Proofreading is usually mind-numbingly dull, and it can seem utterly pointless, but by leaving yourself time to go over your work you can almost always make significant improvements to it. The problem is that it’s harder than it looks. Many people find themselves rushing through the process minutes before a deadline, whilst others go over their work time and again in a dazed state. Both methods are generally a waste of time, during which you notice very few of the biggest and most common mistakes.
I’ve found the following techniques can make the proofreading process worthwhile:
- Read your work in different mediums. Once you’ve finished your work read it digitally, as carefully as possible, and make the necessary amendments. Then print off the second draft and proof it again. You’ll read the hard copy in an entirely different way, and notice new mistakes and inconsistencies.
- Try reading aloud. When you read mentally you go quickly, and whilst you’ll likely pick up most obvious spelling mistakes and grammatical errors, it’s very hard to get a feel for the structure and tone of your work. Reading aloud helps you to notice structural mistakes, lengthy sentences, and any inconsistencies in tone of voice.
- Consult your plan. In the case of an essay, it is particularly important to ensure that each paragraph transmits its point clearly and effectively. Cut out any lengthy sentences that do not add to your overall argument, and ensure that your argument comes across clearly throughout the essay. If you are writing an article, be sure to compare the finished draft to your original notes or the factual information that you are basing it on.
- Be sceptical. Don’t assume that your work is perfect, or the best that you can do, because it isn’t. Make the time to proofread, so that you can complete the above points, and then show your finished efforts to a trusted friend – ideally someone who knows about the subject matter.
- Take time to cool off. Ideally, and depending on the length of your work, you’ll have a first draft finished at least a week before the deadline. This gives you the opportunity to leave it for a couple of days, so that your thoughts are no longer so caught up in the details. When you return to it, you’ll be proofreading in a distanced, more objective manner, and you’ll almost certainly spot mistakes that would otherwise have gone unnoticed.
However scaremongering it sounds, proofreading can make the difference between a degree class, the success or failure of your job application, and whether the first chapter of your novel gets a second read, or goes straight into the bin.
Written for Razz by Gregory Hoare, Exeter graduate, now working as a copywriter for Stratton Craig.