Proofreading is one of the last phases of the writing process where you carefully seek out and correct grammatical and typographical errors in your final draft before presenting your work to an audience (professor, blog post, publisher, job, etc.).
Despite the fact that everyone has a different approach to the proofreading process, there is always ways to improve your proofreading skills:
- Give yourself a little bit of distance from your text before you begin the process of proofreading. Take a break even if it is less than a half-hour so you can return to your text with fresh eyes and a clear mind.
- Spend time carefully working with the text—errors occur with higher frequency when you’re rushing through your work and the proofreading process. Take the time to look closely at each sentence.
- Rather than working with the text on the computer screen, print it out and read each line at a reduced speed with a pen in hand.
- Read the text aloud. Hearing yourself say every word helps you identify errors you may skip if you read silently.
- Step into the imaginative shoes of your audience to alter your perspective of the work. By reading the text as if you are an audience member, rather than the author, you can approach the text from a learner’s viewpoint to see if the information is being transmitted effectively.
- Ask friends or family you are comfortable sharing your writing with to look over a hard copy draft so they can catch mistakes that you overlook.
- Make sure you utilize your spell checker in the software you’re using. But remember that there are many things it won’t catch: homonyms (pair, pare, & pear); incorrectly divided compound words (court yard = courtyard); incorrect pronouns (his vs. hers); usage errors (its vs. it’s); missing words; misspelled names that are in the spell checker’s dictionary; incorrect verb tenses (mixing past tense with present tense); passive voice; & repetition where a phrase is repeated and not just two of the same words back-to-back.
Personalize your proofreading process by carefully observing what type of error patterns you typically make based upon your own insights coupled with your reviewer or instructor’s comments about your writing. Ask a Writing Lab tutor to help you tease out some of these patterns. Once you have identified your own personalized errors, learn how to fix these errors by talking with your instructor and/or tutors. Think ahead about how to avoid them while you’re in the process of creating the text.
Please see the following Proofreading Guidelines for Authors from Harvard’s Asia Center Publications Office. Also, study the Proofreader’s Marks table and begin to use the standard editing marks on your own work with each hardcopy you print.