You’ve finally weaned that awesome piece of writing you had been nursing in your head for months. After spending a tedious period of time organising your thoughts, ideas and research into a brilliant and captivating body of text, here comes the killjoy that puts the sour cream in your happy pudding – Proofreading! Yes, the intrusive neighbour sneering at you with eyes that say, “so you think you can escape me? “
Proofreading is probably the most unwanted, unloved part of the writing process; but it is very essential to achieving that wholesome literary output you envisioned for your work. Like Mark Twain famously said: The difference between the almost-right word & the right word is really a large matter— it’s the difference between the lightning-bug & the lightning”
Inasmuch as you might see proofreading as a bore, putting that extra effort in cross-checking your piece of work for mistake in grammar, syntax, spelling or style, can tremendously improve your professional credence.
Twain fully understood how hard it is to proofread effectively when he encapsulated the pain of effective proofreading in a letter to Walter Bessant in February 1898:
You think you are reading proof, whereas you are merely reading your own mind; your statement of the thing is full of holes & vacancies but you don’t know it, because you are filling them from your mind as you go along. Sometimes— but not often enough— the printer’s proof-reader saves you— & offends you— with this cold sign in the margin: (?) & you search the passage & find that the insulter is right–it doesn’t say what you thought it did: the gas-fixtures are there, but you didn’t light the jets.
So how do you bell the cat? Inasmuch as there is no perfect all-in-one way to making an effective proofreading, following these 10 simple tips below would go a long way in making your proofreading blues a thing of the past:
1. Give it a rest, set your text aside for a while.
If time allows, set your text aside for a few minutes, hours (or days) after you’ve finished composing, and then proofread it with fresh eyes. If you are able to clear your mind and approach the writing from a fresh perspective, then your brain is more able to focus on the actual words, rather than seeing the words you think you wrote. Some distance between writing and proofing will help you see mistakes more easily because, rather than remember the perfect paper you meant to write, you’re more likely to see what you’ve actually written.
2. Be sure you’ve revised the larger aspects of your text.
Don’t make corrections at the sentence and word level if you still need to work on the focus, organisation, and development of the whole paper, of sections, or of paragraphs.
3. Look for one type of problem at a time.
Read through your text several times, concentrating first on sentence structures, then word choice, then spelling, and finally punctuation. It is also helpful to eliminate unnecessary words first, before looking for mistakes.
4. Double-check facts, figures, and proper names.
In addition to reviewing for correct spelling and usage, make sure that all the information in your text is accurate
5. Review a hard copy.
Print out your text and review it line by line: rereading your work in a different format may help you catch errors that you previously missed. Experts have observed that people tend to miss more errors proofreading on a computer monitor than if they print out a copy and go over it on paper.
6. Read your text aloud.
This is especially helpful for spotting run-on sentences, but you’ll also hear other problems that you may not see when reading silently. Reading out each word individually increases the odds that you’ll find a typo. Or better still, ask a friend or colleague to read it aloud. You may hear a problem (a faulty verb ending, for example, or a missing word) that you haven’t been able to see.
7. Use a blank sheet of paper to cover up the lines below the one you’re reading.
This technique keeps you from skipping ahead of possible mistakes.
8. Use a computer spelling checker.
A spellchecker can help you catch repeated words, reversed letters, and many other common slip ups–but it’s certainly not fool-proof. Remember that a spelling checker won’t catch mistakes with homonyms (e.g., “they’re,” “their,” “there”) or certain typos (like “he” for “the”).
9. Trust your dictionary.
Your spellchecker can tell you only if a word is a word, not if it’s the right word. For instance, if you’re not sure whether sand is in a desert or a dessert, visit the dictionary
10. Read your work backward.
Starting with the last sentence and working your way in reverse order to the beginning. Supposedly this works better than reading through from the beginning because your brain knows what you meant to write, so you tend to skip over errors when you’re reading forwards. Doing this will help you focus on individual words rather than sentences.
11. Create your own proofreading checklist.
Keep a list of the types of mistakes you commonly make and then refer to that list each time you proofread. If you tend to make many 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, and again (perhaps using a computer search for “this,” “it,” and “they”) to trace pronouns to antecedents.
12. Ask for help.
Invite someone else to proofread your text after you have reviewed it. A new set of eyes may immediately spot errors that you’ve overlooked.