Proofreading Strategies

Proofreading means examining your writing carefully to find and correct typographical errors and mistakes in punctuation, grammar, style, and spelling. It is not the same as editing, which is about improving the overall content and quality of the work, such as recognizing when additional information is needed, recognizing unnecessary content that can be removed, changing organization, and so on. Here are helpful proofreading strategies:

  • Give yourself a break from the task. Allow yourself some time between writing and proofing. Even a thirty-minute break is productive because it will help you get some distance from what you have written. The goal is to return with a fresh eye and mind.
  • Print out a paper copy if you can. Many people find that they are much more likely to catch errors if they focus on a copy that they can physically handle. Also, since it looks different from what you see on your computer screen, you can read it with "fresher" eyes.
  • Before you print out a paper copy, if you know what types of mistake you tend to make, use the "search" function of the computer to find typical mistakes. Also, use the computer spelling and grammar checker. Just remember that a spelling checker won't catch all your mistakes, so it isn't a substitute for actual proofreading.  Still, it is very helpful--it will even catch problems like having space between a word and a period or comma, having two spaces in places when you only need one, and so on.
  • Leave yourself enough time. Since many errors are made by speeding through writing and proofreading, you should take your time to look over your writing carefully. This will help you to catch errors you might otherwise miss. Try to read through your writing slowly. If you read at a normal speed, you won't give your eyes sufficient time to spot errors.
  • Read aloud. When you don't, your brain helpfully fills in gaps and fixes errors--but since you therefore don't really notice them, you can't fix them. If you read your work out loud, you will catch awkward phrasing, missing words, repeated words, sentence fragments, and more. In fact, reading an entire paper backward, sentence by sentence, is very helpful since you break the logical flow. This is especially important if you frequently create sentence fragments.
  • If you tend to make many types of mistakes, check separately for each kind of error, moving from the most to the least important, and following whatever technique works best for you to identify that kind of mistake. For instance, read through once (backwards, sentence by sentence) to check for fragments; read through again (forward) to be sure subjects and verbs agree; read through again for comma, colon, and semicolon errors; read through again looking for examples of slang, first person, and second person; and so on. yes, it sounds time consuming--but you want a good grade, don't you?
  • Get others involved. Asking a friend or a writing lab tutor to read your paper will let you get another perspective on your writing; a fresh reader will be able to help you catch mistakes that you might have overlooked. (Reading out loud to friend or family members is a very helpful editing strategy, too--ask them to be bluntly honest about what sounds unclear and whether you have successfully proven your point, given enough concrete examples, and so on.)