What Four Things Do You Look for When You're Proofreading?

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Proofreading is the final stage of the editing process for any type of writing. In the creation of everything from articles and books to press releases and emails, proofreading is a vital part of the process to avoid embarrassing typos or confusing sentences. The University of North Carolina Writing Center website recommends proofreading in the most comfortable medium, which can be proofreading a hard copy of the work or proofreading it on a computer.

Typos

  • The first thing to look for when proofreading is typos, or mistakes that were made in the typing of the work. Read slowly and try to see each word individually instead of just quickly moving through the sentences. Words that just have one or two letters incorrectly switched may look correct on a quick pass through. Also look for incomplete sentences that make the writing confusing. If you are editing on a computer, try zooming in the document so it will be easier to pick out errors.

Spelling

  • Using a spell checker on a computer may catch obvious typos, but it will not highlight words that are spelled correctly but not used correctly in context. Look up words that look strange in a dictionary to double check their spelling. Also check for incorrect use of words such as "its," "it's," "your," "you're," "their," "they're" and "there." As part of spelling, check for correct capitalization. Some professional proofreaders read works backwards, from the last word on a page to the first, to avoid getting swept up in the meaning and losing focus on errors. This helps find misspelled word, as well as other errors.

Grammar

  • Slowly re-read the work to catch grammatical mistakes. Don't fully rely on grammar-checkers on a computer, as they do not catch every grammar error. Look for run-on sentences, and break them into two sentences, or add a comma and coordinating conjunction such as "and" or "but." Check also for such grammar basics as noun and pronoun agreement, parallel structure in series, and correct punctuation. The UNC Writing Center website says to proofread also to find unnecessary passive voice in the writing and change it to passive voice. This makes writing easier to read and more effective.

Inconsistency

  • When proofreading for inconsistency, look for any contradictory statements, and check that such things as proper names are used the same way throughout. Proofread also for grammatical person consistency, so that the writing doesn't switch back and forth between, for example, second person and third person. Unless there is a stylistic reason to have different fonts or type sizes, make sure those are consistent throughout the work. Look for missing or extra spaces between words. If you're using headers, footers or page numbers, make sure the information is correct. Before your final read-through, take a break. Getting away from the writing can help clear your mind so you don't miss errors.

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