Free Grammar Help — Proofreading
Proofreading is a complex skill, so it's beyond this page to be able to teach you everything you need to know. But there are some basic tips that will allow you to improve your writing significantly by finding errors and fixing them before submitting your written work. We offer proofreading and editing services, but you can do it yourself if you have a basic knowledge of grammar rules.
Although these steps are written in an order, I don't usually simply do the steps and consider the job done. I usually go over and over a paper several times to ensure I haven't missed anything. The thing is, our brains often proofread for us so we can't see the errors on the page. We know what the words are intended to say; unfortunately our readers don't, and the errors will jump out at them by obscuring your meaning.
I'm going to assume you already know what the parts of speech are and what I mean by run-on sentences and sentence fragments. You need to be able to spell as well. Probably the most important advice about spelling is to doubt yourself as much as possible. By this I mean that if you are not 100% certain that a word is spelled correctly, look it up. A good editor allows a little voice in the back of his/her head to pop up whenever it likes to say "That word looks funny. Is it spelled right?"
Three steps to better proofreading
- Read each sentence individually.
This means read a sentence and STOP! Read it slowly, identifying the subject, verb and predicate. This is the best way to identify run-on sentences and sentence fragments. Watch for sentences that begin with which. Even the best writer will create sentence fragments in the process of writing because their mind is focused on the content and ideas. Watch for words that are like the right word, but not the right word. One of my clients often writes "global warning" when she means "global warming." That's really hard to see. Some proofreaders read the work backwards, one sentence at a time, so they are not tempted to start thinking about the content. It's very hard to read an individual sentence without letting your mind start to think about the ideas. That's why I often re-read a paragraph several times before I'm sure I've looked at each sentence carefully by itself.
When reading individual sentences, you should be looking for little awkward phrases where you have misused prepositions or where you have redundant wording. This is where reading very slowly is key. Read it aloud to yourself. If you can, put everything out of your mind except the one sentence. Look at how each part fits together. Remember, the purpose of punctuation is to divide grammatical elements. Look for subject and verb and determine if each is sufficiently separated from the other subjects and verbs.
- Read each paragraph individually.
Ask yourself: "Where's the topic sentence?" "Does this paragraph have a central idea that all the sentences support?" "Are there irrelevant or superfluous sentences?" "Can I use transition words to connect this paragraph to the previous paragraph?" "Does this paragraph support my thesis?" Watch how the ideas flow.
- Look at how the paragraphs work together logically to develop and support the thesis.
This is like looking at the big picture and it is really more a part of editing for sense and flow than proofreading. But this is where you can really move your writing to the next level. If you've written a good outline, then you should see how your final essay matches the sequence of ideas in your outline. If your outline is rough (as mine often are) then you should be able to see how you've developed the thesis by introducing certain ideas and evidence, giving depth and background to them, discussing their importance to supporting your thesis. You should also have discussed any ideas that might contradict your ideas and tried to weight them against your own opinions.
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