I am one of the world’s worst at proof-reading my own work. I’m quite good at revising, but not so good at the final checks. Regular readers of this blog will sometimes spot the odd proofreading omission – the good news is that I usually pick it up, albeit often after a few days 😦 .
Proof-reading isn’t an easy thing to do – most writers are inclined to see what we thought we’d written, rather than what we actually have. We miss the odd spelling mistake, missing comma, over long sentence, the too often repeated word. It’s hardly surprising we miss these slip ups as most pieces of writing that are ready for proof-reading have been through multiple drafts and revisions. The proof-reading trick is to try to make the text appear unfamiliar and strange, almost as if someone else had written it.
So here’s a few tactics that can help:
- Leave the text for a week or so before reading it. It is then less close and immediate and the time may allow you to get some distance on it.
- Print it out. If you’re used to reading the text on the screen, then printing it out can give you a new view.
- Print it out in a new font. You’ve looked at the text in your usual font for long time – changing it might provide you with a new look.
- Read the text aloud. This can help you to hear klutzy syntax, missing and misplaced words … and you might also spot commas and full stops in the wrong places. However, like reading, writers often say what they think they have written so this isn’t fool proof! One way to deal with this is to
- Ask someone else to read the paper for errors. Get them to mark the things you need to check. If you co-author, then this is something that you can do for each other.
- Use a ruler to guide your reading, either silent or out loud. The ruler forces you to read line by line rather than skip through.
- Use the computer to check for obvious grammar and spellos. Even if it picks up things that you don’t agree to, it still allows you to look at selected bits of text more closely.
- Circle all of the full stops and check each one. This forces you to look at whether the stops are in the right place but it also shows you sentences, short and long. Holding the paper at arms length allows you to see how many sentences you’ve crammed into one paragraph – are there too many or too few do you think?
- Check your known common mistakes – keep a list of the things you do incorrectly and use this as a check list
The most important thing of course is not to rush. Rushing almost always means that there are things you won’t see. Taking time to proofread is particularly important if you are sending a paper into a journal or submitting a thesis. Sloppy proofreading gives the critical reader the impression of very sloppy scholarship. This is not something you want someone who sits in judgment on your work to think. So do, do make the time it takes … Proof-reading matters.
Do you have any additional tactics that you use with proof-reading?