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Writing a Paper: Proofreading

Introduction

Proofreading involves reading your document to correct the smaller typographical, grammatical, and spelling errors. Proofreading is usually the very last step you take before sending off the final draft of your work for evaluation or publication. It comes after you have addressed larger matters such as style, content, citations, and organization during revising. Like revising, proofreading demands a close and careful reading of the text. Although quite tedious, it is a necessary and worthwhile exercise that ensures that your reader is not distracted by careless mistakes.

Tips for Proofreading

Distance yourself from your work.
Set aside the document for a few hours or even a few days before proofreading. Taking a bit of time off enables you to see the document anew. A document that might have seemed well written one day may not look the same when you review it a few days later. Taking a step back provides you with a fresh (and possibly more constructive) perspective.

Proofread at a specific time of day.
Make a conscious effort to proofread at a specific time of day (or night!) when you are most alert to spotting errors. If you are a morning person, try proofreading then. If you are a night owl, try proofreading at this time.

Print a hard copy of the text.
Reviewing the document in a different format and having the ability to manually circle and underline errors can help you take the perspective of the reader, identifying issues that you might ordinarily miss. Additionally, a hard copy gives you a different visual format (away from your computer screen) to see the words anew.

Do not rely exclusively on grammar and spelling checkers.
Although useful, programs like Word's spell-checker and Grammarly can misidentify or not catch errors. Although grammar checkers give relevant tips and recommendations, they are only helpful if you know how to apply the feedback they provide. Similarly, MS Word's spell checker may not catch words that are spelled correctly but used in the wrong context (e.g., differentiating between their, they're, and there). Beyond that, sometimes a spell checker may mark a correct word as wrong simply because the word is not found in the spell checker's dictionary. To supplement tools such as these, be sure to use dictionaries and other grammar resources to check your work. You can also make appointments with our writing instructors for feedback concerning grammar and word choice, as well as other areas of your writing!

Read your text aloud and slowly.
Reading a text aloud allows you to identify errors that you might gloss over when reading silently. This technique is particularly useful for identifying run-on and other types of awkward sentences. If you can, read for an audience. Ask a friend or family member to listen to your work and provide feedback, checking for comprehension, organization, and flow.

Have someone else read aloud to you.
Hearing someone else read your work allows you to simply listen without having to focus on the written words yourself. You can be a more critical listener when you are engaged in only the audible words.

Go through the paper backwards.
By reading the document backwards, sentence by sentence, you are able to focus only on the words and sentences without paying attention to the context or content.

Use a ruler or blank piece of paper.
Placing a ruler or a blank sheet of paper under each line as you read it will give your eyes a manageable amount of text to read.

Check for familiar errors.
If you can identify one type of error that you struggle with (perhaps something that a faculty member has commented on in your previous work), go through the document and look specifically for these types of errors. Learn from your mistakes, too, by mastering the problem concept so that it does not appear in subsequent drafts.

Proofread for one type of error at a time.
Related to the previous strategy of checking for familiar errors, you can proofread by focusing on one error at a time. For instance, if commas are your most frequent problem, go through the paper checking just that one problem. Then proofread again for the next most frequent problem.

Ask someone else to look over the document.
After you have finished making corrections, have someone else scan the document for errors. A different set of eyes and a mind that is detached from the writing can identify errors that you may have overlooked.

Proofreading is not just about errors.
Remember that proofreading is not just about errors. You want to polish your sentences, making them smooth, interesting, and clear. Watch for very long sentences, since they may be less clear than shorter, more direct sentences. Pay attention to the rhythm of your writing; try to use sentences of varying lengths and patterns. Look for unnecessary phrases, repetition, and awkward spots.

Download and print a copy of our proofreading bookmark to use as a reference as you write!

Proofreading for Grammar Video