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10.01: Proofreading

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    • Alexandra Glynn, Kelli Hallsten-Erickson & Amy Jo Swing
    • North Hennepin Community College & Lake Superior College

    Okay, now you have an almost complete writing project: you have done it all, from determining an audience and purpose to editing for style, organization, sentences, and everything else! It’s time to look for errors. Proofreading means looking for common grammatical errors, and for capitalization errors, spelling errors, and the like.


    Getting more feedback can help, and so can looking carefully at your words and letters. For a small writing piece, you can even read the paper backwards to look more carefully at words and language and not content. That can help you locate errors that are easy to miss.

    There are reasons why people change what they write, and often the reasons can be traced to grammar rules. Consider the following excerpt from James Baldwin's children's version of Robinson Crusoe:

    MY name is Robinson Crusoe. I was born in the old city of York, where there is a broad river, with ships coming and going.

    When I was a little boy, I spent much of my time looking at the river.

    How pleasant was the quiet stream, flowing, always flowing, toward the far-away sea! ... (Baldwin 1)

    This is simple. But what if it read in this way:

    My name's are Robinson Crusoe. I is borned in the old city of York, where there is a broad river, with ship coming and goings. When I was a little boy, I spends much of my time looking at the river…

    What is trying to be said here? There are many questions in the reader's mind: Is "name's" a typo? Is it supposed to be "name"? Or, are there more than one names? What about the words "is borned"? Is the author trying to use the word "borne" as in “carry”? Or is he talking about being given birth to? What about "ship coming and goings?" Is there another subject that governs "goings" since it is in a different form of the verb that clearly goes with the subject "ship"? Or is “coming” acting more like a noun, and if so, why isn’t it “ships coming and going”? Confronted with these questions, often a reader does not know what to do, so they stop reading. Even if this text was written in "slang English," as texts often are written to show different dialects, you would still notice that the grammar is logical and easy to follow. For example:

    My name be Robinson Crusoe...

    Standard English correction machines will put this as an error, but it is only perhaps a style error, and perhaps an audience error. We could even call it a grammar error. But it is not a logical error. There is no logical inconsistency because there are no possibilities for relationships that are not easily defined for the reader. No dialect of English, or any other language, will ever create a logical error. Neither will a small child.

    People’s brains are by nature very closely connected to grammatical rules, to relationships among words. So, when you make an error in writing by writing something against a rule, you cause a pause, an error reading, in the deepest level of the brain of your audience. You do not want to do this accidentally.

    To illustrate, have you ever laughed at the bad grammar as you heard a two-year-old say,

    I runned fastest, Mom!

    But don’t laugh too hard. This is still logically sound, though not grammatically sound. This is because the two-year-old knows the grammar rule, having already internalized it. They know that the rule in English is that in order to put a present tense verb, such as “to run,” into past tense, you add “ed” at the end of it. Thus, this is what the child did. The child hasn’t yet learned the exceptions to the rule. But they know the rule and you understand what they say.

    Your audience expects you to work with the rules.

    Often, funny examples like the following are given to illustrate how important these rules are for accurately conveying meaning—in this case, punctuation rules:


    It is good to have a working knowledge of what the following terms are, when you begin learning writing: adjective, adverb, noun, verb, and pronoun. Additionally, you should know the articles, conjunctions, and prepositions.

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