It can be tough to proofread your own work, since it’s easy to read what you intended to write rather than what you actually wrote, but it can be done. Follow these tips below to improve your chances of catching errors in your own work.
First: When to Proofread and What to Look For
Don’t proofread until you are done with the major developmental editing and copyediting. It doesn’t make sense to get every semi-colon and apostrophe perfect just to rewrite the whole thing. Proofing should be the last step before you send something off to the printer or prepare to publish online.
Developmental editing deals with content. Copyediting deals with tone, flow, and style. Proofreading deals only with fixing errors. Here are things to look for as you proofread:
- Grammar errors
- Punctuation errors
- Spelling errors
- Consistency (e.g., spelling a word the same way throughout the document)
- Formatting issues (e.g., extra spaces between words, extra lines between paragraphs, incorrect tabbing)
7 Tips to Proofread Your Own Work
1. Give It Time.
If you don’t follow any other tip in this post, at least follow this one. You need time to distance yourself from what you wrote so that when you read it again to proof, you’re reading it with fresh eyes. The longer the better (I’d suggest a week or two) but if you’re under deadline, and you can’t get anyone else to do it for you, wait at least half an hour.
2. Print Out a Hard Copy
I don’t know why it’s easier to catch errors on hard copy than on a computer screen – there’s probably some neuroscientific reason for it I’m not aware of– but it is. Maybe that helps explain why you see so many more typos in digital rather than print materials. Print out a copy of your document and read through with red pen in hand. I like to print out a copy after each round of revision and correction until I have a copy with no marks on it at all.
3. Keep a List of Words You Frequently Misspell
You can easily find lists of most frequently misspelled words, but I don’t think they’re as helpful as having your own personal list of words you’re never sure how to spell. My list includes “privilege.” So whenever I have to use that word, I double (triple) check that I’ve spelled it correctly, because I know I normally don’t. Fortunately, spell check programs usually catch these mistakes, so be sure to run your spell checker, too.
4. Look for the Usual Suspects
Keep an eye out for the most common errors, like its versus it’s, your versus you’re, and other homophone errors. Proper nouns are also regularly misspelled, so do some light fact-checking to be sure you’re spelling them right, and make sure you’re consistent throughout. Check that questions end in question marks, that parenthetical remarks have both open and closed parentheses, and that quotes have opening and closing quotation marks.
5. Pay Attention to Titles, Headlines, Tables, Lists, Etc.
It’s amazing how often people will polish and perfect the body copy but neglect the other elements. Plan to go through the body of the document first, then go back and look at titles and subheadings, and finally look at captions, tables, graphs, and other elements.
6. Try Reading It Out Loud
Errors that you might skip over while reading silently – such as as doubling a small word, like I did right there – will be more apparent when you read your work out loud.
7. Try Reading It Backwards
This is an old proofreading trick, and while I don’t think it’s necessary for most copy, it’s good if you have the time and you must have it word perfect. Read the material backwards to make sure each individual word is spelled correctly. This way, your brain won’t let you gloss over what’s really there.
Hopefully these tips will make it easier for you to make your document free from errors. Good luck! And remember, if you’re not into DIY, you can always hire someone to proofread for you.