Editing and proofreading are writing processes different from revising. Editing can involve extensive rewriting of sentences, but it usually focuses on sentences or even smaller elements of the text. Proofreading is the very last step writers go through to be sure that the text is presentable.
Proofreading generally involves only minor changes in spelling and punctuation. This module presents strategies for editing and for proofreading under the two links below. Just remember that both editing and proofreading require some practice before the strategies feel totally comfortable.
The “finished” paper always takes effort; sometimes it takes sweat and tears. But never fear to make changes, major changes during revision or minor changes during proofreading. The best papers are those that we give our best thoughts to and those that show we can reject our less-than-best writing.
Proofreading is the very last step in preparing a final draft. Just because it’s the last step, though, don’t assume that it will go quickly. Sometimes it take two or more additional “passes” through a paper to be sure you’ve found all the remaining typographical errors, misplaced pieces of punctuation, or inaccurate words.
Start with Problem Areas
When proofreading, look first for those problems you know you have. If you know you make errors with sentence punctuation, check all sentences for completeness first. For instance, many proofreading errors involve using commas where semicolons are required. As a separate proofreading step, look at each sentence in your final drafts. Check that any commas in the middle of sentences aren’t separating two sentences that could otherwise stand alone. If you have just a comma between what could be two sentences, change that to a semicolon.
Then read the paper again for each problem teachers have suggested you work on. You may have to look at the paper five or six times to be thorough, so try splitting up your proofreading. Check for sentence punctuation and one other problem in one sitting, and then come back after a break to look for other problems.
Read from the End to the Beginning
The final product you share should not distract readers with any errors. A good way to proofread for spelling is to read from right to left, from the bottom to the top of the page. If you read only from the beginning to the end of the paper, you may overlook typos. Also, as you discover spelling errors, keep track of those. You can keep a list of common misspellings taped to the front inside cover of your dictionary so that you don’t have to look up the same words over and over. Or you can tape short lists of words to several books you carry with you during the day. Just by glancing at the list from time to time, you can learn to spell the words correctly.
Look Just for Typos
Even after you go through this sequence of steps, don’t forget to proofread once more for typos and spelling errors. As good as today’s word processing programs are in highlighting potential problems in spelling and wording, this software can’t catch certain kinds of errors (such as commonly confused words like affect and effect). That error-checking can only be done by a careful proofreader. So take the time to read what you think will be the final printout just to be sure you’ve found all the little mistakes.
A Proofreading Checklist
Proofread a paper several times, never just after you finish typing or writing. Here’s a short list of steps to go through to be sure you’ve proofread your final draft thoroughly.
When you need to be sure that your final papers are perfect, as you will for an application to professional school or a job-application letter, you might still want to find someone to proofread for you. Your proofreading skills will improve as you practice the steps I’ve noted above, but when you don’t want to miss any errors, then having someone else you can count on is valuable.