- Take a break! Allow yourself some time between writing and proofing. Even a five-minute break is productive because it will help you get some distance from what you have written. The goal is to return with a fresh eye and mind.
- Leave yourself enough time. Since many errors are made and overlooked by speeding through writing and proofreading, taking the time to carefully look over your writing will help you to catch errors you might otherwise miss. Always read through your writing slowly. If you read at a normal speed, you won’t give your eyes sufficient time to spot errors.
- Read aloud. Reading a paper aloud encourages you to read every little word. Any time your text is awkward or confusing, or any time you have to pause or reread your text, revise this section. If it is at all awkward for you, you can bet it will be awkward for your reader.
- Read your paper out of order. Some recommend reading backwards (last sentence, then the next to last sentence), but sometimes just mixing up the pages will help. When you read in order, your brain anticipates the words that SHOULD be there or what you meant to say and skips over the the errors. Reading out of order forces your brain to concentrate on the words on the page.
- Role-play. While reading, put yourself in your audience’s shoes. Playing the role of the reader encourages you to see the paper as your audience might.
- Get others involved. Asking a friend to read your paper will let you get another perspective on your writing and a fresh reader will be able to help you catch mistakes that you might have overlooked. Give yourself time to make changes based on their feedback.
In addition to following the general guidelines above, individualizing your proofreading process to your needs will help you proofread more efficiently and effectively.
- Find out what errors you typically make. Review instructors’ comments about your writing and keep a running list of typical errors (fragments, comma splices etc.) in the back of your notebook or next to your computer.
- Read instructor comments when they return your papers, but go back and re-read them as you are drafting/editing your paper. Having your previous weaknesses and advice for improvement fresh in your mind will help you to avoid those same errors by knowing what to look for while you proofread.
- Learn how to fix those errors. Talk with your instructor. Look up your common errors in a grammar book or on the Purdue OWL site. Work with a friend. Visit the UF Writing Center. When you understand why you make certain errors you can learn to avoid them.
- Use specific strategies. Use the strategies detailed on the following pages to find and correct your particular errors in usage, sentence structure, and spelling and punctuation.
Finding Common Errors
Proofreading can be much easier when you know what you are looking for. Although everyone will have different error patterns, the following are issues that come up for many writers. When proofreading your paper, be on the lookout for these errors. Always remember to make note of what errors you make frequently—this will help you proofread more efficiently in the future!
- Do NOT rely on your computer’s spellcheck—it will not get everything!
- Examine each word in the paper individually by reading carefully. Moving a pencil under each line of text helps you to see each word.
- If necessary, check a dictionary to see that each word is spelled correctly.
- Be especially careful of words that are typical spelling nightmares, like “ei/ie” words and homonyms like your/you’re, to/too/two, and there/their/they’re. Spell check WILL NOT catch these, as the words are spelled correctly, but are used in the wrong place. (This is where a second set of eyes will likely be the most useful).
Left-out and doubled words
Reading the paper aloud (and slowly) can help you make sure you haven’t missed or repeated any words.
- Make sure each sentence has a subject. In the following sentence, the subject is “students”: The students looked at the UFL website.
- Make sure each sentence has a complete verb. In the following sentence, “were” is required to make a complete verb; “trying” alone would be incomplete: They were trying to improve their writing skills.
- See that each sentence has an independent clause; remember that a dependent clause cannot stand on its own. The following sentence is a dependent clause that would qualify as a fragment sentence: Which is why the students read all of the handouts carefully.
- Review each sentence to see whether it contains more than one independent clause.
- If there is more than one independent clause, check to make sure the clauses are separated by the appropriate punctuation.
- Sometimes, it is just as effective (or even more so) to simply break the sentence into separate sentences instead of including punctuation to separate the clauses.
Example run-on: I have to write a research paper for my class about extreme sports all I know about the subject is that I’m interested in it.
Edited version: I have to write a research paper for my class about extreme sports, and all I know about the subject is that I’m interested in it.
Another option: I have to write a research paper for my class about extreme sports. All I know about the subject is that I’m interested in it.
- Look at the sentences that have commas.
- Check to see if the sentence contains two main clauses.
- If there are two main clauses, they should be connected with a comma and a conjunction like and, but, for, or, so, yet.
- Another option is to take out the comma and insert a semicolon instead.
Example: I would like to write my paper about basketball, it’s a topic I can talk about at length.
Edited version: I would like to write my paper about basketball, because it’s a topic I can talk about at length.
Edited version, using a semicolon: I would like to write my paper about basketball; it’s a topic I can talk about at length.
- Find the subject of each sentence.
- Find the verb that goes with the subject.
- The subject and verb should match in number, meaning that if the subject is plural, the verb should be as well and vice versa.
Example: Students at the university level usually is very busy.
Edited version: Students at the university level usually are very busy.
Read through your sentences carefully to make sure that they do not start with one sentence structure and shift to another. A sentence that does this is called a mixed construction.
Example: Since I have a lot of work to do is why I can’t go out tonight.
Edited version: Since I have a lot of work to do, I can’t go out tonight.
Look through your paper for series of items and make sure these items are in parallel form.
Example: Being a good friend involves good listening skills, to be considerate, and that you know how to have fun.
Edited version: Being a good friend involves knowing how to listen, being considerate, and having fun.
- Skim your paper, stopping at each pronoun.
- Search for the noun that the pronoun replaces.
- If you can’t find any noun, insert one beforehand or change the pronoun to a noun.
- If you can find a noun, be sure it agrees in number and person with your pronoun.
- Skim your paper, stopping only at those words which end in “s.” If the “s” is used to indicate possession, there should be an apostrophe, as in Mary’s book.
- Look over the contractions, like you’re for you are, it’s for it is, etc. Each of these should include an apostrophe.
- Remember that apostrophes are not used to make words plural. When making a word plural, only an “s” is added, not an apostrophe and an “s.”
- If a noun ends in an “s,” you must add ‘s to the word to make it possessive: Jonas’s bike