The Proof Is in the Reading
Hurray! You're almost home free. You've checked your content, your organization, and your sentence structure, and you're satisfied that everything you've written is brilliant (you're sure about that, aren't you?). Now you're ready to do some serious proofreading to find those little nitpicky errors that can transform a masterpiece into a laughter piece.
Some writers find doing separate “read-throughs” to be helpful — one looking at spelling, one at punctuation, one at tense, and so on.
The hints that follow will help to slow down your eyes so that they don't go faster than your brain. In other words, you read what you
To begin with, try reading your paper out loud; this may help you to catch any word you out. (Oops! Reread the preceding sentence. Did you read it correctly the first time?) When you read silently, you often read what you
As you read your paper, touch each word with a pencil. (An added bonus of this tip is that you'll already have your pencil in hand if you find a mistake.) Try using a ruler or piece of paper to cover the lines below what you're reading. This helps you to focus on each line. If you're pressed for time and you have to edit and proofread from a computer rather than on paper, pretend you're back in primary school. Move your finger across the screen as you read each word separately.
Another tip is to read backward. Start at the end and read the last sentence, then the sentence before that, and so on until you reach the beginning. When you read out of order, you'll spot errors more easily.
Think about errors that you're prone to make, and take extra time to look for them. For instance, if you have trouble with sentence fragments, go back through your work and closely examine each sentence. Read each one as a separate thought and ask yourself if it makes sense by itself, without the sentences on either side of it. If you often make mistakes with comma usage, check each comma to make sure you know the reason why you've used it. Remember that a comma splice (that is, putting a comma where you need a stronger punctuation mark) is a frequent mistake. If each thought on either side of a comma could be a separate sentence, then change your comma to a semicolon or break the sentence into two separate sentences.
Use the search or find function on your computer to look for spelling errors that you tend to make. For instance, if you often misuse
Even though you've put your work through a spell checker, also check spelling yourself. You know that a spell checker will detect only words that aren't in the dictionary. If you intended to type
Save scrap paper to print out drafts of what you've written. Although it may seem like a waste to print out something you can easily read on screen, it's much easier to spot changes on a printed document.
Check your tense usage. If you began your piece using the past tense, for example, make sure you wrote the rest in the past tense (not including any quoted material, of course). Instructors say that unnecessary tense change is one of the most common problems in papers.
If you have time, let your paper get “cold.” Give yourself an hour or two — or overnight, if possible — and then come back to it. Odds are you'll see what you wrote in a fresh light, and you'll make further revisions.
Let someone else — more than one person, if possible — proofread and respond to your paper (this is known as peer editing). Ask the other readers to be as critical as possible and to look for any kind of error — in spelling, punctuation, usage, mechanics, organization, clarity, even in the value of your ideas. Although you may not agree with the other person's editing suggestions, chances are if he or she had trouble reading or understanding your material, you should do some extra revision. Repeat your editing and proofreading process as many times as necessary.