How to Proofread
Proofreading is an important skill for any writer. Whether you are a researcher or an academic, writing and publishing are important parts of your career. Before you submit any article for publication, you must proofread it thoroughly. How is proofreading done? In this article, we will review the key parts of proofreading, discuss how it differs from other types of editing, and give you some tips on ways to effectively proofread your own papers. We will focus on English proofreading, but you can apply these tips to proofreading in another language as well.
What is Proofreading?
Proofreading is when you carefully check a document for errors such as basic grammar, style and consistency before it is published or submitted for publication. Proofreading focuses specifically on “minor” errors and consistency rather than major errors or content suggestions. Items that a proofreader should review include proper spelling, capitalization, spacing between words, punctuation, and formatting. For writers who are submitting an article to a publisher that requires a specific citation format (APA, Chicago, etc.), the step of proofreading is when you check whether the formatting in your document adheres to the demands of the citation style. While most of us think of “citation style” as only applying to references, in fact, citation style guides also specify how section headings and table or figure headings should look.
How do you Proofread Documents?
Professional proofreaders develop their own style and process for effectively proofreading documents over time. This process can vary depending on the type of document. Technical documents that have formulas or complex figures may require a proofreader to pay special attention to punctuation or capitalization. For example, while in English, there is generally a space between a word and a parenthesis, in chemical formulas, there is no space.
Many proofreaders who offer professional proofreading services find it most effective to begin their work by reviewing different sections at a time. For example, a proofreader may begin by reviewing all of the heading and chapter titles to ensure they are consistent and correct. Next, the proofreader may then go back through the document focusing on any tables or figures. It is only at the end that a proofreader will read through the entire document to see if there are any problems or errors that they missed the first few times.
Tips for Proofreading Effectively
While each proofreader has their own methodology, all proofreaders should keep several things in mind. The following are some tips from experienced proofreaders that can help make the job easier. The first five tips are general recommendations for anyone who is faced with the task of proofreading, particularly proofreading their own work. The second five tips presume that you are using a word processing program such as Microsoft Word to perform the task of English proofreading.
- Take a break from the text.
You should never finish writing a text and then directly begin proofreading. You need a break of at least several hours and preferably several days so that you can approach the text with a fresh set of eyes.
- Approach the text in sections.
Don’t read it straight through. Begin by focusing on headings, then address tables and figures. Read different paper sections out of order. Reading the entire paper through should be your final step.
- Stay consistent.
If you make a change to a word, phrase, punctuation mark, etc., make sure that the change you made is reflected throughout the entire text.
- Print out the text and review the hard copy version
when you do your final proofreading round. This isn’t always feasible for every document. However, it is well-documented that reading on paper allows people to catch errors they might miss when reading on a computer screen.
- Read aloud.
Sometimes it is easier to catch errors when you hear what you read. Reading aloud can also help you stay focused.
- Review your spellchecking settings before you begin.
You can select which errors you would like the program to focus on and which ones you don’t care about. Do you love the Oxford comma? You can make spellcheck mark an error where it hasn’t been used.
- Never, ever rely fully on spellchecking programs.
While spellcheckers can be a lifesaver, you cannot depend on them to do the entire job for you. Spellcheckers will not pick up on words that are used incorrectly (to vs. too vs. two). In addition, if you are editing a paper or article that incorporates foreign language terms, spellcheckers will have difficulty properly distinguishing errors.
- Know your language and citation style.
Should the paper be in American English? British English? Are all of the citations correctly formatted? If you have the time, it doesn’t hurt to check citation formatting against an online citation generator.
- Use the “find and replace all” function.
In many documents, if an error has been made once, it has been made throughout the text. Learning how to use “find and replace all” when you come across an error can save you lots of time and effort.
- Get familiar with the Corpus of Contemporary American English and the British National Corpus.
English is a complex and inconsistent language with numerous variations. Sometimes there can be more than one right answer. If you aren’t sure whether to use “on” or “in,” or whether Americans use “analyse” or “analyze,” the corpus can tell you which words and phrases are most common and in what context. Both are available online for free.
Proofreading your own work can be difficult and tedious. Fortunately, there are numerous professional proofreading services available. Hiring proofreading services can be particularly useful for anyone who needs to strictly adhere to a particular citation style. Professional proofreading services have the expertise and resources to ensure that your document meets all of the requirements. Whether you hire someone or you do it yourself, proofreading is an essential step for any writer before publication.