Proofreading is essential in everything you write. In today’s world, people tend not to proofread e-mails, text messages, tweets, and so on, and with your friends, that’s acceptable. But anytime you are writing where it matters how you are perceived, presenting your ideas in a clear, correct, and consistent manner gives the impression you know what you’re talking about and care about what you say. Others will then care, also. Proofreading gives your writing that final polish to make your work shine.

Covered in This Chapter

  • The value of proofreading. Allows for accurate work so your reader is not distracted by errors and is confident in the value of your ideas.
  • What is proofreading? Read carefully to look for errors in spelling, grammar, punctuation, and sense and readability.
  • Checking the Three Cs. Ensures your work is clear, correct, and consistent.
  • Proofread in stages. Following a methodical process helps you more easily catch errors.

The Value of Proofreading

As noted earlier in this book, if your writing contains errors, you have a lot to lose:

  • The readers’ attention. Even minor mistakes distract the readers from your message.
  • Your credibility. If the small things aren’t accurate, your readers may question the big things—like the validity of your idea.

Okay, you say. But I have a spell-checker, a grammar-checker, and even a thesaurus on my computer. Isn’t that enough?

Well, no. There’s far more to proofreading than looking for typos, and even some of those will slip by your software, like these classics:

The speaker apologized for being a little horse. The contract becomes effective after we all sing it.

It takes a human being to catch blunders such as those and to keep things consistent—no software program will prevent you from using Professor Dyson in one place and professor Dyson someplace else.

Proofreading is crucial to your writing, and it certainly takes attention to do it, but it doesn’t have to be daunting. It’s a simple routine that will reap consistent rewards. The easy instructions and proven tips given here will help ensure that whatever you write is clear, correct, and consistent – the essential Three Cs of good communication.

What Is Proofreading?

At its most basic, proofreading means reading a piece of writing very care- fully, word for word. When you sit down to proofread your final draft, look for errors in:

  • Spelling. Choose one dictionary to use (print or online), and look up any and all words you’re unsure of.
  • Grammar and usage. Following accepted grammar rules means that your writing is presented in a way that your readers will be familiar with and be receptive to. As with spelling, take the time to look up any gram- mar or usage point that you’re unsure of.
  • Punctuation. Punctuation marks are like road signs—there to guide the readers to hear what you say in the way you want them to. Be sure punctuation is accurate so it helps the readers understand clearly what you’re saying, with all the pauses and emphasis you intend.
  • Capitalization. Be sure capitalization is used where it should be and isn’t overused in a way that distracts the readers and calls extra attention to items that don’t need to be highlighted.
  • Numerical or alphabetical sequence. If you have anything listed in numerical or alphabetical order—like a list of items or your bibliography—ensure items are in the order they should be.
  • Formatting. All “elements” should be used consistently—for example, all paragraphs indented the same, all page numbers in the same place on the page.
  • Consistency. Ensure that whatever decisions you’ve made are presented consistently—for example, all numbers spelled out, website always lower- cased and one word.
  • Sense and readability. If you have to read anything more than once to understand it, then it probably could benefit from being written more clearly.

Never, ever assume. Don’t presume something questionable is correct. For anything you’re unsure of, take the time to stop and look it up.

Extra Help

Before you begin proofreading an electronic document, preserve the original and create your working copy by saving it as a new file with an altered file name. This way, if you accidentally change or delete some- thing you didn’t mean to, you have the original version as a reference.

Checking the Three Cs

Every proofread has the same aim—to make sure the finished writing and its presentation on the page are clear, correct, and consistent. There are some simple procedures to help you do that.

Consider a Style Sheet

A style sheet is simply a list, usually alphabetical, of anything you want to keep consistent in a piece of writing. Will you use OK or okay, Web or web, five or 5? All are legitimate, but you need to pick one form and use it wherever that term appears throughout a document. You can add words, abbreviations, numbers, punctuation conventions, and anything else that could be done more than one way, or anything that you just want to remember.

For a short piece of writing like an essay, a style sheet is not vital, but if you are writing a long piece, it can be an important tool, saving you time and ensuring consistency in your writing.

Consider a Checklist

In addition to or instead of a style sheet, it’s helpful to have a checklist to remind you of what to look for as you proofread. Items on your list would be similar to those mentioned in Chapter 9, but they might also be items you have changed your mind about in one place and you want to make sure you change everywhere—like the spelling or capitalization of a name. You can make your own checklist, or use one prepared by a professional and adapt it to your needs.

Extra Help

As you proofread, when you come to a word, phrase, or grammar rule you want to look up, instead of stopping to look it up, flag it in some way and look up all items at once. This way you don’t break the flow of your reading.

Proofread in Stages

Just as you should review and revise your final draft in stages, the best way to ensure a thoroughly checked, consistent piece of writing is to proofread it systematically, in stages. When you pay attention to just one element at a time you’ll catch more mistakes.

For proofreading long pieces of writing, we recommend an Eight Stages of Proofreading process, the guidelines of which can be found in Appendix E: Proofreading in Stages. For proofreading your essay, however, following these steps may be just what you need.

1. First, carefully read the text of the document, word for word, checking for and correcting errors in spelling, grammar, punctuation, and consistency. Also, as you read, ask yourself, “Does this make sense?” If something doesn’t, take the time to fix it.

As you come to words, phrases, grammar rules, facts, or anything else that you need to look up, don’t stop reading to look them up. Instead, highlight them in some way to look up later. This way you won’t lose the flow of what you’re reading, and you’ll be able to see the material in the way your readers will.

2. Now take the time to look up all the items you noted. If you find something that needs to be changed, change it immediately. If it’s something you think needs to be changed in more than one place in your essay, take the time to change it everywhere. The Find and Replace feature in word-processing programs is immensely helpful for this part of the process.

3. Look through the whole document one more time, just to be sure there’s nothing visually jarring or obviously out of place. Run a final spell-check, and in web documents, make sure all the navigation tools work.

Extra Help

If possible, ask someone else – someone with good spelling and gram- mar skills who is detail oriented – to proofread your essay for you. When you’ve looked at a piece of writing over and over, you tend to see what you expect to see and don’t always see what’s actually there. If you don’t have someone qualified to proofread your essay for you, that’s okay. Just take your time, pay close attention, look up anything you’re unsure of, and you’ll do a great job.

Practice Proofreading

Test your proofreading skills by correcting the errors and inconsistencies in the following memo.

Curent social, economic, and political circumstances have created more job opportunties for employees’ fluent in more than one language. At the same time unfortunately due to a lack of funding, many colleges have been forced to eliminate some of their language learning classes.

PDU recently asked students to indicate which class times they would pre- fer for language-learning classes. The result follows:

1. 7:00 A.M.–8:00 A.M. (M–F 39.2%)

2. 6:00 P.M.–7:00 P.M. M–F 10.4%)

3. 9:00 A.M.–10:00 A.M. (Saturday, 26.8%)

An additional 23,6% indicated other times, including Sunday mornings, Sunday evenings. and Saturday evenings.

With these results, the college determined they would hold language leaming classes each weekday from 7 A.M. to 8 A.M. and Saturdays from 9 A.M. to 10 A.M.

A Final Word

Proofreading is all about details, about getting the little things right. When you do, those little things can add up to something big—writing that’s mem- orable for all the right reasons and none of the wrong ones.