4 Tips for Better Proofreading

13

Lady proofreading

Here’s a good tip:  After you write something, read it before sharing it.

I hope that seems obvious to you. But way too many students do not bother to read what they have written before turning it in. I know this is so because good students often submit papers with mistakes so glaring that the only explanation is that they submitted it without taking the  time to read it first.

One of the most telling signs of a failure to proofread is when whole words or phrases are left out of a sentence:

  After waxing the car, Mr. Jones to the mall.

It’s easy to do this — sometimes we think faster than we can type, and our brains fill in the words that our fingers leave out. But if we take a moment to read everything after we’re done, we can catch these little errors before our readers do.

Maybe you do read your own work, but still overlook little errors. If that’s the case, you simply need to read more carefully. You may be proof-skimming or proof-glancing instead of proofreading. Here are four suggestions for improving your proofreading:

1Read out loud.

If this is not possible or irritating to those around you, read “aloud silently.” Hear the words in your head. Let your ears help you. They will pick up errors or awkwardness that your eyes alone would miss.

 2Read it more than once.

Sometimes it takes a few times through before you spot something in need of improvement. It may even be a good idea to have a particular goal for each reading. For example, check content and organization the first time through, word choice and rhythm the next, and mechanical issues like grammar and spelling in the third reading.

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3Leave it and come back later.

If you’ve got the time, leave your work for a day or at least several hours before coming back to read it again. Sometimes it takes a little mental and emotional distance to help you see your paper clearly. When our brains get tired, they miss things. Give your gray matter a rest. Take the dog for a walk. Read a book. Do a thousand push-ups. Then come back and read what you’ve written.

4Check spelling by reading it backwards.

This is a great tip for checking spelling. It forces you to read one word at a time. When we read in the normal left-to-right way, our eyes can just skim past misspellings and other errors. Our brains sort of auto-correct the mistakes so that we don’t notice them. This is less likely to happen when you read backwards.

Even if you don’t have time to do all of the above, at least give your work a good once-over before sending it on to its intended audience. You’ll often be amazed at the crazy things you wrote.

*****
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About the Author

Brian Wasko

Brian WaskoBrian is the founder and president of WriteAtHome.com. One of his passions is to teach young people how to write better.View all posts by Brian Wasko

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  6. Grace
    Grace03-21-2013

    I think the extra space near the end of the second paragraph is hilarious. Assuming it was on purpose. :-)

    Love the proofreading ideas. Especially #4.

    • Brian Wasko
      Brian Wasko03-22-2013

      Sorry if this disappoints you, Grace, but I intended no extra space. It’s probably just your browser (I don’t see an extra space myself). If I were going for humor, I would have been more obvious anyway. I’d have said something like, “…good student often submit papers with misteaks sew glarring…” But thanks for giving me the benefit of the doubt! :)

  7. BA Sisson
    BA Sisson03-10-2013

    The backwards reading advice might not be too helpful for spelling because even though a word might be spelled correctly, it might be the wrong word. I have to keep reminding students that this is why they can’t rely on computers to always catch spelling errors.

    • Brian Wasko
      Brian Wasko03-11-2013

      Well, sure, that’s a problem too, BA, and reading backwards won’t help writers with homophones. That’s something they’ll have to figure out separately. I’ve done several posts on that issue, by the way. It’s a series I call “Words We Confuse that Spellcheckers Miss.” You might find them helpful for your students.

  8. Saved Girl/ Amber
    Saved Girl/ Amber03-01-2013

    I had a creative writing teacher who said that she liked to change the size of her font on what she was proofreading. That way it changed the position of the words and lines so that she wouldn’t miss mistakes that her eyes had become accustomed to.

    And unless I’m in a huge hurry, I always proofread, even comments. :)

    • Brian Wasko
      Brian Wasko03-01-2013

      That’s a creative idea. Never would have though of it. Thanks, Amber.

      • Saved Girl/ Amber
        Saved Girl/ Amber03-02-2013

        Um, I think you need to take some of your own advice. :D

  9. Nancy Vest
    Nancy Vest02-28-2013

    Reading aloud catches many mistakes. I instruct all my students to do this.

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