Many students, writers, and business professionals turn in a piece of work as soon as they have the last sentence written. A few go through a revision process where they edit and look for large-scale errors. Very few actually take the final step in the revision process and actually proofread their documents. Proofreading may seem like a tedious extra step, but it is one of the main reasons why an article may be denied publication, why students get a lower grade than they deserve, or why proposals are rejected.
In this article, you will learn exactly what proofreading is, why is it important to proofread your writing, and several tips on ‘how to’ proofreading a document.
What does Proofread Mean?
The Latin “probare” means “to confirm by testing”. The combination with the word “read” answers the question of how to spell proofread and hints at its meaning. Similar to the scientific concept of proving something by testing it, proofreading is essentially testing a document to make sure that it is correct. Proofreading is the last stage of the review process and the four things to look for when proofreading are checking for spelling errors, typographical errors, grammatical errors, formatting issues, and other small problems.
There are different kinds of proofreading for different types of documents. Technical or legal documents need to be proofread in a specific, more thorough way than articles or homework assignments. Depending on the type of document proofreading can take anywhere from half an hour to several hours and in some cases, days.
What is the Difference Between Editing and Proofreading?
Even though editing and proofreading are used interchangeably there is a significant difference between the two. While both are part of the review process, proofreading is the final step whereas editing refers to the first few steps. Generally speaking, these are the steps during revision:
- Content editing
- Line editing
- Copy editing
Any changes you make after the completion of your first draft can be considered editing.
Content editing is usually the first thing you do at the end of a first draft. This involves moving around large sections of texts, deleting or replacing entire paragraphs, and generally changing the contents of the writing.
Line editing refers to changes made to specific paragraphs. This includes changing specific words to make the tone of the piece more consistent, changing sentences and restructuring paragraphs to improve the flow of the writing, and generally changing the language to improve the piece.
Copy editing refers to changes made to specific sentences. This includes changing words to correct grammar, match the style of the overall article, and improve the clarity of each sentence. The goal is not to change the content of a sentence but to make sentences more clear.
Proofreading is the final stage of the revision process. It includes going over the paper slowly and carefully to check for any minor but important mistakes in spelling, formatting, grammar, etc.
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How to Proofread Professionally
Whether you want to know how to proofread a document for work, how to proofread an essay for school, or just how to proofread your own writing, these tips will help you polish any kind of writing.
Be careful with spell checkers
Spell checkers can do a cursory job of making sure that your spelling is okay, but most spell checkers have a limited in-built dictionary and might not be able to check some words. Spell checkers often make mistakes between words that are similar but have different meanings like flower and flour.
Be careful with grammar checkers
Grammar checking requires a higher level of analysis than spell checking so the same issues that happen with spell checkers are magnified with grammar checkers. It is still worthwhile to run a piece of writing through an automated grammar checker but you have to go over the results carefully yourself.
Read out loud
Reading a paper out loud slowly word by word ensures that you pay attention to each word as well as punctuation. If a sentence sounds wrong, there may be mistakes in the word choice disrupting flow that you can easily correct. Reading out loud is particularly useful for identifying run-on sentences as well as many other kinds of errors.
Check for one kind of mistake at a time
Trying to check for every kind of error at once can get overwhelming especially if the document has a lot of mistakes or is very technical. Check for one type of mistake at a time and work down a list.
Print it out
A hard copy allows you to see the piece in a different format which is helpful when proofreading. The freedom to write on the paper any way you want and highlight mistakes is also beneficial.
Circle every punctuation mark
Punctuation is one of the most complicated mistakes to catch. Every time you come across a punctuation mark, circle it and ask yourself if it is correct. This will make sure that you don't miss any incorrect punctuation marks as well as force you to analyze each one.
Start at the end of the paper and proofread each sentence or paragraph working backwards. This forces you to focus only on small sections at a time rather than be distracted by the overall meaning of the paper.
Use a straight edge
Use a piece of paper or anything with a straight edge to underline each sentence as you go over it. This helps drive attention to just the sentence you are focusing on and removes extra text from your field of vision.
Take a break
If you are proofreading your own writing then it is important to take a break before proofreading. This helps view the paper differently when going over it. If you know the paper too well, you may scan over sentences more quickly than you should because you think it is correct but it actually has errors.
Work in short bursts
Because proofreading requires a lot of attention, it can be helpful to proofread for 15 minutes at a time with 5-minute breaks in between rounds of proofreading.
Make sure you have gone through a few rounds of editing before you sit down to proofread. Proofreading before editing just makes you waste time.
Look things up
If you're not sure about the spelling of a word or about punctuation even if you run it through a spell-checker or grammar checker, run a quick Google search on the proper spelling or punctuation usage. This will help you get better at proofreading in the future as you understand and remember more grammatical rules.
Proofread when you are the most alert
Proofreading requires a lot of attention to detail and should be done when you are at your best. Don't proofread if you are tired, hungry, or distracted. If you are a morning person, proofread in the morning, if you are an evening person, proofread at night.
Stay away from distractions
As mentioned above proofreading requires a lot of attention to detail so don't proofread with the TV on or around people that may be a distraction.
Ask someone to read it out loud
By having someone else read the writing out loud, you can focus just on how things sound and catch more errors. This also has the added benefit of having somebody else go over the writing.
If there are certain kinds of mistakes that you tend to make often, make sure you check for them specifically. Learning to write is a process and checking for specific types of mistakes will make you better at it overall in the future.
Ask someone else to proofread
It is difficult to be objective, especially if it is your own writing. After you have proofread the document, ask someone else to go over it as well. They will give you different kinds of feedback and might catch mistakes that you missed.
Change the look
Changing the formatting of the document by altering font sizes or using different colors can make you think of the text in a new way, helping get distance and making you more unbiased.
Use the search and replace function
Use the search and replace function on Word to quickly scan a document for common errors that you might make. This is particularly useful when the writing contains many proper nouns or words with rare spellings.
Check language style
It is easy to get confused by the different spellings between British and American English especially if you are a non-native speaker, so make sure you pay attention and stay consistent in your writing.
Make sure you are following the correct citation style and the format of your in-text citations is correct. Also, check that every piece of information that needs to be cited is correctly cited.
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After reading this article, you should now know how to proofread better! The key things to remember are to get some distance from the writing, find ways of looking at the material in a new light, being in the right state of mind, and devoting enough time.
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