Proofreading prowess

Five ways to strengthen your proofreading skills.

Proofreading is the all-important stage in the writing process in which errors are found and corrected through careful reading of the text. Proofreading, as a rule, comes after the editing stage, which focuses more on the organisation of the text. However, editing and proofreading can also be done at various points during the writing process.

- Do you want to strengthen your proofreading for better writing?

- Do you have a piece of work to proofread? 

I generally recommend that my students take the following approach.

The first thing to do is print out a copy of the text in a font style and size to make reading comfortable. Then try out the five suggestions below.

  1. Allocate a generous amount of time to the process. Scheduling adequate chunks of time to proofread your work will allow you to give the task the attention it needs and achieve full focus - but be prepared to break it up and work it through in steps (see point 5) rather than poring over text for long periods.

  2. Gain sharp focus by minimising pesky distractions. External distractions, including calls, texts, and emails, can throw you right off track, so put the phone in another room and turn off notifications. Having the printed version of the text also helps direct attention away from digital distractions. There are also internal distractions like hunger, mind wandering or for some of us, aches and pains - do your best to make yourself comfortable with a healthy drink and snack, and keep a distraction notepad to hand to jot down intrusive thoughts (so you can then deal with them later).

  3. Read aloud to pick up errors more effectively. As you read aloud, you will hear word repetitions, words out of place and awkward sentence structures. When reading aloud, you are more likely to trip up over errors than if you read in your head, as you will move faster in your head, missing more errors as a result. Each time you trip up, do a little tidy up!

  4. Track the text using a prop. This could be a pencil or stick (a chopstick?) to glide along each line of text. A ruler can be used to keep focus on a line at a time. Another prop which a student of mine came up with, is a window pane cut from a piece of card. This was useful to focus the eyes on a section of a page at a time. While this one was created with general reading in mind, it may be equally useful for proofreading. Using the most suitable prop helps to maintain the focus needed (see point 2).

  5. Look for one type of error at a time. After your first general reading, return to the top and read again with a particular type of error in mind.There are many different types of errors to look for; therefore, you are likely to achieve better results by looking for one thing at a time - a step at a time. You will need to read the text a number of times, each time with care, with a list of your common errors at your side so that you don’t forget to check for each one. 

These strategies complement each other so combining them should effectively boost your proofreading ability. By giving proofreading your energy and attention, and you will build up proofreading prowess in no time.

Later, I will share tips on specific errors to look for when proofreading.

Any questions? Ask me on the forum page

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