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How to Proofread for Error-free Writing

Proofreading is the process of carefully reviewing a text to check for the correct use of grammar and vocabulary. By getting into the habit of allowing sufficient time for proofreading, you will greatly improve the quality of your writing. After all, what is the point of spending hours writing a compelling piece, only to lose credibility due to basic grammar faults?

The following guide provides a few simple considerations that you can implement in the writing process.

The first step

You should be conscious and careful during writing rather than relying on proofreading later.

  • While it may be tedious to some, it really is a good idea to learn basic grammar rules to avoid ambiguity.
  • Make sure to use punctuation and paragraphs to break up large chunks of text. Try to be coherent and thoughtful, rather than simply scrawling down your thoughts.
  • Consider using a style guide (e.g. Oxford, Chicago, APA etc.) to help with consistency.
  • Lastly, it is wise to have a good dictionary or word processor to refer to.

Good things come to those who wait

It is very easy to become too close to your own writing and miss mistakes.

  • While you probably understand what you want to say, it isn’t always clear for your reader, so make sure to check your writing carefully.
  • Try printing out your work so that you can get a different view; and have a pen ready so that you can make plenty of annotations.
  • Read the text aloud to hear if it flows correctly.

Be aware of common mistakes

Try to keep a record of mistakes that you are making so that you can improve your writing.

  • Do not rely on the spell checker in your word processor as spell checkers can miss homonyms. Just because a word is spelled correctly, it doesn’t mean it was the word that you intended to use (e.g. ‘led’ and ‘lead’).
  • Be careful of verb tenses and possessives – these can be common causes of problems, particularly for ESL writers.

Help!

One of the best things that you can get is an extra pair of eyes to check your work.

  • Get a friend to look through your work in exchange for checking theirs… ‘You scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours.’
  • Your tutors/lecturers should be providing feedback on your writing. Pay careful attention to their advice.

Final thoughts

Proofreading can be tedious, especially after having just spent time and energy writing. However, it is an essential step in the writing process that should not be skipped. Apply the tips outlined here and you can ensure that your writing is free of errors, in an efficient and pain-free way.

Written by Emma Wilson for EnglishClub April 2013
Emma Wilson is a professional editor for Cambridge Proofreading. She enjoys writing about English language topics.

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