You have completed the assignment or document, though now is the vital part, as you are not quite finished yet. Proofreading your assignment or document is a must. We do not always pick up or see our own mistakes, as our brains are predisposed to see what we expect to see.
Proofreading is the process of finding and correcting mistakes in text before it is printed or put online.
- about ensuring consistency and accuracy
- essential – it is a matter of professional reputation (and more)
- the last line of defence – the buck stops with you.
It is also: hard work – it can be pedantic, tiring and repetitive.
Proofreading is not rewriting your document, editing or just having a quick look.
Proofreading is the process of correcting surface errors in writing, such as grammatical, spelling, punctuation and other language mistakes.
When proofreading your writing please be mindful of:
- Are there any spelling errors?
- Are full stops, commas, colons, semicolons, etc., used correctly?
- Have words that sound like one another but have different meanings, such as ‘there’, ‘their’ and ‘they’re’, been used correctly?
- Have quotation marks and apostrophes been used appropriately?
- Are there any double spaces, particularly after full stops?
When proofreading your assignment and/or document:
Your organisation or University writing style guide, including referencing.
How to Do It
In the morning when you are fresh.
Set aside time in your calendar or diary.
Away from distractions. Turn off email and Facebook alerts on your computer and watch.
Use “Editor” on your computer to check for; spelling, grammar, clarity and conciseness, formality, punctuation and vocabulary. Though, do not rely on the grammar and spelling checkers on the computer.
Read over the document slowly, line by line.
Then re-read your document for sense and for technical accuracy, repeated words.
Look for one type of error at a time.
Review the referencing within the document comparing to the referencing pages for accuracy.
Keep a list of all the things that you need to check.
Highlight text that needs a change of formatting.
If it is easier to read your document in hard copy, print in a different font or even an unusual colour. Then, take a pencil or pen and point to every word, otherwise read the text aloud. This strategy helps you spot confusing points or jarring structure. It also helps you identify awkward or abrupt sentences. This forces the brain to leave its usual strategy of jumping between groups of words, essentially guessing at what they say before hopping on quickly to the next group.
If you have the time prior to submission of your assignment or document, set aside a few days then review the document with fresh eyes.
What to Look For
Clusters of mistakes.
Ends of lines – bad word breaks, repetition of words.
Little words – big words draw the eye and are more explanatory, use one word instead of many.
Consistency of terminology, e.g., the board/the Board.
Lists – count the steps they require and make sure they are all there.
Brackets and speech marks – is the second one in the right place?
Cross-reference – compare the document to the listed referenced material.
Words around glaring errors – these often get overlooked.
Abbreviations – are they defined at first use?
Common spelling errors, e.g., affect/effect, principal/principle, led/lead, were/where.
Proofreading backwards could pick up mistakes easier.
Matching mistakes – make sure the verb matches the noun.
Descriptors are used to back up a statement.
Layout and Formatting
Captions – are they on the right items?
Contents page – do headings/page numbers match actual copy?
Consistency of style – bold, italics, font and word size match the style guide.
Spacing at the top of the page.
Margin sizing matches the style guide.
Page numbers and other footer/header material – check for accuracy and order.
Headings – relevance, repetition, level, font, and word size.
Numbering – check sequence.
Title page, author name.
Follow the assessment guide for the document, course/project outline and utilise the template as provided for the document.
Are the decimal points in the right place?
It does not have to be you who does the proofreading. In a perfect world, we would never proofread our own writing. It is always easier to spot the mistakes in someone else’s work. So, see if a colleague or your mentor would be open to a proofreading arrangement. Though this does not mean rewriting your document.
Software packages (e.g., MS Word) can read text aloud for you. By having your computer read your text aloud to you is a good way of catching some typos.
For writing to be clear, there must be no spelling, grammar or punctuation errors, or inconsistency in language, as these can undermine the impact of the writing and the credibility of the author.
Proofreading is a skill you can develop. The more you proofread, the sharper your eye will become.
Holdridge, C. 2020. How to proofread a document. www.writing-skills.com. Accessed 29 January 2021.
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, The Writing Center. 2021. Editing and Proofreading. Accessed 29 January 2021.
Levisohn, E. 2019. Proofreading vs editing: What’s the difference? Accessed 29 January 2021.
Levisohn, E. 2018. The power of learning from your mistakes. Accessed 29 January 2021.