How to Proofread
Editing comes in many forms and can be employed at many different points in a project. But often, when we think of editing, we think of proofreading—having a fresh set of eyes on your document at the last stage before it’s ready for publication.
Think of proofreading as a close read. This is not the kind of reading we do every day; it’s a thorough, line-by-line, letter-by-letter review to confirm that the document is presented as intended. Proofreading also isn’t the time for a major overhaul. Instead, we carefully look for misspellings, incorrect grammar, inconsistencies, and glaring errors.
Whether you’ve been asked to proofread someone else’s work or you’re editing your own writing, here are a few general strategies and resources that can help you get started.
The Proofreading Process
In proofreading, slow and steady wins the race! Though you may be working under a time limit, aim to make at least three passes as you proofread:
The scan. Evaluate the level of work likely needed, identify any obvious errors, and note particular areas to focus on.
The careful read. Read the document letter-by-letter for spelling, punctuation, grammar, accuracy, and inconsistencies. Repeat this step if necessary (and if time permits).
The review. Give the document a final read at your normal reading pace and check for any outstanding errors.
Proofread on paper rather than on a computer screen. This can help you notice things that might have escaped your attention on a screen. If the final document will be printed, this is also a great opportunity to check the formatting and visual presentation.
Read the document aloud. When I worked at MacEwan University’s Writing Centre, this was the number one suggestion I would give students! Writing sounds much different spoken than on paper, and it’s an excellent way to check for run-on sentences and other grammar issues.
Read backwards. Start from the bottom of the document and work your way up as you do your careful read. This can help you catch errors you might’ve glossed over.
If you find an error, keep an eye out for another of the same type. Errors tend to repeat.
Use Find and Replace to fix repeating errors. If you notice a recurring mistake, you can use your word processor’s Find and Replace function to fix it throughout the document. However, don’t just click “replace all”—check each replacement to avoid accidentally adding more errors.
Query what you don’t know. If you’re proofreading a document written by someone else, you may have queries (aka, questions) about the text that you can’t answer on your own. Keep your queries brief and clear.
Take a break. Sometimes you need to step away from a document so you can come back with fresh eyes.
Spelling and grammar checkers can be useful in identifying some errors as you proofread. However, these automated resources are not all-knowing and can make mistakes. Carefully check each suggestion before accepting it
Often, you’ll have questions that a spell-checker can’t answer—maybe you want to confirm industry jargon or if a certain document is formatted correctly. This is where a style guide comes in handy. Whether it's an established guide, like the Chicago Manual of Style, Editing Canadian English, APA, or MLA, or an in-house guide developed specifically for your business, a style guide is an essential resource when communication questions arise.
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