As both a content writer and bestselling author, proofreading is essential in everything I do. I know the value of a good proofreading, and so should you.
Your document isn’t complete until you proofread the final copy. You must review your spelling, format, and grammar before submitting it.
Whether you’re composing an essay, resume, or novel, here are some tips on how to proofread like a professional. These techniques will make you a more effective writer and might even kickstart your proofreading career.
What is Proofreading?
Proofreading is the act of determining and correcting spelling, grammar, and formatting mistakes in a piece of writing. Traditionally, a proofreader uses “marks” to correct errors so that the selection meets the language standards.
This process is the last step before publishing a document online or printing mass copies. Proofreading is also essential before turning in an assignment, submitting a job application, or giving a speech.
What Kinds of Errors Do Proofreaders Fix?
Proofreader professionals and services make the final edits that previous editors may have missed before publishing. These professionals do not always make the “big edits” for your ideas, storyline, and logical flow. Instead, they focus on typos, improper punctuation, incorrect verb tenses, and more.
Proofreading vs. Editing
Proofreading and editing are two different steps you will encounter before publishing a piece of writing. Some consider proofreading a type of editing, while others separate the two jobs.
Editing includes different phases. You may edit an early draft of a selection to focus on the main idea. But you can also edit every paragraph to ensure your thoughts and arguments are clear, known as line editing.
Proofreading is the final part of the revision. When proofreading a book, the proofreader receives the final look of the entire product and checks it one last time for any remaining errors.
Proofreading doesn’t focus on the story and ideas anymore. It only involves catching spelling, grammar, and formatting mistakes that the editor missed.
You don’t always need to strictly follow these different editing stages since the process depends on the type of writing you produce.
Most of the time, you’ll only see beta readers, line editors, copy editors, and proofreaders in traditional publishing companies. There are also instances of overlaps between the tasks.
Tips For Effective Proofreading
Practice on Short Pieces of Text
If you want to proofread long writing pieces like books and academic journals, you should first start mastering the short ones. Try essays or short articles, then proofread online blog posts.
As you get used to these types of content, slowly increase the length of writing you’re proofreading. Explore novellas, short stories, and business proposals. Then, you’re ready to take on books and journals.
Take a Proofreading Class
A proofreading class is the best way to become a professional proofreader. It doesn’t matter if you want to have a career in proofreading or just want to ensure your homework is flawless. Enrolling in an online course is an excellent investment.
Some programs are introductory, showing you the different proofreading marks and how to spot errors. Other courses will give extra lessons on digital competency and how to land a proofreading job on various platforms.
Pick a proofreading class that will fit your level and needs. Check out my top proofreading courses for recommendations.
Give Your Work a Rest.
If you’re the writer of the text you’re proofreading, set it aside so you can make changes with fresh eyes. Work on other compositions first, take a break from work, run a few errands, then go back after a few hours.
This way, you will not remember the perfect paper you wrote. Read it thoroughly to spot the errors.
Create a Suitable Proofreading Ambiance.
Once you know the basics of proofreading, have a quiet spot at home where you can set the mood for your work. Make sure there are no distractions to keep you from spotting errors in the text.
Believe it or not, the right frame of mind will motivate you to polish your work to perfection. Turn off your notifications, set a dim light, and have an ergonomic office chair to keep you comfortable while working. And don’t forget to take breaks in between every few pages.
Have a Hard Copy of the Text.
If you’re writing on a large piece of text, it’s always better to print out the paper when proofreading. Working on pen and paper will keep you more focused to avoid skipping any errors.
It keeps you more accountable for your task since you’re proofreading on a concrete item. You’ll be stunned at how many errors you’ll find on the printed copy rather than on your computer screen.
Identify Yourself from a Reader’s Perspective.
The readers are essential agents once you publish your work. Therefore, I recommend putting yourself in their shoes. What do they know about the topic? Is the language too complex or simple for them?
Asking these questions will open your eyes to different types of mistakes in your writing. Perhaps you’ll realize that something’s off with your flow, or you need to avoid highfalutin words.
Read the Paper Slowly and Aloud.
This step will make you feel awkward if you’re a beginner. That’s why I advise going to a quiet, distraction-free area. Read each word slowly and loudly to find erroneous grammar and inarticulate statements.
This is one of the techniques you should employ if you want to spot run-on sentences and comma splices. It will also give you an idea of how you sound to your readers.
Start With Common Errors.
When learning how to proofread an essay, I recommend starting with the most common mistakes. These include typos, subject-verb disagreements, and homonyms. Making yourself aware of these mistakes will prepare you for the more complex ones later on.
Other common errors to look out for include inconsistent spelling, improper use of prepositions, and punctuation mistakes.
Proofread Only One Error at a Time.
You’re compromising the quality of your work when you try to spot every mistake in a single sentence. Proofreading takes a lot of patience and effort because you need to reread the selection for every error. Doing so will keep you concentrated throughout the task. Proof individual sentences and take plenty of time.
Have a Dictionary With You.
An online dictionary will do if you do not have an actual one. Keeping this item close to your desk will help you look up a word quickly. Determine if the writer used the term in the proper context or if they are using the correct spelling.
A dictionary or thesaurus will also help you decide if it’s the appropriate word for your selection. You might find better words that capture the description and fit your content more snugly.
Read the Text Backward.
Out of all the strategies for proofreading, reading the text backward, sentence by sentence, is the most exciting and recommended by experts. Starting at the end will help you pay attention to separate sentences so you can spot tiny errors more correctly.
Use a Grammar and Spelling Checker.
Some proofreaders do not use spelling and grammar checkers because they might be over-reliant on these AI tools. If it supports your job, I think there’s nothing wrong with using one.
Grammar checkers have a limited ability to catch your mistakes. That means you should only rely on them at the start of the proofreading process. Evaluate every suggestion before accepting them.
Once you’re done running the online proofreading app, perform the manual proofreading task like usual. Read the entire text for spelling, grammar, punctuation, and formatting issues.
Remember That Proofreaders Have Different Approaches.
When learning how to proofread professionally, you’ll understand that different proofreaders have their own approaches. The best tip from these experts is to make your process systematic. Stick to a routine that will help you catch the most possible errors.
You can test out different techniques until you find the best one. Engage with a professional proofreader to see how they improve your work. Ask for their feedback, share experiences with fellow proofreaders, and keep practicing.
Create a Proofreading Checklist
After finding a system that works for you, keep a list of the mistakes you need to check in order. It will help you do your work more quickly without missing an error.
What are the Dos and Don’ts of Proofreading?
- Read your writing one last time after proofreading.
- Have a dictionary or thesaurus with you while working.
- Keep a checklist of the errors to look for.
- Heavily rely on online spell and grammar checkers.
- Look for all errors at a time.
- Rush the proofreading process.
Why Proofread Your Work?
If you’re not yet convinced enough, here are some reasons to proofread your work.
Your Readers Will Focus on Your Message
Many readers lose sight of your message when they fixate on a single typo you committed. No matter how inspiring, informative, or persuasive your writing is, a tiny error will ruin their reading experience.
Save your audience from all the frustrations by proofreading your work. Correct one error at a time and reread your work before publishing.
Proofreading Shows You Care
Proofreading means you care about three things: your brand, your work, and your audience. It lets people know that you put much thought into communicating your ideas and ensuring everything is pleasing.
The simple act of organizing flowcharts and labeling them shows that you want to save your audience’s time. You do not want to complicate things for your readers and are willing to explain every part of the story to them.
It Protects Your Reputation
People are more likely to view you as refined if your writing is clear, polished, and straight to the point. Remember that your work represents you and your brand. You do not want to ruin your credibility because of a missing Oxford comma, do you?
One minor slip-up can change the way someone views your company. Save yourself from the embarrassment, and ensure your audience keeps returning for your content.
It Ensures You Get the Job
Proofreading increases your likelihood of being successful in whatever aspect. If you fix your CV’s formatting and grammar, there’s a huge chance employers will call you back. Academic journals may also publish your work if it’s free from any writing errors.
Getting good grades is also possible if you give your homework one last check before submitting it. And if you’re a business owner, your business content will gain more traction if it’s readable, consistent, and mistake-free.
There are several approaches to proofing and the editing process. Here’s a convenient checklist that will give you excellent results and help build your proofreading techniques.
The right tone for your copy is the first thing to consider when proofreading. Make sure you’re aligned to your overall brand tone and website feel.
For instance, social messages should sound more conversational and friendly. But if you’re writing a report about diseases and health, you should express a little more seriousness. Do not inject tone-deaf statements or include funny pictures.
Striking a balance between authority and engagement is also essential. Find ways to make the writing sound credible without giving the impression that the writer is the sole holder of knowledge.
Content marketing involves a lot of storytelling. Whether promoting a service, giving tips, or sharing news, you need readers to understand you from beginning to end.
Each paragraph should show a proper transition. Even sentences should be tied logically to one another. Otherwise, your readers will end up exiting your website. Make the appropriate edits when you see illogical leaps from one sentence or paragraph to another.
Some spelling mistakes you find may simply be typos, which any word processor can spot. But there are contextual spelling errors that will require a sharper vision. For instance, can you spot what’s wrong with this sentence?
“Roses are my favorite flour.”
Misspellings may seem like tiny issues, but they have big consequences on the meaning of your work.
Grammatical errors come in a wide range. Mistakes in grammar may include verb tenses, prepositions, sentence structure, and adjective placement. Even the most experienced writers experience grammar error slips, so pay extra attention to this aspect.
Punctuation errors can completely change the meaning of a sentence. Notice the difference between “Let’s eat dad.” and “Let’s eat, dad.” Aside from comma usage, you should also know the difference between a colon and a semicolon.
English consists of millions of words, so you shouldn’t be using the same word over and over again. When proofreading, always use a thesaurus to replace commonly used words with alternatives. Doing so will help you avoid publishing boring content.
Your word choice also includes introducing all acronyms. For example, you should start an essay by saying, “The United Nations (UN)…” Do not forget to put the parentheses after the complete term so you can use them throughout your writing.
Consider country-specific words and jargon too. Make sure your English is appropriate for the job. Will your audience understand “Prima Facie” or “Adjournment”? Should you consider British English or American English?
Lastly, remove all unnecessary adverbs and adjectives. The “very” in “very beautiful” can weaken your writing. Instead, try “breathtaking” or “alluring.”
Style Guide Consistency
If your company follows a unique style guide, consult it from time to time. It’s a simple task that will make your company look more credible and straightforward.
For example, some websites capitalize prepositions in their headings. If one of your blog posts has “with” and “from” in lowercase, it will look out of place among the rest of the posts.
Poor formatting can make your excellent writing look terrible. Follow the correct font styles and sizes. Ensure consistent headings, footnotes, and endnotes. If you have graphs and illustrations, label them appropriately.
Data and Image Attributions
One of the last steps to proofreading is checking the images and citations. Have you adequately cited every piece of information that is not yours? Is your image free and open for anyone’s use? Always give credit where credit is due.
You don’t want to experience is getting sued for plagiarism or stealing someone’s intellectual property. If you’re citing sources on social media, you can say “via @username.” For Facebook, LinkedIn, and other accounts, use their real name.
Finally, fix broken links. If you do online content writing, you know how crucial internal and external links are to increase engagement. Go through every link and ensure they are all working and landing on the right site.
If discussing a study published in 2018, make sure it links to a research article. It should be a blog post from another website or a forum site.
Learn How to Proofread Professionally
Now you know the different strategies and proofreading skills on how to proofread like a professional after the writing process. These techniques will help you earn your readers’ trust, land the job you want, or get an A+. Proofreading your work will also increase your SEO rankings on Google.
Beyond these proofreading tips, you should also have the right values for your job. Make sure you’re patient and committed enough to spot one error at a time.