Ten Great Tips on How to Proofread Your Own Written Work

It is said (by the president of Gramlee, Rushang Shah), that writing is an art, that editing is an art, and that proofreading is a science.

While Gramlee offers an editing service whereby editors work continuously on all types of copyediting and proofreading tasks, TopThesis.com offers an expert online writing service as well as help with proofreading and editing. Experts will tell you that copyediting and proofreading requires human input and it is for this reason that proofreaders cannot be replaced by computers.

It is true to say that it can be difficult to proofread what one has written oneself. This is because you know the text already; you know in your own mind what you can expect to read and, consequently, there is a tendency to just skim over the words and sentences. Additionally, because people know the sound of their own voices, they do not see or hear the errors in their work (where these exist) since they are usually rushing and tend to fill in blanks while they are skimming over a text. It may be that you are daydreaming, even when reading aloud.   

However, if you work to a well-defined system, it is possible to make the art of proofreading something akin to undertaking a quality control check on a production line. Essentially, this type of work is quite busy with little creative input. It is, however, a very important stage of the writing process.

The following few tips have been designed to help you learn how to proofread your own written work like an eagle-eyed professional:

  1. Leave all proofreading until you have fully finished the writing and the editing aspects of your work. In the event you have to make significant changes while you are proofreading, even where these only relate to sentences, your mind is still thinking in a creative and artistic way rather than in a scientific way
  2. Get rid of all possible interruptions and potential distractions. Close the door, disable your email system and social media websites, switch off the radio, television, and your cell phone. If desired or if you want to leave your computer entirely aside, print off a hard copy of your document.
  3. Put the story or content of your document out of your mind. Analyze the text one sentence at a time rather than reading it in the way you usually do. Concentrate on punctuation, spelling, and grammar. If it helps, work your way backwards or read words and/or sentences aloud. Stay focused.
  4. Read over your text several times, looking each time for a different type of flaw or mistake. For example, on the first reading look only for end-of-sentence punctuation and on the next reading look for grammar and in-sentence punctuation errors. Then look at the formatting or links on the next reading. Create a system for yourself.
  5. Make notes as you go along. If you see an issue with formatting when you are checking the spelling, or if something needs to be looked up, take a note of it and return later so that your focus is not disrupted.
  6. If any words need changing at the last minute, make sure you double-check the whole sentence or paragraph again. A lot of errors are caused by changes i.e. making changes without making adjustments to the sentence’s overall structure.
  7. Double-check (separately) every fact, quote, date, reference, table, text box, and any element that is outside your main text or is repetitive. Concentrate on a single aspect or on a number of interrelated aspects in each reading.
  8. Keep a check on yourself. You may find your mind is wandering onto other things. If this happens, go over that particular part again. Slap your hand or tap your foot rhythmically, perhaps, as you read every word and every sentence aloud.
  9. Familiarize yourself with the mistakes you frequently make. No matter how experienced a writer is, everyone makes mistakes or mixes up words such as there, they’re and their or to, two and too. Some writers find that when they are writing quickly, or when they are tired, they just write what they hear in their minds and become careless. This is not a problem since this is what the proofreading stage is all about i.e. catching errors!
  10. Leave format checking until last. Virtually every single document is comprised of some type of format, even emails. This may be the spacing in paragraphs, the type of indentation, the wrapping of text, the spaces in bullet point lists, how text is spaced, how sub-headings are presented, etc. You should leave this until last because your content may change during the writing process.        

You probably know already that it is not advisable to rely entirely on a spell-checker. Just remember that the human eye can pick up mistakes that a spell checker might miss.