Whether it’s your own work or someone else’s, proofreading requires a certain keen eye for detail. Below is an article I came across from my own files that I wanted to share. It is from a site called “Wordwide Freelance Writer” and this was included in an email I received as a subscriber to their newsletter on/around 1/2013. There was no direct link to the article which is why I’m including the full article here.
Proofreading should take place after you’ve already completed editing the content of your piece. When you start proofreading, you’re at the point where you already feel that your writing expresses your ideas, includes enough evidence and examples, and has a clear sense of organization and structure.
I’ve been teaching writing since 2004 (and tutoring for many years before that), and here are five tips I’ve seen writers at all levels use to help them find and fix errors in their writing.
1. Slow down. A lot of mistakes slip by because writers don’t slow down enough to notice small, sentence-level details. Look at every sentence, every word, and every punctuation mark.
2. Read aloud. If you haven’t tried this before, you might be amazed at how many errors you’ll catch just by reading your work out loud. For some reason, it can be easier to “hear” errors that you couldn’t “see.” Also, reading aloud will help you find places where the wording sounds awkward.
Sometimes people feel shy about reading out loud, but I know from personal experience that it’s worth the effort; I find lots of errors in my own writing with this technique. If you feel uncomfortable, wait until nobody’s home, or just close your door and pretend to be on the phone.
If you prefer, you can also work with a partner for this technique: ask a friend or family member to read your work aloud while you listen and make notes about necessary corrections.
3. Print out your work. We get used to reading on screens, but studies show that we don’t read as closely when reading from a screen as from a printed page. Also, it’s helpful to look at your work from a new perspective rather than just scrolling through the same document over and over.
I learned a tip from novelist and nonfiction writer Skye Moody that it also helps to print out your work in a different font than you’ve been using as you edit on your document on your computer. Seeing the words in a different font can give you that little bit of distance you need to see your writing in a new way, and errors might jump out more readily.
4. Try reading from bottom to top. After you’ve already proofread your work in the conventional way, from beginning to end, give your document a read-through where you start at the end and read back to the beginning, focusing on just one sentence at a time.
When you read your work from beginning to end, you can get caught up in the flow of the content and just breeze through it, not noticing the spelling, grammar, and punctuation of each individual sentence. Reading from end to beginning can help give you the sentence-level focus you need to find and fix errors.
5. Review grammar and punctuation rules as needed. Has it been years since you thought about the rules for using commas? There are lots of great online resources to help you brush up your skills.
My two favorite sets of easy-to-use informational sheets and practice exercises are from the Online Writing Lab (OWL) at Purdue University, and the Guide to Grammar and Writing provided by Capital Community College in Hartford.
After working through these five tips, you may also want to ask someone else to have a look at your work; we all have stubborn errors we don’t notice ourselves but which someone else might notice right away. If you proofread your own work at least a couple of times before sharing it, hopefully you can significantly reduce the workload for your friend, family member, or colleague who has volunteered to take a look at your writing.
About the Author
Amanda Laughtland is a writer who teaches English at the college level. She is the editor and publisher of Teeny Tiny Press, a small publisher of books and zines. She also publishes interviews with authors, artists, performers, entrepreneurs, and other creative professionals on her blog, With Five Questions.