How to Do Proofreading Properly

Proficient editing and proofreading skills are a necessary component of effective writing. However, they come far later in the process – after the brainstorming, content planning, drafting and revision. Writers who write hurriedly or forgo any of the aforementioned steps end up with a finished paper that is, well, unfinished. Papers written without following effective writing best practices are often underdeveloped, confusing and hard to read.

After you’ve concluded writing and are ready to proofread and edit your paper, it is important that you do so carefully and be as thorough as possible. While it is beneficial to carefully review your writing and to request feedback from trusted sources, there are a number of other strategies that might prove useful in advancing your writing skills, namely those as they pertain to proofreading.

Learning How to Proofread

There are a number of different methods that someone might choose to deploy to proofread their work. Truthfully, what works for one might not work for the other. Regardless of which method you prefer, proofreading is crucial part of the writing process and should never be omitted. Here are seven methods of proofreading that you might try.

Never rely on spellcheckers

Spellcheckers come in handy for helping you to spot high-level errors. However, automated grammar and spelling checkers, like those found in the popular word processors, are incapable of identifying many of the most common grammar errors. They also regularly miss things and, as a result, mislead even the most capable writer.

Don’t proofread for all errors at once

Proofreading is a science. The more you put into it, the more you will get out of it. For instance, if you attempt to uncover and correct every single error in a single reading, you are likely to lose focus and miss a few key errors. Many writers find it helpful check for spelling errors in one reading and punctuation errors in another.

Read every word slowly

Another technique used by the professionals is to read out loud. Doing so forces you to both say and hear the words. It is important to read slowly, reading quickly has been proven to cause your brain to skip words.

Break the text up into smaller sections

Breaking the text into smaller segments will give you more manageable sections to focus on. Read each segment thoroughly and break momentarily before proceeding to the next. Doing it this way will help to prevent you from feeling overwhelmed and allow you to concentrate better.

Circle each of the punctuation marks

This may seem tedious, but it is one of the best methods for proofreading punctuation mistakes. In circling every punctuation mark, you are forcing yourself to examine every one more thoroughly to make sure it is correct.

Read the document in reverse

This doesn’t mean trying to read every word backwards, but rather from the last word to the first word. The reason this works so well is because it forces you to concentrate by isolating on each word individually rather than as a sentence or paragraph. Note that this is not intended to check punctuation errors, at this point, you are only focusing on spelling.

Make note of your most common errors

Proofreading your work on a regular basis will help you to get a firmer grasp on your own strengths and weaknesses and discover where you are regularly making mistakes in your writing. If you are more cognizant of errors that you make on a regular basis, you will be more likely to be aware of them during the writing process and will eventually learn to correct them.

The above seven strategies can be used as a proofreading guide, helping you to better proof read assignments and develop your own editing strategies.

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What is Proofreading – Useful Basics

Proof reading, at its root, means thoroughly critiquing your writing to discover and correct errors in writing, grammar, style or spelling.

Before you proofread an essay or another piece of written text, there are a few good strategies that you should consider:

  • Make sure that you have revised the more pertinent aspects of the text. Don’t focus on corrections at the sentence and word level if you still need to organize, structure or develop the entire paper or any section of it.
  • Allow a decent amount of time (a day, a week) between the time you finish writing and the time you start proofreading. Giving yourself a bit of disconnection will make it easier for you to notice mistakes.
  • Cut out unnecessary verbiage before you begin proofreading. Always focus on writing clear, concise and direct sentences.
  • Know what you are looking for. Pay attention to the comments made by your instructor on previous papers, take note of common trends in mistakes that you should be mindful of.

When you start to proofread, particularly if you’ve never proofread anything before, the process can be daunting. The key is to avoid becoming overwhelmed by working with smaller and more manageable sections of text. Other things that might help:

  • Wherever possible, proofread from an actual paper copy and not a computer screen.
  • Read the text out loud. This will help you to uncover things like run-on sentences, and you will be alerted to other mistakes that you might have otherwise just read over.
  • Use a blank piece of paper to cover the lines directly below the lines that you are reading. This will help prevent you from skipping ahead.
  • If you are proofreading from a computer, use the CTRL-F function to search for common mistakes.
  • If you are aware of the fact that you make common mistakes, check the paper separately for each mistake in order of most to least important.
  • End your proofreading task with a spelling check. This can be done by using a computer program or by reading the text backwards one word at a time.

Honing your editing and proofreading skills is as easy as taking a class, using a handbook, or scheduling time to speak to a writing instructor.

Keep reading for additional hints and tips to help you become a stronger proof reader.

Getting Proofreading Help

The reason that most people struggle with proof reading is because they become confused and overwhelmed. The words begin to run together, and it becomes impossible to spot mistakes.

One of the most valuable tips that you will learn for refining your proof reading skills is this:

Put your work away for several hours, or even the entire day, and come back to it later. When you start to proofread, you will do so with new eyes and be more likely to spot minor errors in spelling, punctuation and grammar.

Other strategies that help include reading out loud to yourself, or having someone else read it out loud to you and printing out the paper and reading it on paper instead of from a computer screen.

Other than the obvious spelling and grammar mistakes, what are you supposed to be looking for when you proofread your paper or any paper for that matter?

Style, and proper format.

In terms of style, you will want to look for the following:

  1. Have you used strong, robust verbs?
  2. Have you repeated too many words or phrases? If so, have you repeated them in consecutive sentences? If so, consider rewording many of them.
  3. Is your writing concise and poised? If you are able to eliminate a word without taking about from the meaning of the sentence, do so.
  4. Are you using multiple sentence structures?
  5. Have you made sure that pronoun references are clear? Anyone reading your paper should be able to clearly link pronouns and nouns.

And, when it comes to format, you will want to pay attention to:

  • Are all of the tables, charts, graphs and images appropriately titled and do they have the correct citations?
  • Have you checked to make sure that you are spelling words correctly based on the country you are in.
  • Do all of the page numbers line up?
  • Have you checked to make sure that titles, subtitles, and works cited lists adhere to the correct style guide? (Ie. APA, MLA, etc.)
  • Again, do all of the quotes and in-text citations match the requirements for the citation style used in your area of study?
  • Have you ensured that margins and fonts meet assignment requirements?

Some Useful Proofreading Tips

Editing and proofreading are strategies deployed by writers in hopes of spotting errors in their own writing. Given that this type of self-directed editing focuses entirely on the mistakes that are specific to the writer, and that the same errors might occur over and over again, it is imperative to understand the types of errors you, as a writer, commonly make so that you can implement that best strategy to locate those errors.

Here are a few strategies that you might find useful.

Read the paper out loud to yourself, similar to how you would read a story.

Keep your ears open for errors. If you listen effectively, you should be able to correct any mistakes that you hear. You will want to listen for unfinished phrases, run-on sentences, and anything else that might sound funny of slightly off.

  • Pause and correct any error you find when you find is, like spelling, punctuation, sentence structure, etc.
  • Read the paper in its entirety. Keep an ear out of any part that is unreadable, or that doesn’t feel right. Mark these for further review.

Read the paper sentence by sentence

Take a clean piece of paper and use it to cover the line of text directly below the one that you are reading. Read that sentence carefully. Does it make sense? Does it read how you intended it to? Continue this process down the entire paper until you have finished.

Be mindful of seeing the same error over and over

All writers make mistakes, and most often, they find that they have a pattern of errors. Or more specifically, there is likely to be an error that a writer will commonly make until they force themselves to be more aware of it. For example, you might find that you are struggling with transition words, of that you always forget to use commas, or maybe your struggle with stuffing words into paragraphs and come across as too wordy. If you know what mistakes you are commonly making then these should be the errors that you are the most mindful of looking for. Eventually, you will start to recognize when you are making these errors in the actual writing process and will be more mindful in correcting them. One way to help is to keep a list of the areas that you experience challenges in and use this as a guide when you write and edit.

Develop an in depth knowledge of grammar and punctuation rules (or at least know where to go for help)

Take time to study the most common grammar and punctuation rules. Try to review and practice the ones that you are still unsure of. It might be helpful to get a writing handbook, or ask your instructor where to find study material or some sort of ‘cheat sheet’ that you can reference for times when you are unsure.

Proofreading is a tedious task, granted, but it is not a task that is without significant value. After you’ve taken the time to brainstorm, plan, organize and draft your work, it only makes sense that you should also invest time into ensuring the correctness of your paper. Proofreading, when done right, is one more step in the process of creating a high quality paper that is not only well-written, but also error-free.

Check out this, if you are looking for more information about how to revise a paper properly.

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