How many times have you dashed something off and handed it in to your teacher, boss, or editor only to have it handed back to you underlined, checked, and circled with criticisms and corrections? If you follow the six simple steps of proofreading below, you can avoid wasting both your time and their red ink.
Step 1. Run it through a spell checker/grammar checker
This seems obvious-every word processing program worth its salt has a built-in spellchecker-but you’d be amazed how many people neglect to use it. A simple click of the mouse can unleash the relentless rampage of your spellchecker onto your writing, insisting on correcting your grammar or giving you suggestions on alternate spellings. Always make this your first step in proofreading your written work.
Note: No spellchecker can know whether you wanted to use the word “form” or “from”. It is just going to tell you whether everything is spelled correctly. To make sure you have typed in the word you wanted to use, try using Step 3.
Step 2. Read backwards
If you are using a text editor (Notepad or WordPad, for example) or you are writing an online message where a spellchecker is not available, try this tried and true method of catching spelling errors. Read your writing backwards from the last word to the first. This will keep your brain from glossing over misspelled words because it knows what you meant to say.
Step 3. Read it out loud
What may seem right to your eye will not sound right to your ear. Read your work out loud to yourself and you will easily pick up grammar errors, misspelled words, and awkward phrasing. Better yet, to avoid the bias your brain will impose, use a text-to-speech program to read it to you. Once you get past the creepy robotic voice, you can sit back and listen carefully for your errors. If you typed “webiste” instead of “website”, you will hear your computer say “wa-beast” and you’ll jump up to fix it.
Step 4. Let it age
Put your writing away for a day or two or even longer, if possible. When you pull it out again to proof it, you will have forgotten exactly what you wrote down and it will be much easier to spot mistakes. Isn’t it always easier to find other writers’ errors?
Step 5. Have someone else read it.
Give your baby to someone else (someone who has good spelling, grammar, and punctuation skills of course!) and let them mark it up with a red pencil. If you find someone who delights in pointing out your mistakes, you’ll never have to worry about typos, missing words, or too many commas again.
Step 6. Have someone else read it out loud to you.
If you don’t know anyone with a talent for proofreading but you just can’t seem to find your errors yourself, have a friend, coworker, or child read your written words out loud to you. Not only will you catch your errors but you’ll be so embarrassed that you will try even harder next time to do it correctly in the first place.
In addition to these six simple steps to proofreading your writing, always, always keep your trusty dictionary, thesaurus, and Elements of Style manual at your fingertips!