how to proofread

How to Proofread Like a Master

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Do you need to proofread your document?  If you have never been a proofreader, it can overwhelming, since there are so many factors to consider.  While editing and revising a document is more of an art than a science — and one reason why computers can never perfect the art — the following list of tips will get you started.  Of course, if you need additional assistance, we are here to help.

Read slowly.

Most writing mistakes are made when rushing.  Either the document was written too quickly or not enough time was spent revising.  There are no shortcuts when editing.  In general, you should spend just as much time editing as you do writing.

Read aloud.

Do you find that you miss your mistakes or make silly errors?  It happens to everyone.  When writing, our brains rush faster than our hands, so we sometimes flip words, misspell, forget punctuation, and so forth.  Oftentimes, we know better, but our brains don’t catch the mistakes.  One of the best ways to catch these errors is to read your document out loud.  You will be surprised how many slip-ups that you catch!

Read backwards.

As silly as this sounds, a quick explanation will help.  Reading backwards does not mean individual words, but sentence-by-sentence.  Of course, this kind of proofreading does not help with content, but it is a helpful way to check punctuation mistakes.  For example, let’s say you often miss commas.  If you look at individual sentences out of context (by reading backgrounds), you will be able to find more of these.

Mark errors.

Use a program like Microsoft Word as you proofread.  Under the “Review” tab, select “Track Changes.”  This will help you see all of the changes that you make as you edit.  The reality is that you might adjust, add, or delete at a later point.  If you can see the history of your changes, you can easily accept or reject these changes.

Try again.

Do you know that most writers revise again and again?  It is not a one-time process.  You might even proofread and edit one day, and then come back a few days later.  This will help you find more things to correct.  Just like our tastes in food or fine art, we tend to refine our taste as we write.  Coming back to a document later can be a helpful technique.

Ask someone.

Writing is not a solitary activity.  Sure, we all start and end on our own, but in the middle, you can get feedback from others.  This is why novelists hire editors, why journalists work with editors, and why you might find an editor.  Even professionals ask others for feedback.  This is how writers improve and continue to be successful.

Be brutal.

Editing your own writing is not for the weak of heart.  Be prepared to make lots and lots of changes.  Until you’ve reached the pinnacle of writers — reaching worldwide acclaim — then you still have work to do.  You need to be humble and ready to admit that your words need to improve.

Be forgiving.

At some point, every writer needs to rest.  While proofreading and editing can take hours, even days, there comes a point when you need to stop.  If you don’t, it’s possible to “over-edit” and make more mistakes when editing.  This is where forgiveness comes into play.  When editing, you don’t want to strip a text of its meaning or spirit, so in order to maintain the integrity of the text, you need to recognize your personal limitations and stop editing.  You can rest in the fact that you tried your best, and you can forgive yourself for the mistakes you have made.

Stay hopeful.

Recognize that as a writer, you are still improving.  Because you have spent time proofreading and editing, your next document will be even better.  Maybe you’ve sought help from someone else, and they have offered some tips or pointed out your errors.  This is all part of the process.  Be encouraged that you are getting better and better.


If you have a tight deadline and need to proofread quickly, we have additional tips here. Some of the same concepts apply to regular proofreading/editing and express proofreading, but a few extra tips can be helpful when you really need to finish fast.

Do you have additional questions?  Would you like help with your proofreading and editing?  Send us your document, and we’ll be glad to assist you.


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