10 Ways to Improve Your Proofreading

By Geraldine Woods

If you ever found an error — not a little error, but a big one, an embarrassing one — after you pressed the Send button, you need to check out this list. Here are ten tricks to improve that all-important final check.

Reread

Okay, this one sounds obvious, but it’s far too easy to send something off, especially a text or a tweet, without checking it for both content and grammar. You don’t have to spend an hour revising, but you should go back to see which words actually made it to the screen (or paper, for those of you who still use it), and fix anything that displeases you. Also, computer programs and apps tend to substitute what the coding says is correct, without having a clue about what you’re actually trying to say. “Autocorrect” is often “auto-mistake.” Speech-to-text apps, which “hear” your voice and put it into written form, are even less reliable. Bottom line: Reread what you write before anyone else does!

Wait a while

Your work is done, you’ve read it, and you’ve made the corrections. Now what do you do? Save the draft and then put it away and do something else. Go water-skiing, run for president, or clean the closet. Then come back to the writing — refreshed and equipped with a new point of view. You’ll see your work with new eyes — and find mistakes.

Of course, this method works only if you’ve left some time before the deadline. If you finish your report three nanoseconds before your boss or teacher wants to see it, you’ll have to forgo this method of proofreading.

Read it aloud

You don’t want to sound like an idiot, but reading aloud helps you hear your writing in a different way. So blast some music and lock yourself in the bathroom. Read your writing in a normal speaking voice. Did you stumble anywhere? If so, you may have come across an error. Stop, circle or make a note of that spot. Later, check all places you hesitated. Chances are you’ll find something that should be different.

Check the commas

When you’re typing on your phone, it can be a pain to insert a comma. You may have to change to a punctuation screen and then switch back to letters. Bad use of time? Not really. The meaning of a statement can change drastically according to the insertion or omission of a comma. Perhaps your writing includes commas where none are needed. So go back and check each sentence. Is there a reason to insert a comma? If you can’t identify a reason, omit this punctuation mark. If you need one, put a comma in, even if you have to tap a few extra times.

Swap with a friend

The best proofreading comes from a fresh pair of eyes. After you’ve written your essay, report, parole petition, or whatever, swap with a friend. You’ll see possible errors in your friend’s writing, and he or she will see some in yours. Each of you should underline the potential errors before returning the paper. Make sure you check those sections with special care.

Let the computer program help

Not foolproof, by any means, computer grammar- and spell-checks are nevertheless helpful. After you’ve finished writing, go back and check the red and green lines (or whatever signal your computer supplies). Don’t trust the computer to make the corrections for you; the machine makes too many mistakes. The computer identifies only possible mistakes and misses many errors (homonyms, for example). Let your own knowledge of grammar and a good dictionary, as well as English Grammar For Dummies, 3rd Edition, help you decide whether you need to change something.

Check the verbs

Traps sprinkled in every sentence — that’s the way you should look at verbs. Give your work an extra verb-check before you declare it finished. Consider number: Should the verb be singular or plural? Consider tense: Have you chosen the correct one? In formal writing, check whether you have any sentences without verbs. If you’re texting or tweeting, determine whether you need a verb to make your meaning absolutely clear. Then fix any problems you’ve found.

Check the pronouns

Pronouns present potential pitfalls and are also worthy of their own special moment. Give your work an extra once over, this time checking all the pronouns. Singular or plural — did you select the appropriate number? Does each pronoun refer to a specific noun? Did you avoid sexist pronoun usage? Did you give a subject pronoun a job suited to an object pronoun, or vice versa?

Know your typing style

Do you have a mistake that results from your typing style? Like typing a comma when you want a period or typing ever when you intended to type even? Notice when you have to backspace as you type and then check for similar errors when you finish writing.

The usual suspects

Look at your earlier writing, preferably something that was corrected by a teacher or someone else in a position to point out your mistakes. Where is the red ink concentrated? Those red-ink areas are the usual suspects that you should identify in future writing. For instance, if you have a number of run-on sentences in an old paper, chances are you’ll put a few in a new paper. Put “run-on” on your personal list of common errors. Don’t let any piece of writing leave your desk until you’ve searched specifically for those errors.