Failure to proofread has turned some of the most well-intentioned sentences into embarrassing communications. Whether a writer doesn't fully understand the importance of proofreading or simply didn't allow enough time to perform the job well, this vital part of the writing process can prevent many mistakes and (it is to be hoped) do wonders for your grades.
The writer who takes time to proofread can take an average piece of work to the next level of accuracy, completeness, and quality. Proofreading is a skill developed over time, and continual study and dedication to the rules of grammar and the mechanics of writing will help you become a talented proofer.
If you are already very proficient at writing, or even new to the English language, there are plenty of basic and advanced tips that are useful to remember. Using the information provided here, you can learn more about the difference between editing and proofreading, review some fundamentals for checking your own writing for accuracy, and study other more detailed elements you will need to watch for, such as punctuation, verb tense, and pronouns.
If checking your work is a challenge for you, be certain to read the articles 'General Proofreading Tips' and 'Common Proofreading Errors.' Here, you'll find some good places to start improving your abilities and learn about several common errors to look for in written work. If you have a particular writing issue you hope to address, check under the 'Writing and Grammar Guidelines' heading for more specific information.
Leave the best impression possible with your writing. Strong editing will help give your work the polish you want.
Costly Editing Errors
If you're ever in doubt over whether proofreading is important, consider that in certain settings, errors could cost thousands of dollars and lead to embarrassing errors. If you are working on a piece for school, your mistakes might not cost money, but your grades could suffer greatly as a result. Here are some examples of how even one or two minor errors resulted in serious consequences.
Election Ballot Problems
In 2010, the clerk of Ottawa County in Michigan apologized for two errors on election ballots in a span of four years. Two candidates' names were omitted from absentee ballots mailed to approximately 1,400 voters, costing $48,570 for reprints. In 2006, another ballot error cost more than $48,000 in reprints as well. The letter "L" was missing from the word "public" on a proposal on the ballot.
Humorous, yet Embarrassing Newspaper Errors
Readers have frequently noticed typos in print publications. In 2004, Los Angeles Times writer Steve Harvey said, "Over the years, readers have sent me ads with such spectacular malapropisms as'Chip and Dale' furniture,'Floor Shine' shoes,'Wayne's Coating,''Chester Drawers' and'Rod' Iron. (Translation: Chippendale, Florsheim, wainscoting, chest of drawers and wrought iron.)"
Errors have even plagued royalty. In 1994, Canada's postal service accidentally produced a souvenir stamp commemorating a visit by "the Prince of Whales" instead of the "Prince of Wales." Canada Post spokesman Jim Phillips explained to Reuters that "Unfortunately, it's just something that went through a number of people and got missed."
What Can We Learn?
Mistakes like these can be embarrassing but illustrate that careful proofreading can reduce the risk that an irritating mistake will occur in the first place. Remember, though, that nobody is perfect and you're human. "I try so hard, but typos seem to evade me with impunity," Mignon Fogarty wrote on the "Grammar Girl" section of the Quick and Dirty Tips Web site. "As my father would say,'If you miss one typo, all the others will know,' implying that I will forever be an easy mark for sneaky, calculating
typos that are out to get me."
"Do your best to find any mistakes in your writing, Fogarty encouraged, but keep in mind "that
human error is inevitable."
Start proofreading your piece once you are satisfied with its content and general flow and tone. These are finalized during the editing process. Plan on checking your work several times, checking for issues with punctuation, spelling, grammar, word usage, etc. Rushing through this step could cause you to miss errors.
If you've already been through your writing several times during the editing stage, the thought of reviewing it again for proofreading purposes could seem a little mind numbing. It is easy to become bored
with a paper after repeated reading. The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill advises students to
alter the look of their papers to give the papers a fresh look. Sometimes, changing the font or text
color can be enough to trick your mind into thinking you are looking at something new.
Mutual Tips for Editing
Spending even an hour or two away from your writing will help with both your editing and your proofreading. Give your mind a break before you dig back in and work on improving the piece you have
written. Along similar lines, takes breaks while you edit or proofread. This practice will reduce lapses
Consider how you do your best work, too. Some people are comfortable proofreading on a computer screen
while others find it easier to proofread with a paper copy they can mark. Make sure your work area is
quiet and free of distraction.
With time and practice, you can improve your editing and proofreading abilities considerably. These
are learned skills. Ultimately, the time you put into creating the best writing possible will be worth
The Importance of Good Grammar
Why is good grammar important? The National Council of Teachers of English has stated that grammar "represents the language that makes it possible for us to talk about language - grammar names the types of words and word groups that make up sentences not only in English but in any language."
"For most people, learning grammar is the first step in learning to write. The idea is that rules of
grammar are the foundation for clear sentences, and clear sentences lead directly to good writing,"
Indiana University of Pennsylvania has written. As you continue to use good grammar to create clear
sentences, you can eventually focus on proofreading and making sure that everything you write is quality
work that's error free.
Unfortunately, there isn't always a consensus on what counts as a grammatical error in writing, and this can be frustrating for students. Sometimes, opinions even differ from one instructor to another. For
your part, you can make every effort to learn proper English and grammar conventions. A knowledge of these rules and guidelines helps us use our language well. Follow any style guides and directions your instructors have given you for additional help answering other writing questions you may have.
Don't try to remember all of the grammar rules or you'll overwhelm yourself. It's often more
beneficial to master just a few rules and learn how to implement them in your work. Knowing even a little
about grammar will help provide the base you need to consider sentences carefully and discuss them
thoughtfully with others. Grammar isn't only about "errors and correctness" - the Assembly for the Teaching of English Grammar Web site has explained. A sound knowledge of grammar "also helps us understand what makes sentences and paragraphs clear and interesting and precise." As you focus on learning how to create clean, clear writing, your understanding of grammar will develop as well.
by Enoch Morrison
Last Updated: 09/11/2014
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