This quick list of 6 proofreading tips and techniques will help improve find errors in a text and lead to better writing. I’ve learnt a thing or two about how to accurately proofread for mistakes through painstakingly picking back and forth over my own writing, and through occasional professional proofreading ventures, and mostly I’ve learnt that it’s not always easy – these tips help.
1. Take time out before proofreading
Leave a cooling off period between any writing and proofing, or between reads. If you’ve recently written or read a piece of writing and immediately go back through it looking for errors, you’re going to miss things. For one, you’re recently familiar with the text so your mind bridges gaps and skips words. Two, however exciting your the writing may be you’ll be at least partially tired of it already, and won’t focus properly.
2. Read your text backwards
Regularly offering people proofreading tips as I do, this one always seems to inspire confused distrusting looks or disgusted splutterings of disbelief. I’m serious though, reading a piece of writing backwards is one of the most effective ways to spot technical errors.
By breaking up the flow of the narrative you are better able to focus on the technical components of the language. You can do this by reading one word or one sentence at a time in reverse order, depending on whether your focus is on spotting spelling mistakes/typos or grammatical errors. It is important to remember that proofreading is all about spotting technical mistakes, and reading a text backwards forces you to focus only on the quality of the English language, without being distracted by the overall flow of the text.
3. Proofread from a physical copy
Printing out a piece of writing to proof helps you to focus on the task at hand. It means you can read without distraction from other computer tasks. If you have spent a long time reading or writing on a computer screen, proofreading in physical form also provides a different activity, a change of environment, which helps engage your full attention.
4. Maintain a clear focus
Reading for errors can seem a mundane task so it’s tempting to occupy your mind with background activities like listening to the radio or having the TV on. Avoid these periphery distractions, or you’re likely to miss mistakes.
5. Read your work out loud
Reading out a piece of writing draws out elements of style as well as errors. This is especially important if you have written dialogue, as it quickly becomes apparent how effective your dialogue is when read aloud. It will also draw out errors in spelling, and can draw your attention to factual errors when you hear them spoken.
6. Get someone else to proofread your work
This is the most important of my proofreading tips, again because once you’re familiar with the text your mind will bridge gaps and prevent your full focus. A fresh, unfamiliar set of eyes is crucial for any writer if you want to spot all your mistakes. And it’s important to remember that whilst everyone makes mistakes, no one can spot all their own errors.