Even skilled writers are susceptible to typos and grammatical errors. The best way to avoid these mistakes is to carefully proofread your work. If you have an important document to submit or content piece to publish, I recommend taking a few extra moments to proofread your writing in the following ways before considering it “final”:
1. Read From a Hard Copy – It can seem wasteful to print the document if you can just as easily proof it on the screen. But, in my experience, errors are easier to catch if you print and read it from the hard copy. It changes the experience and somehow makes typos easier to catch. I also find this tactic helpful when I want to review the overall format of the document—it’s easier for me to see it all laid out in front of me rather than trying to check for consistency by scrolling from page to page on my computer. Just be sure to recycle the paper once you’re done proofreading.
2. Read Aloud – As silly as it feels, I find reading the piece aloud to be one of the best ways to uncover writing errors. When you read aloud, you’re less likely to fill in missing words or glance over a spelling mistake. This is also a great way to catch any awkward sentences or strange pacing issues.
3. Read Backwards – One of my college English professors taught me this trick and I’ve found it be quite helpful. Start with the very last sentence of your piece and read one sentence at a time, working from the bottom up. This works exceptionally well to isolate the writing from the context so that you don’t overlook errors or hard-to-follow passages.
While I am often able to juggle several projects simultaneously, I find that proofreading is one task that needs my full attention. I need to limit my distractions by turning my phone on silent, closing my laptop screen and finding a quiet, private area to work. I also prefer to edit with a pen in a color other than black so that it’s easy to find my comments when I go back to revise. My best tip for proofing is to give yourself plenty of time—I’ve never had good results when I try to rush through a piece.
I hope you find these steps helpful the next time you have an important writing assignment due.