Reading for mechanical errors and formatting issues is a different activity than reading for content—sometimes, if the writer focuses on their own ideas, they will miss common mistakes and typographical errors. Here are some strategies to avoid getting distracted by content when proofreading a draft:
- Reading aloud or listening to the draft read aloud by someone else helps to see and hear errors a writer may miss when reading silently to themselves.
- Making the document look different on the screen or on the page (changing font, size, and formatting) helps to read what is actually written and not what a writer meant to write.
- Printing out a hard copy also gives the writer a different visual format, which may help with identifying issues that could be missed when reading on a computer screen.
- Using a ruler or a blank sheet of paper and placing it under each line being proofread can help give the eyes a manageable amount of text to focus on.
- Proofreading backwards. Starting at the end of the document and reading backwards sentence by sentence, line by line, allows the writer to focus on the word choice and sentence-level grammar of the sentence rather than on the context or content.
- Proofreading at a specific time of day allows the writer to select a specific time of day (or night!) when they are most alert to spotting errors. Morning person? Try proofreading then. Night owl? Try proofreading then.
- Using grammar and spelling checkers, but not exclusively. Although useful, programs like Microsoft Word's spell-checker and Grammarly can misidentify or not catch errors. Grammar checkers give relevant tips and recommendations, but they are only helpful if the writer knows 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.
Another way to develop strong proofreading skills is for writers to become more self-aware of common errors they make:
Having the right resources and knowing where to go for answers can be invaluable during the long writing process. Make use of the tools available and know where to look up answers:
Here are a few more tricks to keep in mind during proofreading:
- Match the sources in the reference list to those cited in the text (and vice versa). Remember that there must be a 1:1 citation: reference match. Using the Recite software could be helpful for this.
- Get used to working with Track Changes and comment bubbles in a document.
- Explore the Find, Replace, and View options in Microsoft Word to navigate more quickly and efficiently in longer documents.
- Develop a system to leave notes and track your progress within the draft (such as color-coded highlighting or “add citation”).
- Remember that proofreading is not just about errors. Proofreading gives the writer the opportunity to polish 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 the writing; try to use sentences of varying lengths and patterns. Look for unnecessary phrases, repetition, and awkward spots and revise as needed.