Anyone who produces written work, whether they are writing an article, a business proposal or an academic thesis, should bear in mind the importance of proofreading and more importantly, the dangers of not proofreading. Proofreading is not solely the job of an editor as many might have you believe. Proofreading your writing is a very important and integral part of the writing process but how should you go about it and what might you be looking for? Here you’ll find five tips to help you get the most from the proofreading process and ensure the quality of your writing reflects the effort made.
1. Get a second opinion. Proofreading your own writing is fine, up to a point but independent feedback is valuable. You can be too close to your own writing and subject to spot the errors sometimes. Have someone you trust proofread your text. Many advisors say that you should get a friend or family member to do this. This is fine if you’re sure they will be able to spot errors. You need someone with an eye for detail and a sound knowledge of grammar and spelling. Encourage them to give you constructive criticism where they think they see errors, and not to just tell that something is wrong without offering an opinion or a reason why.
2. Never try to proofread your writing as soon as you’ve written it. Your mind is telling you what you think you wrote and not necessarily what actually made onto the page. Most editors will advise that you go and do something else for at least a few hours to ensure your attention has been diverted and you’ve had time to drop the train of thought that you had when you were writing. In truth, it’s far better to put the writing away until at least the next day, possibly even a few days if you have the luxury of time. This will guaranteed that you come back to it with a clear view or even just in a different mood. It’s much more likely that you will spot mistakes and areas for improvement.
3. Make sure you actually read the words on the page. Simple though it may sound, for many people this will be very difficult as their normal method of reading may be very fast, almost skimming the text. This is not a suitable reading style for proofreading unless you are very experienced. Thorough proofreading requires the editor to see, appreciate and digest every single word and its place in the sentence.
4. Never fully rely on spell checking applications and automated grammar checkers. They are no substitute for a thorough human proofread. Make sure you fully understand the limitations of spelling and grammar checkers and what they are actually checking for you.
5. Look for mistakes in context with the type of writing you’re undertaking. For example, grammatical mistakes associated with the way you speak or even a regional dialect may be fine and might even add to the texture of a character if included in dialogue. If, on the other hand, you’re writing a guide on the importance of perfect grammar, you will probably want to be much stricter with your language.