How Do I Proofread My Papers?

  1. Proofread immediately after the creative phase—and later.

Let time pass before you proofread a second time. It is a good idea to proofread immediately after writing something, but it is also a good idea to let some time pass before you proofread it a second time. The problem with proofreading immediately is that you know what you meant to write, so it is easy to read a draft and think that you have said what you meant to say.

After you write something, proofread it. For example, after you write an e-mail or a short memo or letter, read it and correct obvious errors. Then, after time passes, proofread it again. In the case of a short e-mail, you may simply wait a minute, then proofread it again. In the case of a longer document, you may wait a day, then proofread it again.

Sometimes, when you are in the creative phase and turning out page after page, you may want to let the proofreading go until later. However, you should always proofread your work before having it reviewed.

  1. If your paper is short and you won’t bother anyone, read it out loud.

Read your draft out loud. If you have written a short draft, and if you will bother no one by reading it out loud, do so. This can help you catch missing or repeated (the the) words, and if a sentence sounds funny, you need to look at it to see if it needs to be revised.

  1. Read your draft more than once, and check something different each time.

What are some of the things you should focus on during successive readings of your draft?

  • Format: The first time you proofread your paper, you can check the format and make sure that you are using the correct, conventional letter, memo, academic paper, or book format.
  • Content: The second time you proofread your paper, you can check the content and make sure that you have included all essential information and made the persuasive points you wish to make.
  • Spelling, Punctuation, Grammar: The third time you check your paper, you can proofread to make sure that you are not making mechanical errors.
  1. Check everything that looks odd or you are unsure about.

For example, you ought to double-check names that look odd to be sure that they are spelled correctly.

  1. Proofread even short papers.

Even short memos and e-mails ought to be proofread before you send them.

  1. Use computer aids—but be aware that they can’t do everything.

What is wrong with simply using a spelling checker and not doing any other proofreading? The problem is that a spelling checker simply matches the words in the paper with the words in its dictionary. It has no way of knowing that you mistyped “take” as “rake,” so it will regard “rake” as correct. For example:

I have a spelling checker,

It came with my PC

It plane lee marks four my revue,

Miss steaks aye can knot sea.

— By Jerry Zar, Dean of the Graduate School, Northwestern Illinois University

  1. Attack your weaknesses.

Are you making the same mistakes over and over? If so, sit down and study and learn not to make those mistakes. Study any handouts I have given or will give you about common errors in grammar and punctuation. Try not to make the mistakes you have made previously. It’s up to you to learn this; your teacher can’t learn it for you (and your teacher gets tired of marking the same mistakes over and over on student papers).

  1. Learn by revising.

If you have time, you should make your paper better than merely competent. By making revisions, you are learning to write better. For example, by adding topic sentences to a draft, you are learning to use topic sentences. At Ohio University, it can be a good idea to go to the computer and make corrections after a paper has been graded, marked, and handed back to you. By making the corrections now, you are learning to avoid making those errors in the future.

Good Advice

Always run the spelling checker before you quit your word processing program.

  • Proofread your draft both on the computer and on paper.
  • Proofread both immediately after writing and after some time has passed.
  • If you can, get one or more reviews by someone who knows grammar and punctuation well.

How Do I Use a Computer To Help Proofread My Papers 

Do You Sometimes Put Two Spaces Between Words?

If you are using a computer, be aware that most word progressing programs have a FIND command that is often located in the EDIT menu. You can have the computer find all the places where you have two spaces in a row in your communication, then you can delete the unnecessary space.

Note: After a period, you may use either one space or two. I recommend having one space.

Do You Make Mistakes Often When Using Such Word Pairs as Then and Than?

If you know that you often make mistakes with certain words (for example, then and than), here is one way to help yourself correct that kind of mistake. After you have typed your paper, use your word-processing program to find the words you have trouble with. For example, if you have problems using then and than, use the FIND command (the FIND command is often found in an EDIT menu) to find all occurrences of then and check that they are correct, then to find all occurrences of than and check that they are correct.

Of course, you can also use this technique to find problems with other word pairs:

who/whom versus that — use who and whom to refer to people

you/your — sometimes a student will type you instead of your, as in “Thank you for you time.”

there/they’re/their, your/you’re, its/it’s, etc.

Are You Wordy?

If you often write “due to the fact that,” search for that phrase, then replace it with “because.”

If you often write “despite the fact that,” search for that phrase, then replace it with “although.”

Finding Definitions

A quick way to find definitions on the WWW is to search for “define aegis” or whatever word you need to know the definition for.

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