Better Proofreading: Write, Read, Repeat
This advice seems so obvious that it shouldn’t need saying. But after twenty-some years of working with student writers, it is is clear to me that it indeed must be said:
After you write something, read it before you submit it.
Duh, right? Even if a careful proofreading isn’t in order, you’d think every writer would at least care enough about what they produce to give it a quick once-over. But experience proves that far too many students do not bother to read what they have written. I know this is so because good students regularly submit papers with mistakes so glaring that the only explanation is that they didn’t take time to read before submitting the paper.
One of the most telling mistakes 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 leave out words — sometimes we think faster than we can type, and our brains subconsciously fill in what our fingers have left out. But if we take the time to carefully read our work after we’re done, we can catch these little errors before turning it in.
Maybe you do read your work, but still overlook little errors. If that’s the case, the problem is simply that you don’t read carefully enough. Here are some suggestions for improving your proofreading:
Read it out loud.
If this is not possible or irritating to those around you, read “aloud silently.” Hear the words in your head. It’s always best to allow your ears to help you proofread a paper. They will pick up problems or awkwardness that your brain alone would miss.
Read it more than once.
Sometimes it takes a few times through before you spot something that could use improvement. It’s even a good idea to read each time with a particular goal. Check content and organization the first time, word choice and rhythm the next, and mechanical issues like grammar and spelling in the third reading.
Leave it and come back later.
If you’ve got the time, leave your work for a day or several hours before coming back to read it again. Sometimes it takes a little mental and emotional distance to make you aware of problems or areas needing work. When our brains get tired, they miss things. Give your gray matter a rest and come back after a relaxing game of shuffleboard or a tall glass of eggnog.
Check spelling by reading it backwards.
This is the best way I know to check spelling. It forces you to read one word at a time. When we read normally, sometimes our eyes just cruise past misspellings and other errors. The context carries us right past them. This can’t happen when you read backwards.
Even if you don’t have time to do all of the above, be sure to give your work a good read before sending it on to its intended audience. You’ll be amazed at the things you wrote and didn’t even notice!
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