Think about cooking a meal. Some people like to clean up as they go because they find the lingering mess distracting.
Others prefer to clean up at the very end because they think stopping to clean up gets in the way of the artistic process. Either way, the goal is the same – a good meal and a clean kitchen. Writing is similarly idiosyncratic and however we go about the process, the goal of good writing, correctly presented, is the same.
We believe that the goal should always be error free writing and the reason for this is simple; our ideas are only as good as our ability to express them and each time a mechanical error is made in our writing, the expression of our ideas is diminished and our credibility suffers.
Correctness matters. And, since writing correct prose is a complicated process and human error is inevitable, it is necessary to have some sort of system for locating and fixing those errors. This is no easy process, especially for those who use English as an additional language.
The production of error-free writing can be very challenging; it is a learning process that takes time, attention and practice. Here are a few tips to help you develop a better system of editing and proofreading.
Know something about yourself.
Are you the kind of person who likes to clean up your writing as you go? Or do you just let it flow and clean up at the end? Do you make the same kinds of errors over and over again? What are those errors? Are there patterns? Do you leave enough time for editing and proofreading? Ask these kinds of questions.
Knowing this about yourself allows you to organize your time accordingly and to develop a more targeted approach to proofreading.
Understand your own limitations as a proof-reader.
Most writers tend to think that simply re-reading their completed writing a few times will be enough to locate and fix errors, but this doesn’t work very well.
Our focus as a proofreader of our own writing is upon the content and not the mechanics, so we tend to be a bit “blind” to the errors that would be apparent to others.
What we need is a more systematic approach to proofreading that focuses our attention on the sentence-level mechanics.
Be a systematic proof-reader.
Your goal as a proof-reader is to find and fix mechanical errors.(This is different than “revision” which is the process of re-working and organizing the content and flow of your ideas – something that should precede proofreading). To be successful at this, then, requires focus.
Here are a few things to try:
- Proofread your writing with a specific mechanical error in mind. For example, if you tend to make errors with commas, proofread with a focus on identifying and fixing errors in comma usage only. Then, proofread again with a focus on something else, say subject-verb agreement. And so on.
- Proofread out loud. We are much more likely to notice our mistakes when we hear them. This won’t work for every kind of mechanical error but does work well for run-on sentences and incorrect word choices.
- Read backwards. Some people find this helps, particularly if spelling is your issue. Reading backwards will help you to isolate words and find incorrect spelling or typos.
- Take time. Proofreading requires sufficient attention to be successful. Even the best, most careful writers will make mistakes during the writing process. It is inevitable. So, give proofreading the attention it deserves. Give yourself enough time for this, and do it in stages. A quick re-read just before submitting your assignment will never be enough.