Make Fact Checking Part Of Your Proofreading Process

For some professional publications, fact checking and the correctness of a written work are so important that they hire individuals just to confirm a story’s accuracy. Consider a time when you might have read a story with an error in it. Was it hard to take the article seriously after that, or did you wonder whether there might be any other problems in the piece? News organizations have been criticized publicly for making errors in their work.

While the work you complete for school might be of a different nature than something a newspaper publishes, for example, that doesn’t lessen the importance of making sure you have proofread for any factual errors in your piece. In an article for the Columbia Journalism Review, Craig Silverman wrote, “But [sic] what’s most important to note is that the public recognizes accuracy as a measure of quality – and there are no signs of that changing. So it’s far from useless; quite the opposite, in fact.”

Below are some tips for ensuring that you have fact checked your piece well.

  • What to Fact Check
    Be alert when you are proofreading anything you or someone else has written. A lot of little errors can slip by if you’re not watching for them. SUNY Cortland advises that writers verify names, spellings, and titles individuals may possess and also check days and dates against a calendar.
  • Double Check Your Resources
    The degree to which you are able to proofread for accuracy will depend on the type of sources you used during your writing and your ability to interpret them correctly. Writing a good paper takes time. You will not only need to ensure that a Web site or other resource is credible, you might also have to check the facts you find from one source against another source to confirm that they are the same. Make phone calls if necessary or even head to the library for verification with the resources you are able to find there.

Proofreading for the Web

Woman wearing glasses and a white blouse reading and smiling next to a lampSometimes, you might find yourself proofreading a project that isn’t an essay on paper to be handed in to an instructor. If you are proofreading for the Web, take your task seriously. Plenty of articles and stories on the Web contain errors, and depending on the audience, they can reflect negatively on the writer of that content.

Grammar Still Matters
People’s behavior online can vary greatly. Some individuals read articles closely, increasing the chances of finding any existing errors and small problems in a work. Others merely scan for the highlights of a piece, reducing the chances they’ll find any mistakes. As with anything you would hand in on paper, muddled writing on a Web site can make it hard to discern what you intended to say. Melissa Donovan, writing for the Writing Forward blog, stated, “Saying that web writing only needs to be clear is like saying all I need in a car is good gas mileage. It’s just wrong. I need that and a whole lot more.”

How serious are you?
If you are writing for personal pleasure, you might not be devastated by a little typo or grammatical error sneaking into your writing. If you actually want to keep a decent audience at your Web site, however, a little more attention to detail might be in order. Brian Clark of Copyblogger stated, “While we all hope what we have to say is more important than some silly grammatical error, the truth is some people will not subscribe or link to your blog if you make dumb mistakes when you write, and buying from you will be out of the question.” 

Watch Out
Clark noted that word choice issues and dangling participles are some of the most common errors online writers make. These can be avoided with a little knowledge and proofreading.

  • It’s and Its
    • “It’s” is a contraction for “it is” or “it has.” 
      It’s too bad the kids couldn’t come home for dinner.
    • “Its” is a possessive pronoun.
      The car doesn’t have its wheels.
  • Your and You’re
    • “Your” is another possessive pronoun.
      Are we going to your house?
    • “You’re” is a contraction meaning “you are.” 
      You’re going to be late if you don’t hurry.
  • Their and There
    • Clark noted that the transposition of these words often results from a simple typo, again highlighting the importance of proofreading.
    • “There” often refers to a place.
      Let’s eat there.
      “Their” is a plural possessive pronoun: “their dog,” “their cat,” or “their home.”
  • Dangling Participles
    • Dangling participles also make it hard for a reader to understand what a writer meant to say:
      After finishing the assignment, the classroom was cleaned by the students.
    • As written, the sentence sounds as though the classroom, rather than the students, finished the assignment. The problem can be corrected as follows:
    • After finishing the assignment, the students cleaned the classroom.
      A dangling participle modifies the wrong noun – in this case, the classroom. When you have a participle phrase, the noun it modifies should immediately follow.

Proofreading for ESL Students

For those who speak English as a second language (ESL), proofreading may carry a few more challenges. Not only are you learning how to speak a new language, but you are also attempting to write correctly in that language. If you aren’t entirely comfortable with written English, there are some resources available to help ESL students with their work.

Your College Writing Center
The tutors at your college writing center will help you at any stage of the writing process and can assist you with understanding and fixing mistakes you’ve made in your writing. It’s possible that your writing center may offer proofreading services, but if it does not, ask where you can get assistance. Some ESL students may require the help of professional proofreaders.

Spell Check, Grammar Check and Computer Translations
These tools will be helpful in detecting several errors in your work, but they are not perfect. Rely on your dictionary and thesaurus for proper spelling and help with choosing the correct words for your writing. Similarly, not every computer translation program works well either. Try writing your piece in English the first time rather than relying on a program that could make your writing sound awkward after it has been translated.

Private Tutoring
If you have the time and financial means, finding a skilled private tutor could prove beneficial to your academic success and understanding of the language. Ask an instructor or someone you trust for help finding a good tutor as not every native English speaker has a solid understanding of how to write well either.

Some Final Tips
Remember that even native English speakers will have to review their writing several times before it’s ready to turn in to an instructor. Plan on completing multiple drafts of an essay before yours is complete. Give yourself plenty of time to write, and ask someone else to proofread your piece because a second set of eyes can pick up any errors, grammatical or otherwise, that might be present in your work. Try finding help from a native English speaker who is skilled at writing and grammar as another ESL speaker might also miss your errors.

Proofread Your College Admissions Essay

College admissions essays can be one of the trickiest parts of your application to the school of your choice. With solid writing, you can give the school a great look at who you are. Forget to proofread, however, and you could quickly leave the admissions officials shaking their heads at your mistakes.

Keep the little details in mind when you are ready to proofread your admissions essay. As with any proofreading you do, check for correct grammar and spelling throughout your work. Rely on any resources you think will help, such as a dictionary, thesaurus, and writing guides. As always, keep in mind that the spell check function on your computer won’t tell you whether you’ve used a word correctly. You may have the correct spelling, but the wrong word.

Sometimes, little spelling errors can cast a negative light on what otherwise would be considered an exceptional essay. In an article about college admissions essays, Dave Marcus of The New York Times wrote that Kristen Collins, who reads admissions essays for Adelphi University, “has found that too many students thank their mothers for being such great ‘roll models.’ Others discuss losing their best ‘fiend.'”

Once you’ve gotten any spelling errors fixed, look into other matters that will make you stand out for your thoroughness. Formatting and presentation are not the most important parts of your essay, Carleton College has noted, “but they can certainly enhance the value of an already well-written essay.”

Get Your Facts Straight
Check your essay (and other admissions materials) for accuracy. Marcus noted that some applicants share their desire to be an exceptional architect, “which fails to dazzle a university with no architecture program.” As you examine the particulars of a college or university, remember to verify these details and others. Double-check that you have correctly written the school’s name and any other program names in your application materials.

Final Thoughts 
Everything counts when writing your college admissions essay. If you truly want to be accepted to a particular school, spend the time crafting a well-written piece, and give it the polish it deserves with thorough proofreading.