Best Ways to Quality Test Final Content
One of the surefire ways I know I’m almost done with a lengthy feature is that I get plain sick of looking at it. The same may happen with your book draft or other long-form content. So, what do you do when the “viewing” gets tough, knowing that the creative process is messy and your content likely needs another look? After all, it could be a reader’s very first exposure to your work on the page.
Beyond hiring an editor or proofreader—which is always a wise move—here are some time-tested approaches I’d recommend. All of them allow you to look at your work in a slightly different way so your eyes don’t glaze over and you’re more likely to catch clunky sentences, instances where your meaning didn’t come across quite right, or inverted words in the formal title of a non-profit you’ve lauded. Yes, you can still use software to grammar check and the like, but it's unlikely to catch nuances such as when you wrote "feat" but meant "feet."
Read content backward
I don’t mean read the words in a sentence backward, mind you, but reading a work from the last to the first sentence. This forces you to ignore the content’s narrative thread, and really isolate the elements of each individual sentence. I’ve done this when proofreading magazine features, for instance, and found it very useful. For a book, I suspect you wouldn’t want to tackle more than a chapter at a single setting.
Read content aloud
This approach is especially helpful for noticing how well sentences flow or whether adjustments need to be made to increase the musicality of passages – or make them more staccato as fits a piece’s tone. To notice these patterns, it helps if you are reading good writings by other authors. To help distance yourself even more from the work and step into editing mode, you could instead record yourself on a smart phone app, and listen to the content when ready.
Use text-to-speech software
Some authors benefit the most from hearing their work spoken in someone else’s voice. The good news is, there is free software that allows you to do just that. The one I tend to use is called Natural Readers, which allows you to drag and drop content onto their platform, and works with both Macs and PCs.
One developmental editor I know always edits the overall structure of a book using voice software. That makes sense because hearing a work read aloud allows you to ignore many stylistic and grammatical elements that should be focused on after the structure is finalized (that is, after any developmental editing and line editing for voice and style, when a manuscript is ready for copyediting).
Analyze your punctuation style
A trendy new software allows you to see whether you’re a comma lover, hate hyphenation, or have other unique traits when it comes to which punctuation elements you use most often. Seeing these punctuation patterns is as simple as pasting some text into the box awaiting you on the Just the Punctation website. So you can see what results can look like, below is an excerpt from my earlier blogpost on cost-saving ways to prep your work for professional editing.
, ' ' ! ' , ! ' . ' , ' . . , . , , ( " - - " ) , . , . ; ' . , , , . , - . , , - . ( ) , , , . - . , . , . , ( - ) . , . ' , . . , ' ; , . . , , , , . , , ' . , , . , . , . , - . - , ' . , " " " " ( ' ) . ' , . , " " " . " , — — , " " . , " , ' , " . , . , — — ! " " ' . , , ' . , . , . : - . " " , ; , , . - , . . ' - - , . , . . , ' . ' , , . .
I haven’t played with this software enough to know if it provides any meaningful information long term. But a surprise in the above was seeing that I used exclamation points two times (though it says three above) in a relatively short piece. Back when I interned at newspapers, the joke was you were only allowed three of these in your entire career, because exclamation points can be a crutch for not choosing words carefully enough to add energy to a work. Luckily, I think I’m relatively exclamation point free these days.
Regardless, it never hurts to turn to software like this to have some fun with your writing process at this beginning stage to meeting your audience needs. Enjoying the process is part of what can get lost in the final stages of getting a work ready for the public, and what I hope the approaches above will help you regain. You might want to consider whether there are things you can do to pamper yourself more during writing sessions too, using my post on writing rituals as a guide.
Barbra A. Rodriguez
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