When I was in college almost 50 years ago, I was using a typewriter rather than a computer, and I didn’t have a spell checker or a grammar checker on my machine. Fortunately, today, I have access to these modern devices, and I usually find and correct most of my mistakes rather quickly. Fortunately, too, most of my students are smart enough to use the spell checkers and grammar checkers on their computers. Unfortunately, too many students rely on them exclusively. Since these modern tools are not perfect, however, here are five old-fashioned proofreading techniques for you to consider.
Let your paper sit overnight. The mistake that some students make is they proofread their papers right after they finish writing. This is a problem because you can’t see your own errors at that point; you’re still too close to the actual writing of the paper. Ideally, you should finish the paper well in advance, so you can let it sit overnight before you proofread it. A full night’s rest will give you the separation you need to look at the paper with fresh eyes in the morning. Believe it or not, some of your errors will jump out at you at that point, and you can make the appropriate changes.
Let someone else read the paper. You can also benefit by having a second set of fresh eyes, someone who has not seen the paper before. This person may be a classmate, a friend, a relative — anyone who is serious and objective. After all, if you were a professional writer, you would probably have a professional editor or a professional proofreader looking over your work. Thus, until you reach that level as a writer, you should find someone who is willing to help you, and you can return the favor by offering to read for that person, as well.
Read your paper aloud — slowly. If you don’t have anyone who is willing or capable of reading for you, you can help yourself by reading the paper aloud and by reading slowly. When you read your own work without speaking, you tend to see words that aren’t even on the page because you thought of writing those words, and you meant to write them, but you didn’t. When you read aloud, though, you notice that words are missing, and you might also notice that certain word combinations don’t work well together. Note, too, that you should read aloud even your punctuation marks: comma, hyphen, apostrophe, colon, semicolon, dash, and period. Otherwise, you may skip over these marks too quickly and defeat the overall purpose of the slow, methodical reading.
Read your paper syllable by syllable. Yes, this method is time consuming and requires you to be meticulous, but you will catch most of your spelling errors this way. For example, if you see the words “con-sum-ing” and “me-tic-u-lous” broken down by syllable, you’re much more likely to see a missing letter, a repeated letter, or an incorrect letter.
Read your paper backwards. This method sounds really crazy, but, again, it’s especially effective for catching spelling errors. When you read from left to right and top to bottom, you usually find yourself reading not only for spelling errors but also for content. Thus, thinking about content may prevent you from seeing your spelling mistakes. Reading from right to left and bottom to top should prevent you from focusing on the content and allow you to focus exclusively on the spelling of each word. Thus, you should read this sentence in this way: “way this in sentence this read should you Thus.”
Is proofreading really that important? Yes, it is. After all, you could have the best paper in the world, but if your instructor is constantly distracted by spelling, grammatical, and punctuation errors, you’re probably not going to receive the grade you desire. So rather than view proofreading as a minor task at the end of the research process, try to finish your writing well in advance of your deadline, so you can take your time and proofread carefully and thoroughly.