Remember covfefe? That is exactly the kind of mistake that a quick round of proofreading can catch.
No one is perfect, and some errors do slip through the cracks (we’re human after all). But if you take the time to read through your writing, looking to eliminate any errors, you can tweet, email, and share your words with confidence.
In my most recent blog post, I shared my seven top writing tips because if you want to sound smarter, you need to write better. And part of writing better means proofreading your work. But many people just don’t know how to proofread.
Never fear, my pretties! Your fairy godmother of grammar has got your back. And faster than a wave of my magic wand, I’ll teach you some of the best techniques for catching typos, extra words, and missing punctuation. (No, seriously, the “How to Proofread” spell is super long—this will be quicker!)
What is proofreading?
Proofreading is the final step in the writing process. It comes after you have finished editing.
To refresh your memory, in editing, you reorganize sentences and even paragraphs to improve the flow or strength of an argument. The editing phase is also when you do all of your rewriting: remove superfluous words and sentences, add information to clarify statements, improve word selection, etc.
In the proofreading phase, you are no longer making changes to what you said or how you said it. When you proof, you are only looking for and eliminating typos, incorrect punctuation, duplicate or missing words, and other similar errors.
Exactly how does one proofread?
Follow these seven best practices for proofreading to consistently eliminate errors from your written work.
1. Proofreading Starts in the Writing Process
That’s right. Proofreading actually starts while you’re writing.
I am not suggesting you proofread or edit while feverishly dashing off your thoughts lest they be forgotten. However, there are a few steps you can take while in the writing process to save time proofing.
As I suggested in my writing tips, before you begin writing, jot down a brief outline of your thoughts.
Why is this so important? If your thoughts follow a logical order, you will have less cause to move sentences around. And you’ll make fewer mistakes copying and pasting if you’re doing this less. It’s simple math; there will be fewer chances of cutting off punctuation or the beginning or ending letter of a word if you’re moving things around less frequently.
To prevent introducing errors while editing, after making each change, read the sentence or two preceding and following the edited sentence. This will (hopefully) help you catch any newly introduced errors.
2. Review with “Fresh” Eyes
If you’re fortunate enough to have a friend or relative with strong writing skills and a good command of English grammar, by all means, enlist their help! It’s surprising how typos and other mistakes seemingly jump off the page at a person who is reading a piece for the first time.
If that’s not the case, don’t fret. You can still proofread your own work.
One of the most important steps in proofreading you can take is to take a break. That’s right, procrastinate … sort of. Tuck your writing in a drawer for a few days, or at least a few hours before sitting down with a red pen to review. And on the rare occasion that you don’t even have an hour before you need to begin proofreading, engage in an unrelated activity for a few minutes; this will allow you to completely forget about writing: listen to music, exercise a bit, play video games, or do whatever you do to take your mind off of your writing.
Taking time away will help you to forget what you’ve written and allow your eyes to see what’s actually on the paper.
3. Correct a Hard Copy
In this day and age when iPhones are ubiquitous, printing out a copy of your work might sound kind of old school. And it pains the tree hugger in me to have to recommend you print out a copy. But … for some reason, most people are better able to catch mistakes when reading a document on paper.
4. Read Aloud
This is by far, my best proofreading tip: Make a concentrated effort to slowly read each word aloud.
The trick with reading aloud is to remain focused on the task of proofreading. It’s easy to start listening to the story you’re telling or even slip back into editing mode and critique your word selection.
To avoid falling victim to your own fabulous storytelling, read as if each word were followed by a period. For the musicians in the audience, think of performing this reading pass in staccato.
By focusing on each individual word, you will be more likely to catch errors created in the writing and editing processes, such as two the’s or a missing article.
5. Read Backwards
Yes, you heard me right. Start from the end of the document and read each sentence backwards. This is a trick I learned while studying translation. As you might think, it’s a little difficult to do at first, but it does really work for some.
(Some people I know swear by reading a document upside down while proofing; I can’t say I have tried this or could execute properly, but it might work for you.)
6. Reread Sections with Changes
Just as in my advice for editing your work, when proofreading, you should reread not just the sentence you just removed the typo from, but also a sentence or two preceding and following it.
Rereading the sentences around the updated sentence will ensure you didn’t introduce another error when making a correction.
7. Run Spelling & Grammar Check
It should go without saying, but I’ll say it anyway. Run Spelling and Grammar Check. This program won’t catch everything, but it will catch most obvious mistakes.
Also remember that Grammarly is now available, and it’s free. The grammar queen in me just can’t allow a program to do the work for me, so I haven’t tried it. But I have heard really good things about its effectiveness.
If you follow these seven proofreading tips, I guarantee you will catch more errors before sharing your message.
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