You’ve spent hours writing a paper for your class. You have edited for flow, organization, and style, and now you’re ready to find and fix those other small mistakes, a process that will make your work a great finished product. However, where do you start when you need to proofread your piece? Begin by making sure you haven’t overlooked some of these common errors.
Remember one thing: your spell check will not catch everything. Go over the spelling in your writing with a fine-toothed comb. Check words to ensure you haven’t transposed any letters. In addition, make sure you understand the differences between homonyms such as the following: “your” and “you’re”; “to,” “too,” and “two”; and “they’re,” “their,” and “there.”
Missing or Doubled Words
Always read your piece slowly to ensure you have not left important or necessary words out of your sentences and that you have not doubled words unnecessarily.
Fragments, Run-on Sentences, Comma Splices
These are common problems that sometimes surface during writing. These problems can easily be avoided. As you proofread, check to make sure your sentences have subjects and verbs and express a complete thought. Also, review your sentences to ensure that they are punctuated properly and that you haven’t created a run-on sentence or a comma splice.
Proofreading is also a serious exercise in reviewing your accuracy. Professional proofreaders scrutinize every detail of a written work, and so should you. If you have included numbers in your essay (especially dollar amounts), or dates, make sure you have reviewed your facts carefully and copied this information correctly to your writing. See that you have spelled names correctly as well.
Your instructor may have certain particulars regarding how he or she wants your paper formatted. Be sure you have followed any instructions regarding margin size, font size, and type.
A Final Rule
“When a proofreader is in doubt about anything, she should look it up,” the Dummies.com Web site has explained. Use the tools available, including any style guides your teacher has given you, your dictionary, and other resources related to the format your teacher wants you to use. By relying on these tools heavily, you should be able to answer most of the proofreading questions you might have.
Proofreading and Unconscious Error
When you write, you might be making errors without even realizing it. The unconscious nature of some errors adds to the challenge of proofreading. By understanding a little more about unconscious errors in written work, you can learn how to overcome them.
According to the University of Maryland, unconscious errors happen for two reasons: inattention and bad information from your kinesthetic memory. Problems with inattention can happen in just a split second because the mind moves much faster than you are able to write words down by hand or type them with a keyboard. With kinesthetic memory, continued problems misspelling a word, for instance, are quite likely to continue if you’ve had issues in the past.
“You have to doubt every word in order to catch every mistake,” the University of Maryland has explained. If you know you make certain errors, watch for them. Sometimes, reading your piece out loud is helpful because you add another sense to the equation; hearing how something sounds can help you catch an error you didn’t see with your eyes.
Reading out loud also forces a person to slow down. “You have to look at the word, not slide over it,” the University of Maryland continues. When you read at normal speed, your mind generally notices only a few of the letters in a word. Some words are seen only through peripheral vision, and that’s even less accurate. To be sure that you’ve seen every word correctly, you need to fix your eyes on nearly every word. Look twice at longer words.
Remember that proofreading your own work is often more difficult than checking what someone else has written. Go slowly. Take breaks. Get a second opinion on your writing to not only boost the chances of finding any mistakes in your work, but to hear a fresh take on where your piece might need improvement. In certain professional settings, proofreaders work in pairs to further reduce the possibility of a mistake in text going unnoticed. Sometimes, editors proofread a piece up to ten times. Even then, errors still happen, so your work is worth combing through carefully.