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13.2: Proofreading Strategies

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    How to find errors you already know how to fix

    So when we want to write correct Standard English, what are the most efficient ways to find and fix errors? The first round of proofreading is just about finding ways to notice errors so we can correct them.  The strategies below can help us recognize where we have written something that we didn’t intend.

    • Set your paper aside for a few hours or a few days and then come back to it.

    • Print out a hard copy of your paper and read it aloud to yourself with a pencil in hand to mark errors. Many of us feel shy about doing this even in private, but if we can get past the initial hesitation, listening to what we’ve written can be surprisingly helpful. Our brain registers the words differently when we hear them aloud.

    • Read your paper backward one sentence at a time, focusing solely on grammar, punctuation, typos, and missing or repeated words.

    • Read your paper aloud to a friend. Having a live audience makes us even more aware of errors. Alternately, have a friend read your paper aloud to you and make notes as you hear things you need to change.

    • Listen to the computer read your paper aloud to you.  This is a built-in feature of most phones and computers now.  Go to “Accessibility” in settings and look for “text to speech.” There are many other free programs online: one highly rated one is Natural Readers. Most will highlight the words as they read them, so you can easily track where to make corrections. Experiment with a couple of text-to-speech platforms with different voice settings and speeds to see what you are most comfortable with. 

    How to find and fix errors you haven’t learned about yet

    • Use the Grammarly app to identify mistakes and possible corrections.  Grammar checking software has gotten better in recent years, and Grammarly is currently the top-rated one.  Even the free version of Grammarly can catch many errors, and the “...” link next to each suggestion will take you to an explanation. Keep in mind that some of the suggestions will be incorrect or will change the meaning of your sentence in a way you don’t intend.  Look up any new suggested words or spelling variants to confirm that they fit your meaning.  Use the strategies below to learn about any grammar corrections suggested by Grammarly and confirm that they reflect your meaning as well.  Microsoft Word also has a built-in grammar checker.

    • Refer to a grammar handbook when in doubt on a rule.  Experienced professional writers like to have these on hand. Your college’s English department may have a recommended handbook available in the library, tutoring center, or bookstore.  You can also get used copies of older editions quite cheaply on Alibris or Amazon.  If you get comfortable with a particular handbook, it will be easy to quickly look up a comma rule you’ve forgotten or the correct time to use “whom.” Most handbooks have a short table of contents on the back page that allows you to scan for the right section without flipping through the entire book.

    • Online grammar resources can take the place of a physical grammar handbook. Start with this book's Chapter 13: Correcting Grammar and Punctuation.

    • Use a dictionary to check word choice or preposition combinations. Longman is particularly good for finding the prepositions (words like “to” and “for”) that go with particular words.

    • Meet with a tutor to focus solely on grammar.  Your tutor should not fix errors for you, but rather let you know what your most common and serious errors are. The tutor can help you to a better understanding of these errors, and practice fixing them with you, so later you can do it on your own.

    • Schedule a meeting with your instructor to work on grammar. Most instructors will be willing to help and glad that you are motivated to improve.

    This page titled 13.2: Proofreading Strategies is shared under a CC BY-NC 4.0 license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by Anna Mills (ASCCC Open Educational Resources Initiative) .