Part of copyediting is catching spelling errors and incorrect usage of homonyms. Programs designed to catch misused words and homonyms, like Spell Check or Grammarly, don’t catch everything. Errors can still slip by. You have to catch what is missed or they’ll remain in your manuscript for readers to find.
Homonyms are words with the same pronunciation or spelling but have different definitions. Often most writers are aware of the correct definitions of the homonyms they use, but it’s easy to mindlessly type the wrong word.
It’s even easier for the mind to autocorrect it as you read through a manuscript. That’s why you find these types of mistakes in traditionally published books with teams of editors having looked it over. As you edit your manuscript (or someone else’s), make sure to take extra care that your mind doesn’t autocorrect homonyms so that you can find and fix them.
Need a review of common homonyms? There are several lists online for your benefit. Both Useful English and English Club have lists of common homonym pairs. If you want a more extended list, Alan Cooper has a much more extensive homonym list.
Make a List of Common Mistakes
If you’re editing your own manuscript, take note to remember words that you often mistype. As you make a conscious effort to learn what you consistently slip up on, you’ll be able to compile a list. This list can help you with editing as you can use it with a find and replace search.
As an example, I often mistype “form” and “from.” So when I edit my own work, I search every instance of the two words and make sure I used the correct ones. This makes fixing one of my most common spelling errors easy.
If you’re editing someone else’s manuscript, you can make a similar list. Often you will recognize an author’s common errors within the first few chapters (or pages). Keep note of them so you can search them out later to catch any you might have missed. Or search them out immediately so you don’t have to worry about finding them later. Either way, you’ll know you’ll have caught all the instances of the common error.