Text: Why and How to Proofread

Why bother with proofreading?

Proofreading needs to be considered as an important stage in writing and editing processes.

Writing and revising focus on how to communicate the topic content most effectively while proofreading focuses on the mechanics of grammar, punctuation, and spelling. If you miss this stage or proofread too quickly, you will not notice critical errors that reduce the effectiveness of what you write.

Teachers often use these proofreading symbols when they mark papers. If you see the same ones show up on graded projects return to you, this will help you learn to anticipate and avoid your unique writing concerns. We normally repeat the same kinds of errors in everything we write.

What is the best way to go about proofreading?

Work with another student or family member in an editing role

Woman peering at a page in the typewriter before her, which contains musical scores.Did you know that…

  • It is much harder to spot mistakes in your own writing than in someone else’s work.
  • Someone with a fresh set of eyes might offer excellent suggestions for improvement.
  • Professional writers hire editors who proofread each page up to ten times and pick up new errors each time.
  • Publishers use teams of editors who work in pairs, reading out loud to each other in order to spot errors.

Know your typical errors

If you know you often make certain errors, double check for these in particular.

Make a note of your errors each time you get work marked and look for patterns. For example missppellingss, keyboarding letters bcak ot frotn, missing words because your brain works far faster you can write type. Did you spot all those kinds of errors in the previous sentence?

Read aloud, word for word

Take advantage of the dual power of sight and hearing working together and you may hear a mistake that you can’t see, such as an omitted or repeated word. Also, note that wherever you pause, you often need some punctuation.

Slow down to about 25% of your normal reading speed

This will help you to read what is actually on the page, not what you think is there. When you read what you wrote, because you already know what is there, it is harder to concentrate on each word.

When you read at normal speed, you “fix your eyes” on the page only three or four times per line, or less. You unconsciously predict the words between these points and often pick out only as much of the words as you need to do this–perhaps only as much as the first and last letters.

To proofread effectively, you need to focus consciously on every word you have written and maybe do it twice in longer words. You have to look attentively at each word, not slide over it.

Check for consistency and accuracy

  • Check through all the verbs to make sure tenses are consistent (all match in time sequence)
  • Ask who?/what? for each verb to make sure singular/plural subjects match with verbs. Check every sentence has a full stop (for example, did you notice that the line above this one needed a full stop at the end?).

Some bits of your writing need to be double checked, such as the accuracy of statistics, dates, page references, or quotations you have copied, to make sure that the evidence you have selected is absolutely correct.This may mean re-reading sections of your sources again.

Read from the end

Instead of starting at the beginning of your page, start with the very last sentence and read that on its own, then read each sentence individually, working back towards the beginning, a sentence at a time.

This will stop you sliding over the words and help you see if you have complete sentences or fragments and run-on sentences. It will also help you see if you have pronouns (like it or this) that do not have full meaning because they are too far from their corresponding noun.

Read for formality

Typed page of text with "Draft" watermarked across it. A red pen rests on it, and red marks are all over the page.Look through your writing for symptoms that your text is not formal enough. You can do this easily using the Find and Replace tool in Microsoft Word and searching for apostrophes in words like it’s, they’re, you’re, can’t. These contractions need to be replaced by the full words to be formal enough for an academic essay or report.

Then search for the capital I because first person may not be appropriate and might need to be replaced by the passive or third person (“Results from this experiment show that…” instead of “I did an experiment that shows…”).

Turn on the Grammar tools in Word

As well as having a spellchecker that underlines wrong spelling with a red dotted line, Microsoft Word can identify problems with sentence structure by underlining with a green dotted line if you have the grammar tools turned on.

Check your reference list

Check through your reference list systematically for alphabetical order and for all required commas, full stops, parentheses, and for missing details such as place or publisher or date that you accessed a website.

Finally, try some Read-aloud software to help with proofreading. If the word or structure is wrong in some way, the text reader will read it wrongly and you will immediately see what you need to fix. Of course, this will not identify differences between words that sound exactly the same, such as there/their/they’re or weather/whether.