revision history of a document, and the writer and an editor or teacher can see it all happen in realtime. It’s more efficient than passing papers back and forth and is a much faster and more direct way of communicating.

College students already turn in their work electronically, so colleges are already halfway there. Most K-12 schools are starting to make the change, too. 1:1 programs (1 device to 1 student) are the new trend, whether with laptops or tablets, so every student has an electronic workflow. At the school I work for, every student from grades 6-12 has a Chromebook or laptop and a Google Apps account.

At the elementary level, we’re seeing long-form writing replaced by multimedia presentations and blog-style electronic journaling. Elementary students at my school still write papers longhand occasionally, but even proofreading marks are starting to die out. One of my sons saw them in 2nd grade, but the other has never seen them. They had two different teachers, one of which is in her third decade of teaching, and the other has been teaching less than ten years. Guess which one taught proofreading marks?

That all said, I spoke to a second-year junior high English teacher who requires double-spaced papers, even electronically. He finds seventh graders’ run-on sentences and similar issues are tough to parse in single-spaced text. However, he also admits he requires it because “that’s how it’s commonly done,” and because it’s easier to communicate page-length requirements to students.

Readability, again, is subjective. By high school, and certainly on a professional level, students and writers should be past the point where their writing can’t be parsed in single-spaced text. I’m much more interested in the why of things over “because we’ve always done it that way.” The latter is a dangerous statement, and only invites stagnation.

As for his page-length requirements, it’s not hard to say “give me half a page” instead of one double-spaced page. I suggested word count, but he feels if he required 500 words, they’d stop writing at word 501. They won’t do the same when they hit the end of a page? In any event, these things can be corrected through education and grading.

Double spacing is worth debating. If even academia is starting to make the switch, then maybe it’s time to revisit double spacing as a standard. I can see arguments on both sides, but I think we’re better off taking steps to dump it. Let’s start drilling the habit of proofreading accurately in regular text into our students instead.

And by the way, how many of us catch ourselves proofreading websites, books, magazines, and newspapers? We do it all the time, even when we’re not consciously thinking about it. We tell ourselves it’s easier one way or the other, but we read single-spaced text (with one space after periods!) all day.

If double-spacing manuscripts is already a habit for you, by all means, carry on. If a publisher, editor, or agent requires it, then definitely do it! I just see no reason to keep drilling it into students as a requirement, or to require writers to use double spacing if we’re going to use an electronic workflow through the rest of the publishing process.

I imagine pretty soon it will become optional, just like those two spaces after a period.

About Mike Oliveri

Mike Oliveri is a writer, martial artist, cigar aficionado, motorcyclist, and family man, but not necessarily in that order. He is currently hard at work on the werewolf noir series The Pack for Evileye Books.

Editor or Adversary?

Any schmuck can claim the editor title. There’s no training for it, no formal certification. There’s a generally-accepted idea of what an editor is and does, but there’s so much leeway in its application that few people question it when they work with an editor.

One definition of the editor is the gatekeeper. He’s the guy putting together an anthology, and thus the guy the writer has to buy drinks for at a convention. To some he’s the Statue of Liberty, welcoming the tired and poor and huddled masses to his inbox. To others he’s Cerberus, viciously shredding manuscripts in his three sets of jaws and keeping the wannabes in their place.

Another definition is the editor as proofreader. Some editors will run a manuscript through Word’s spellchecker and call it a day, trusting the pro writer they admire to have the skill to turn in a flawless manuscript. Others wield their red pen like a scythe, slashing at the text until the manuscript looks like a murder scene.

Finally we have the editor as consultant, or perhaps developer. The easy-going editor asks the writer to tweak the ending because he didn’t understand it. The writer changes exactly three words and the editor says “great job” and moves on (possibly without even reading the revised manuscript). This guy’s opposite number is the micro-manager, the guy who forgets this is the writer’s story, not his own, and dictates changes down to the minutest detail.

For my money, an editor should be a blend of all three, and a good editor will work somewhere in the middle ranges of these scenarios. A good editor can make a decent writer look great, but a bad editor can make a great writer look like a monkey raping a typewriter. Just as a good editor should analyze the strengths and weaknesses of a writer, a good writer should analyze the strengths and weaknesses of an editor.

This is why a writer must ask himself whether this person is his editor or his adversary.

For those of us coming up during the POD boom ten years ago, we saw a lot of editors slap together an anthology and call it a day. The stories were uneven, some writers turned in crap because they could, and the books were often rife with typos and grammatical errors. We started to figure out pretty quick that this style of editing wasn’t doing any of us any favors.

I also know two guys who worked with a prominent editor at a New York publishing house. He asked them for changes to manuscripts that made no sense, and pretty soon they figured out this guy wasn’t even reading the manuscripts in the first place. This explained a lot of the other crap hitting the shelves under this guy’s watch, and my friends ultimately moved on so they wouldn’t be dragged down by the rest of the line.

These editors are your adversary. They do not have the writer’s best interest heart, nor even the book. They want their name in lights or to just collect a paycheck.

I also know editors who bring out the best in their writers. They understand good storytelling and they know what style guides are for. They take the time to check historical facts when necessary, and they know how to push a writer to make him work harder. They make sure the writer’s work is the best it can be, and that it works well on its own or as part of a collection or anthology.

These editors are the editors you want to work with, for obvious reasons.

Recently, I’ve been fortunate enough to work with more of the good editors than the bad guys, but it doesn’t always work out that way. We may always turn in the best work we can (at least, I hope we all are), but there are times we also have to take the extra steps ourselves.

And in extreme cases, there are times we just have to walk away from a gig.

About Mike Oliveri

Mike Oliveri is a writer, martial artist, cigar aficionado, motorcyclist, and family man, but not necessarily in that order. He is currently hard at work on the werewolf noir series The Pack for Evileye Books.

Proofreading is a Bitch

I mentioned to a friend I’d be proofing and submitting a short story tonight. He asked me:

“What do you do in proofreading? Look for typos?”

For starters, yes. But there’s so much more.

Grammar is a big one for me. For example, I don’t like to derail my writing to look up the difference between lay and lie, so I’ll do it in the proofing stage. I like to think I have a good ear for grammar, but I don’t memorize all the rules and I don’t get it right every time. I used to drive my English teachers insane because I’d ace compositions but bomb out on grammar tests. Diagram a sentence? Screw that noise, I’ll write you a more interesting one instead.

I rewrite bad sentences. If I something doesn’t sound right, or if I can’t decide how the grammar should be handled, I’ll rewrite it. Can’t resolve the question? Make the question irrelevant.

I look for passive verbs. If the words was or had appear in a sentence, I look for a better way to say it. Why should I say “he was running” when “he ran” is cleaner? Along the same line, it’s a good time to expunge crap like “started to” from sentences. She started to scream? No, unless something cut her off, she just screamed.

I track down repetitive words or phrases. Sometimes these things are like an ear worm that just won’t go away. Case in point: in tonight’s submission, I used the phrase “pushed onward” twice in two pages, and I used the word “just” three times in two paragraphs. I kept one instance of each and rewrote the rest.

I’ll kill off as many adverbs as I can find. Why? Because fuck adverbs, that’s why.

I rescue or euthanize orphans. Not the single lines abandoned by a paragraph spanning a page break, but the fragments left behind when I rewrite a sentence on the fly. Sometimes they belong in another sentence, other times they should have been deleted. Either way, they go away.

As far as I’m concerned, this is separate from rewriting. Proofreading is not excising long passages of nonsense, changing character voice, altering the plot, or otherwise revising a piece. I may streamline a passage here and there in the proofing stage, but to me that’s part of cleaning up the final presentation, not rewriting.

Most of the rewriting in my short stories has already been done in notes or in my head before the text hits the page. Longer works from novellas to novels are where I see most of my rewriting work. In Lie with the Dead, I have a chapter that needs to be scrapped and rewritten with a new approach in mind, and I have two scenes that need tweaks to agree with events later in the book.

This is why there are often several rounds of proofreading. Sometimes cleaning up text introduces new errors, and sometimes the brain just reads right over mistakes. It’s kind of like reading this paragraph your friends have emailed to you a million times:

Aoccdrnig to a research sduty at Cmabrigde Uinervtisy, it deosn’t mttaer in what order the ltteers in a word are, the only iprmoetnt thing is that the frist and lsat ltteer be in the rghit pclae. The rset can be a total mses and you can still raed it wouthit porbelm. Tish is bcuseae the human mind does not raed ervey lteter by istlef, but the word as a wlohe.

This, my friends, is why proofreading is a bitch.

But it’s part of the job, and this is how I do it.

About Mike Oliveri

Mike Oliveri is a writer, martial artist, cigar aficionado, motorcyclist, and family man, but not necessarily in that order. He is currently hard at work on the werewolf noir series The Pack for Evileye Books.