Six Steps to Error-Free Papers: How to Proofread Effectively
Proofreading isn’t easy—even for professional writers. And basic mistakes in spelling, grammar, and facts can dramatically lower your grade on important papers. The bad news is that it’s easy to make these errors—but the good news is that they’re easy to fix, as well. Here are a few tips to make sure you’re proofreading your papers as well as you could be.
Give it some sit time
If you try to read over a document for errors just after you write it, you’ll be too close and too familiar. Your brain will fill in the gaps—making that comma error or weird turn of phrase harder to spot. Always give it some time—preferably about 24 hours or more—before sitting down to proofread something. The extra time may be tough to carve out, especially if you like to procrastinate, but it can be worth it.
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Have someone else read it
Proofreading effectively is not an easy process. And even the best proofreaders sometimes let errors slip through.
Never rely on spell or grammar check
You should always use spelling and grammar check—particularly spell check, which can be great for catching typos. But you should never rely on that alone. Spell check frequently misses errors in usage—for instance, the word “sea” might be spelled correctly—and your spell check will give it the all-clear—but in a sentence such as “It’s hard to sea the forest for the trees,” it will read as a misspelling of the word “see.” Embarrassing. Grammar check is frequently wrong, so it’s best to check your grammar yourself or show it to someone else.
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Look for one problem at a time
Looking for any and all errors on a single pass-through can be overwhelming. Instead, try looking for one error at a time. First, look for spelling. Then look for comma issues. Then look for apostrophe catastrophes. Then look for problems in syntax and usage. You get the idea. This will help you narrow down what you’re looking for and spot the errors more clearly.
Double check facts, dates, and names
Always double- and triple-check the facts you list in your paper—these will be some of the easiest errors for your professor to zero in on. Make sure you get dates right, spell names correctly, and don’t make any basic errors that a quick Google search could clear up fast. Your professor is likely to see that sort of error as laziness and may be particularly unforgiving in your grade if there are one or more of them in your paper.
Read it aloud
Sometimes it’s tough to get a sense of your tone, syntax, and usage unless you read it aloud. Or better yet—have someone else do it. While you listen, every error and awkward turn of phrase is likely to stand out in cringe-inducing obviousness. It might not be much fun, but this is a great way to spot problems in your writing—and fix them quickly.
Proofreading effectively is not an easy process. And even the best proofreaders sometimes let errors slip through. Still, you can reduce your errors—and raise your grade—just by giving yourself some extra time to let the paper sit before you read it over, and reading it over thoroughly, looking for one issue at a time. The extra time may not be easy to find—but if you can, it’s worth it.
Indiana University: Proofreading for Common Errors
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