Proofreading: Why It's Different from Revising/Editing and How to Do It Effectively
Proofreading is the final step of the writing process.
After you have revised and edited your writing for content, organization and style, it's time to look for all the little things you might have missed when your mind was on bigger issues.
So now it's time to check the grammar. (There was no use worrying about it earlier, because you were still changing words and sentences and paragraphs around. Who wants to spend time correcting something that might just get deleted?)
- Have you used the correct PUNCTUATION?
Did you mark sentence endings with periods or semicolons, not commas?
Did you resist the urge to go comma crazy and fill your sentences with unneeded punctuation?
Did you use apostrophes to mark possessives (the girl's question) but not when the word was simply plural (the girls)?
- Did you make any of those "commonly
confused words" mistakes, like typing "their" when you meant
to type "there"? Remember: the spell check will not mark this sort
of error; it is up to you to check carefully for all those it's/its and
- Do your VERBS AGREE WITH THEIR SUBJECTS? (No "the client have...." subject/verb disagreement errors)
- Are your VERB FORMS AND ENDINGS correct? (No "we have wrote..." or
"yesterday he ask me...." mistakes)
- Do your PRONOUNS and nouns agree in number? (No
"A client should not miss their appointment" problems)
- Did you use the correct pronoun for the situation? (Using the pronoun "I" only when it is appropriate to turn the focus on you as an individual, avoiding the use of the pronoun "you" unless you are addressing a particular reader directly)
The trick to being a good proofreader is to know where your typical weaknesses are and then look specifically for them. Don't try to proofread for everything all at once. Read through once, just focusing on the punctuation, another time just looking at pronouns, etc.Ten tips for effective proofreading
- Read your paper out loud. When you
stumble, check that spot. Often, there will be a problem that your ear
picked up in that part of the sentence.
- Get someone else to read the paper to
you while you follow along on screen or on paper. If you read, it's
easy to skip over problems and read what you meant to type, not what you
actually did type. Another person is more likely to read exactly
what's on the paper.
- Use text-to-speech software and
let your computer read the paper to you. There are many such software
programs available. Check www.readplease.com,
for instance. It's free; you just have to download the program and install
- If you are proofreading from the monitor,
change the font size and style so that the words look different. (Just
remember to change them back before printing.)
- If you are proofreading from the
monitor, choose TOOLS > OPTIONS > GENERAL from the menu in Microsoft Word and then choose "Blue
background with white text."
- Consider proofreading from a printed
copy at some point in the process. Most people cannot read as well from the
monitor as from paper.
- Let time pass between the writing of the
paper and the final proofreading. The more distance you can achieve from the
writing, the more likely you are to see problems.
- Make good use of the FIND command.
The FIND tool (in the Edit menu) is a great proofreading aid. If you
typically have trouble with commas, for instance, you could use the FIND
command to highlight each comma in your paper. This won't tell you if
it's correct or not, but it will assure that you have taken a look at each
one and made your decision on whether that comma is necessary. If you often
find yourself using the plural "have" when you meant to use
"has," use the FIND command to highlight every place you used
HAVE, so that you can see if you did it correctly. Figure out where
you most often have difficulties and see if you can use the FIND
command to help you locate and assess each type.
- And now a word about GRAMMAR CHECK. Use it if you must, but be aware that the computer will only find a
small percentage of the grammar errors you might have made. It can be a
help but it is very definitely not a complete solution.
Remember too that often a grammar check will mark an area as incorrect even though there is absolutely nothing wrong with it, so trust yourself. Don't change something just because the
- Finally, the SPELL CHECK! This should be the last thing you do before submitting your paper. Never, ever submit a paper that has not been spellchecked.