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Proofreading 2Are you one of those writers who have a lot to say and can say it well, but who seems to have a blind spot for finding your own spelling errors or misplaced commas? If so, take heart!

After nearly a quarter of a century helping college students improve their writing skills, I’m convinced that it is possible to improve your proofreading ability. It takes concentration, effort, and a willingness to spend a little more time with your writing than you might normally want to do, but in the end what a difference it can make in the quality of your final product! Yes, you may still have to rely on the extra-sharp eyes of a professional (That’s why we’re here!) for a final go-through, but just imagine how much more satisfying it will feel when you can catch some of those pesky errors for yourself!

So if you were unfortunate enough to miss the lesson in school on basic proofreading techniques or are just looking for a  quick review, here are five tried and true ones to get you started.

  1. Be sure to use Spell Check and Grammar Check (or similar programs) but do not rely solely on them. Neither one can read your mind and know what you really wanted to say. Spell Check, for example, will not flag a word like “defiantly,” even though you meant “definitely.” Grammar Check is still not sophisticated enough — and may never be — to cover every possible variation in sentence structure and punctuation available in English.
  2. Don’t proofread immediately after you finish writing something. Put it away for at least an hour, and then come back to it with a clear mind and fresh eyes.
  3. Proofread for only one error at a time. It seems redundant but will help you focus on finding just those words that need apostrophes (or not!) or on searching out all those places where there are missing words and/or word endings.
  4. Use a ruler or your finger to slow down your eye so that you see exactly what is on the page and not what you know should be there.
  5. Read your paper out loud to yourself, again reading only what’s actually on the page. This technique is especially helpful for finding awkward or missing wording or incomplete sentence structure. If it doesn’t sound right to you, then it’s definitely not going to make sense to your reader!

These five techniques have proved to be helpful to other writers who struggle with finding their own pesky errors. Hopefully, they’ll prove helpful to you! But practice makes perfect, so stay tuned.

For the next several weeks, I’ll be posting short proofreading exercises for those who want to test their own ability to find errors in word usage, apostrophes, and sentence punctuation.

Join the fun!