Proofread Like a Boss: Your Step-by-step Guide to Proofreading
Be honest: on an average day proofreading takes up a pretty limited portion of your mental activity, correct? Well, this needs to change. Contrary to popular belief, spelling and grammar mistakes are not harmless little errors that can be sorted with a quick scan; think of them as professional ninjas hired by the antichrist of grammar to infiltrate your credibility and condemn your hard work to a tragic waste of time.
Almost 75% of Brits say their perceptions of a brand would worsen if its copy included spelling or grammar mistakes - so just imagine how teachers feel about them! So sticking with your leaky go-to proofreading habits that fail to provide an adequate defence against those sneaky misplaced apostrophes simply isn’t an option. Luckily we’ve put together a step-by-step guide to proofreading to help you transform your last-minute reread into an airtight defensive strategy, and spell the end of careless mistakes forever!
Know your grammar
In order to develop an eagle eye that identifies mistakes quickly, you need to know what you’re looking out for. So make sure you’re working with a tip-top knowledge base when it comes to grammar. The English language can be devilishly tricky and it’s always better to be safe than sorry, so if you come across any grammatical points you’re not quite sure about - should that apostrophe be there? Is that an Americanism? - look them up. (Tutor House produced a blog all about the most common grammar mistakes just last year, so make that your first port of call.)
Pause here. A simple read-through is by no means an airtight proofreading strategy. It’s all too easy to lapse into autopilot and let the words wash over you without paying any meaningful attention to the small details. So as you start the proofreading process, make sure you’re employing methods that allow you to click into active, rather than passive, reading.
Look out for your most frequent mistakes
Self-awareness as a writer - and as a proofreader - is a fundamental part of producing consistently high-quality work. We all have our Achilles heel - whether it’s they’re v their, effect v affect - and instead of remaining in denial, set yourself up for success by having a list of your own common errors to bear in mind. That way, you’ve got the usual culprits covered and you can start injecting some structure into the proofreading process.
Reading your work aloud can do wonders for boosting proofreading accuracy. When reading silently, it’s all too tempting to speed-scan or skip over. Reading aloud at a nice slow pace holds you accountable and helps you hear when things don’t sound right. Granted, those pesky homophones might still manage to slip through the net, but the odd misplaced s, repeated word, and other mistakes that will sound disastrous when read out loud, will have nowhere to hide.
Now for the proofreading acrobatics. Reading your work backwards will help you distance yourself from the overall sense of the piece, which can distract from the more technical spelling and grammar aspects. When reading correctly (i.e. in the right order), it’s all too easy to be swept up in the momentum of what you’ve written and forget to zoom in on each individual element of the sentences. Reading backwards encourages you to pay close attention to the words themselves by actively slowing down your reading experience - perfect for rooting out the blunders!
If possible, it’s a good idea to have your work finished - as well as the first round of proofreading - at least 24 hours in advance of your deadline. This way you will be able to take a break and then come back to it afresh in order to see it with new eyes and identify any errors you may have missed when you were too close to it. This can also help you address any broader issues such as expression and meaning. But if you make any changes during this grace period, remember to repeat each of your proofreading steps from the beginning with every round of edits you make.
Even after all these steps, it’s still possible to let the odd mistake slip past you, so if you can, ask someone else to proofread your work as well. (If you don’t have anyone close at hand, hiring an English tutor to help you with that final proofread could be an excellent investment for your next piece of coursework.) Two heads are better than one and an extra pair of eyes will give you that final sheen of confidence so you can hand your piece in calmly and serenely.