How to proofread efficiently and accurately
What is proofreading?
Proofreading is the final series of checks you run before submission or publication. Pure proofreading is normally limited to checking for spelling and punctuation errors and making sure that the style of the document is consistent throughout. However, there are some elements of the editing process you should recheck before submitting your work. This is especially important if English is not your first language. Proofreading is the final stage of the writing and editing process so don't start this unless you are sure that your text is complete.
- Leave plenty of time for proofreading before your planned submission date. You need time to check everything carefully.
- Put your draft aside for a day or two before you proofread. Looking at the text with fresh eyes can help you to spot errors you hadn't noticed before.
- Print a copy and check from that - you may spot errors which you didn't notice reading from a screen. You can also try using a different font (but remember to set it back to the correct font before submitting).
- Keep a list of of common errors you know you make (or which have been pointed out to you) and check for those.
- Read your paper aloud. This is a good way to spot if there is a sense of flow See the glossary definition to your writing. You can also record yourself reading the paper and then listen back to check if this sense of flow is present. This is also a good way to prepare if you need to explain or defend your ideas orally. Alternatively, get a colleague to read it aloud while you listen.
- Punctuation: Check that you have used capitalization See the glossary definition correctly.
- Check for comma splices See the glossary definition : commas used to incorrectly join two independent clauses.
- Punctuation: Check that you have used quotation marks See the glossary definition correctly (according to any style guide you need to follow).
- Check that any acronyms See the glossary definition you have used are correct and check whether you need a glossary of these in an appendix. Except for very common ones, acronyms are used only after the first mention in full.
- Use a spell checker, but be aware that a spell checker won't highlight typos like homophones See the glossary definition such as "there" for "their" (although grammar checkers should).
- Check your style guide See the glossary definition to see whether American or British spelling is required.
- Check that you have followed any required style guidelines See the glossary definition . These may include requirements concerning, fonts, font sizes, line spacings, margins, indents, headers, footers, page numbering, cover pages, titles, headings and so on.
- Check that you have followed the required referencing style See the glossary definition (MLA, APA, etc.). If you have any more than a very few quotations or paraphrases which you need to acknowledge you need to use referencing style See the reference management software or you will waste a lot of time keeping track of these and checking them.
- Check that very long quotations (more than 40 words) are formatted as block quotes See the glossary definition .
- Check that your reference list is complete and properly formatted according to the given style manual See the glossary definition .
- Check that the style of language you have used is appropriate for the intended audience See the glossary definition . There should be no inappropriate jargon, bias See the glossary definition , offensive language or unsuitable idioms See the glossary definition .
Paragraph Unity and Flow
- Check that each paragraph has a clear topic sentence See the glossary definition .
- Check paragraph unity See the glossary definition : that each paragraph has supporting sentences which are clearly related to the topic sentence.
- Check that any claims See the glossary definition you make have adequate support.
- Check that there is a natural, logical flow to your paragraphs and that you have used appropriate transitions See the glossary definition where necessary (not every transition needs to be signalled if the logical flow of the argument is clear).
- Technology: Use a grammar checker, but be aware that they are not infallible. Check carefully that any corrections they propose are acceptable and that they don't change your intended meaning.
- Technology: Use AI. If you use ChatGPT (and why wouldn't you?) make sure you also check the results yourself. It is not foolproof and it may make "corrections" which are not in fact correct or it may change the meaning of your sentence or paragraph.