How to Proofread an Essay

10.05.2018

Proofreading tips and techniques from experts

Good proofreading skills are absolutely necessary for everyone who’s dealing with writing. Regardless of whether you need to write long texts on a daily basis or just compose a short piece of writing once in a while, mistakes should be avoided in any case. If you think only people who are not skilled in writing need to carefully proofread their texts, you’re very much mistaken. Even professional writers have editors and proofreaders who are there to help them spot accidental slip-ups. So, how to proofread professionally on your own?

Since most people cannot afford a service of a personal proofreader, we’ve compiled a list of proofreading tips and tricks on how to proofread a text by yourself

  1. Let it Be for a While

If you’ve been working on a piece of writing for a long time, you’re likely to have lost the ability to see and judge it objectively. This means that you also won’t be able to spot any mistakes if you start proofreading right after you’ve finished writing. That’s why you should dedicate the tasks of writing and editing to two different days. The same refers even to short texts. If you don’t have the luxury of an extra day, you should still take a break and make sure your brain gets relaxed before you start proofreading.

  1. Edit at Different Periods

Again, if you can’t postpone editing until tomorrow, you should at least do it at the different time of the day. For example, after having worked on an essay the whole morning, leave it till the evening because it will already give you a different perspective. It’s been proven that our surroundings influence our perception, and it works even with such thing as writing.

  1. Read out Loud

When reading the text in your mind to yourself, you’re likely to skip mistakes because this type of reading is very fast and mechanical. Switching things up and reading aloud will give you a completely different picture. First of all, you won’t jump over words or add some that you were planning to but didn’t write down. Thus you’ll be able to spot repetitions and missed words faster. Secondly, your tongue will also betray spelling mistakes that your eyes might miss. Finally, you’ll also notice awkward wording and confusing sentences because when uttered out loud they’ll make less sense compared to what they sounded like in your head.

  1. Learn on Your Own Mistakes

Everyone has a weakness, including at least one in writing. For instance, some people struggle with the difference between “they’re” and “their” while others have that one annoying word they can never spell correctly. If you notice that you make the same mistakes over and over again, jot them down on a piece of paper. When starting the editing process, use the search tool to find these exact mistakes to make proofreading a lot faster. This trick will also help you to become more aware of your weak spots and eventually get rid of them altogether.

  1. Have the Difficult Words Prepared

As it was mentioned, everyone has a word that they can never spell correctly on the first try. For example, such words as “possession”, “embarrass”, “appearance”, “reminisce”, “successful” and many others have already been proven to create extra struggles for many people. To speed writing up and avoid mistakes, make a list of your troublesome words and keep it next to you. Once again, seeing the correct spelling will help you to memorize it faster.

  1. Dedicate Enough Time

There is a popular belief that writing is the most important process while editing is just something you do during the short time you have left. In reality, however, proofreading is as important as composing the text itself. So when planning your writing session, you should always make sure you leave enough time for editing and don’t overlook its importance.

  1. Know Your Academic Style

Once you start writing academically, you’ll get familiar with such styles of writing as APA, Chicago, and MLA. The choice of one will already be predetermined by the field of study for which you write, but you always need to be completely sure you know what that exact style requires. In case you’re writing outside school and work for an organization, it’s also likely to have its own style. Whatever it is, style guidelines will help you tremendously in editing and meeting requirements.

  1. Change the Font

If you always write in the same format, your eyes eventually get used to it, and it becomes difficult to notice mistakes. Changing the layout makes the text look completely different from what you’ve already got accustomed to. This especially concerns increasing the spacing between lines to separate them from each other and make it easier for you to focus on every sentence without your eyes getting distracted by other words.

  1. Go Backwards

After you’ve read your text a few times already, it becomes extra difficult to spot mistakes you might have still overlooked. It happens because you already know it almost by heart, and your brain already predicts what’s coming next (even if you’ve missed a word). To see your essay from a new perspective, try to read it starting from the end sentence by sentence. It will make little sense but at least will prevent your brain from creating things that aren’t there.

  1. Look for a Specific Mistake

Often it’s very likely that one mistake will reoccur all the way throughout the text. So after you’ve spotted a misspelling, go to the search tool and type it in to check if you have more of the same mistake. This is not the most efficient way to proofread a text because it will take longer, but on the other hand it will guarantee that you won’t accidentally miss this mistake anymore.

  1. Eliminate Distractions

Consider proofreading as your quiet me-time. To be able to really get into the process of analyzing the text, you need to make sure you don’t have any distractions. This means finding a spot where there isn’t too much noise and doing your best to not check your phone all the time. If you lose the focus continuously, you won’t be able to get into the flow of the text and will likely miss some things.

  1. Practice More

Good editing skills are just like your writing abilities – they are honed with time and through continuous practice. That’s why the more you proofread and edit, the better and faster you’ll become. If you don’t have that much material to practice editing on a regular basis, look for alternatives. One thing you can do it to analyze articles you read in your spare time and think how you’d improve the quality of writing.

  1. Don’t Edit While Writing

The best way to approach writing is to just let it go and write everything that comes to your mind. Many people find it difficult due to their perfectionism since they don’t like having a text that is not yet polished. They end up interrupting the writing process and go back to reread and edit what they’ve already written. This is not the right technique because you make your brain switch from one activity to another back and forth, and that doesn’t lead to success in any of them. So next time you’re writing an essay, go step by step.

  1. Ask a Friend for Feedback

While it’s true that in most cases you need to write by yourself, it doesn’t mean that you can’t get someone’s opinion regarding the quality of your text. In fact, even university professors recommend to first get someone else to read the final copy of your paper before you hand it in. This should be done for the reason that people who haven’t been working on that piece of writing can judge it a lot more objectively.

  1. Make the Same Changes

If you have a long document to edit, it’s important that you’re consistent with your changes. For example, there is still a debate around the “Oxford comma”, and there doesn’t seem to be only one right option. Nevertheless, it doesn’t mean that you should use them both in the same text. If you’ve put a comma before the last conjunction in your first sentence, make sure you keep doing the same thing till the last one.

  1. Refresh Your Grammar Knowledge

A grammar book in probably not a very thrilling read, but in order to be a good editor, you have to know the current rules. It’s beneficial to brush up on your grammar skills once in a while by flipping through a textbook. After all, there is no limit to perfection.

With these tips for proofreading, we’ve covered all you need to know about proofreading so now it’s only your responsibility to implement them.