Foolproof Proofreading

By Megan Alms, a professional writing student at Taylor University.

One of the biggest problems a piece of writing can have is not having been proofread. A draft sprinkled with poor grammar, inconsistencies, and misused words will not be taken seriously in any context. It’s one thing to type every word that comes to your head; it’s another thing altogether to make sure those words make sense.

So, what is proofreading?

By definition, proofreading is reading over a piece of work for mistakes, whether grammatical or contextual. How is that accomplished? Here are five tips to make proofreading easier and more effective.

1. Give your work “cooling time.”

Let your work sit for a while after writing it. If possible, don’t look at it for several days before coming back to proofread it. If you have a deadline limiting your “cooling time,” even a few hours will be beneficial. The important thing is to let your mind go to other things. That way, when you come back to your work, you will have a different mindset and a new pair of eyes.

2. Read it aloud.

When you have to actively read out each word in your manuscript, you will be more likely to pick up on anything written unclearly. If you still struggle to catch mistakes while reading, tools like Microsoft Word and Google Translate have features that will read text aloud. These are useful because, unlike the human brain, the computer cannot mentally fill in words that it expects to be there. You will hear exactly what you wrote!

3. Have someone else read it.

proofreadThis is possibly the most valuable proofreading method. If you give it to someone else who does not already know the information you are trying to convey, they will be able to tell you what areas are unclear. Sometimes you have been staring at your writing for so long that it all just looks like a garbled mess. Don’t be afraid to ask for clarity from someone you trust.

4. Pretend it was written by someone else.

This is a great method, especially if you can’t get someone else to read it. If you pretend to be someone who knows nothing about the subject you’ve written about, you can seek out areas that are unclear. This will also help you slow down; after reading it several times, you’ll start to skim over some areas. But a first-time reader will read it more carefully because they don’t know yet what the writing says.

5. Know your most common errors.

After going through the proofreading process on several projects, you will start to see patterns in your mistakes. Once you have pinpointed these common issues, train yourself to look especially for the errors you know you struggle with. You may not be able to stop making the error, but at least you can always catch it during your proofreading!

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2 thoughts on “Foolproof Proofreading

  1. Reading aloud is laborious but works, especially when checking flow which is often hidden by other flaws, especially when you aren’t looking for it.
    Your point about knowing common errors is a good one, too; I’ve never looked at it that way. Great post!

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