Many people believe they know what proofreading is, yet oftentimes they don’t realize just how exacting one has to be when doing it. Proofreading is the act of reading carefully through a paper to find and correct errors. Diligent sentence-level proofreading can affect how another reader (i.e., your teacher) regards and evaluates your work. Did you know that most errors that teachers mark (and that result in lowered grades) could have been found by proofreading more effectively?
There are several successful proofreading methods outlined below. All of them involve taking a little extra time before you hand in a paper, but the errors you catch should be worth it! Try them out to find a strategy that works for you.
- Read your paper out loud, or ask someone to read it out loud to you. You may “hear” things that don’t “sound right” and can take a second look at those.
- Place a ruler below each line of your paper as you read. Move the ruler to guide you line-by-line through your paper. This will slow you down enough so that you may better see the errors that may be there.
- Make a list of your most common mistakes—such as comma splices, apostrophe errors, etc.—the mistakes that your teachers tend to mark on your papers. Consult a grammar handbook about how to identify and correct the errors you tend to make. Then, read your paper just looking for your most common errors.
- Triple- or quadruple-space your draft, and then proofread it. Sometimes errors are easier to find when the sentences aren’t spaced too closely together.
- Read each sentence twice before moving on to the next sentence.
- Read your paper from the end to the beginning. That is, read the last sentence first, then the next-to-last sentence, and so on back through the paper. (Check out Proofreading from End to Beginning for step-by-step instructions for this method. It’s one of the most effective proofreading strategies out there, even though it may not seem to be a “logical” way to read a paper.)
Work on Your Grammar
If you know you tend to make particular kinds of errors, complete any of the grammar and punctuation lessons below.
The comma is a punctuation mark used to separate various parts of a sentence. Use this link to take an interactive comma quiz.
Comma Splice Help
Have you been told you have “comma splice” errors in your writing? A comma splice occurs when you join two independent clauses without a strong enough “stop” or divider between them. Try these two comma splice quizzes: Comma Splice Quiz 1 & Comma Splice Quiz 2
Run on sentences occur when you do not include any conjunction or punctuation between independent clauses—that is, there’s no separation at all. Use this interactive quiz to put the brakes on run-on sentences.
The colon does all these things: introduces quotations and lists, expands upon an idea in a previous sentence, and makes a detailed and descriptive title possible. Use this link to practice using the colon in several contexts.
Subject-verb agreement is perhaps one of the most commonly marked errors in student writing. Stated simply, an error in subject-verb agreement occurs when the subject of the sentence (the actor doing the action) does not agree in number (singular or plural) with the verb (the action). Typically, the error involves using a plural subject (e.g., “drivers”) with a singular verb (e.g., “honks the horn” instead of the correct “honk the horn”)—or vice versa. In many cases, writers don’t catch this mistake when the subject and verb are not directly beside each other in the sentence. If your teacher has marked this mistake in your writing, take some time to review it, practice how to identify and correct it, and proofread for it before handing in your papers, since many teachers tend to lower grades when they see this error. Each of the following quizzes will help you fine-tune your understanding of subject-verb agreement: Subject-Verb Quiz 1, Subject-Verb Quiz 2, and Subject-Verb Quiz 3
Consistent and appropriate use of verb tense (e.g., past, present, and future tense) is important. If you’ve had trouble with using correct verb tenses in the past, then you may want to take this practice verb-tenses quiz.
Style—When Less is More
Have your teachers encouraged you to eliminate wordiness? You can train your eye to catch wordy sentences. Use this link to practice reducing wordiness.
Style—Avoiding Choppy Sentences
Are you struggling when writing? When writing, are you writing choppy sentences? Do you need to practice writing non-choppy fare? (Did you have trouble reading these sentences? They’re examples of choppy writing that doesn’t “flow.”) Achieve the verbal “flow” you desire: practice combining sentences here.
More Useful Links
Need additional help with a paper you’re writing or information on how to write successful papers? Check out these Online Writing Center and Writing Resources Sites:
- Purdue University Online Writing Lab
- Grammar Bytes (interactive grammar exercises, rules, handouts)
- Dave’s ESL Café (information for writers whose native language is not English)
- Dictionary, Thesaurus (a comprehensive site with dictionaries in many languages, grammar rules, word games, and much more)