January 19, 2015

Proofread Like an Expert

Teacher, student, business professional, organizer... whatever our jobs or our goals are... we have messages to communicate. And whatever our messages are we want our audiences to understand those messages and to implement them.

Our first attempt to communicate a message works... sometimes... but not always. ("Dad, no one else has to be home by 11:00!")

Proofreading / Pixabay / CC0 1.0

A second look at our message may expose errors we did not notice the first time we reviewed our document. That additional examination can make the difference between whether or not our message is implemented.

It is a good idea to review your document before you proofread it. Here's a short list of some ideas you may want to consider before you proofread.
  • Do not proofread as soon as you have finished writing your document. Wait a while... perhaps an hour or a day or two.
  • Is the title accurate, short, and interesting to the intended audience?
  • Does the overall organization of the content convey your message?
  • Does the research support the message?
  • Does your document follow the rules of a specific formatting style (e.g., APA, MLA, Turabian, Chicago) you are required to use?

When you do proofread the document you may want to think about the following ideas.
  • Some people proofread better from a printed page; others, from a screen. You should try both to see which one works better for you.
  • Read out loud.
  • Cover the lines below the one you're reading.
  • Search for common errors. (When I first began to use only one space after a sentence rather than two I would always do a search for two adjacent spaces to make sure I hadn't accidentally fallen into my old habit.)
  • Check separately for different types of errors. (I search for spelling errors first. Then for passive voice (one of my personal habits that I'm trying to break). Following that I check that links are working.)
  • Use the spelling / grammar checking function that your word processor provides to correct mechanical errors (spelling, word usage, grammar, punctuation). Remember that spell-checking functions are not foolproof.

DigitalChalk.com has published a two-part series of articles about proofreading. The first article discusses tips for proofreading. You will probably recognize most of them.
  • Read aloud.
  • Know your weaknesses.
  • Don't rely on spell check.
  • Read and reread.
  • Don't procrastinate.
  • Follow a checklist.

The second article in the series suggests items that might be on your proofreading checklist. All the suggestions are good, but I particularly like these that I think we sometimes forget:
  • Do all the images and graphics make sense?
  • Is everything styled consistently?
  • Is the tone consistent?
  • Do all your links work?

Do you have other techniques that you use when you proofread? How do you teach your students to proofread?


The Importance of Proofreading

The Writer's Handbook: How to Proofread

Part 1: Proofread and Edit Your Course Like a Pro
by Sarah Bright

Part 2: Your Essential Proofreading Checklist
by Sarah Bright

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