Proofread Your Writing

16 Aug


by editor SemperFi

Being a skilled writer certainly has its benefits. In fact, a knack for writing can open new doors in your profession; opportunities you might never have believed were available. As you learned in school, your writing reflects who you are as an individual. It is a calling card of sorts, by which others can-and frequently do-judge your aptitude. Writing is the intellectual equivalent to a smartly fitted suit or the steely-eyed determination that sets you apart from the competition. Then again, anyone can buy a suit or learn to affect an expression of fortitude; it takes a bit more work to make sure your writing paints the portrait of you that you want others to see. But even if you have the talent and ability to write the Great American Novel, no writer can achieve success unless she or he scrutinizes the text to ensure its accuracy. That process begins with the simplest first step available to anyone, proofreading.

No matter how well turned the sentence, paragraph, section or chapter, if your writing is plagued by misspellings, annoying grammatical errors or even poor formatting, you’ll disappoint a significant part of your reading audience. Now those types of errors may not make a pronounced difference to your texting buddies (ur2kewl), but submit a resume that says you’re from Tuscaloosalabama (Tuscaloosa, AL), and it’s likely you won’t get the job. If your writing isn’t crisp, tight and accurate, you may not receive the proceeds from that proposal, land that new job, get into that school or score that next publishing contract. So how do you improve your chances in these endeavors? By writing smooth, crisp copy. Here’s how you can learn to proofread your own documents to ensure they reflect positively on you, the author.

Tools of the Trade

No Marine goes into combat without a weapon, no home-builder shows up to the job site without a saw and no surgeon can operate without instruments. In short, all of us need the tools of our trade to be effective in our jobs. Likewise, a writer must be prepared for every facet of writing by arming her or himself with fundamental instruments such as a dictionary, a thesaurus and a style manual. Of course, simply owning the tools won’t help your writing-you’ve actually got to learn to use them.

Every word processor has an embedded spellchecker but none of these software tools is flawless. When your trusty word processor informs you that a word is spelled incorrectly, double check its accuracy by referring to your dictionary.

In addition to spelling, your word processor may also offer help with synonyms and antonyms-the thesaurus feature-for selected words. Using such a tool will help rid your writing of repeated words thus making your text less tedious and therefore more interesting.

Finally, there’s the style manual. Within the last year, MLA and Turabian have both undergone substantial revisions (note the use of single spacing between the sentences in this article). If you are involved with academics, you’ll need a style manual such as APA, Chicago, MLA or Turabian depending on your institution. Even more important is the fact that your word processor is practically useless when it comes to assisting you with stylistic suggestions. True, you can tell your computer to alert you to improper spacing between sentences, punctuation in or outside quotation marks and punctuation within lists (APA and MLA have vastly different opinions on this latter issue), but only the style manual can tell you accurately whether your references should be called a list of “works cited” or a list of “references.” In business, several different style manuals are used, chief among them the AP Stylebook or the Strunk and White reference. This list is certainly not all-inclusive, so make it a point to become familiar with the style guide to which your firm adheres before you submit that first proposal.

Don’t edit while you write.

As you begin writing, allow yourself to complete the thought before going back to edit it. A conscientious writer will always revise his work before submitting it, but the revision process can begin only after the writing is done. When you sit down to write your essay, report or chapter, keep at it until you’re finished. Steadfastly resist the urge to tweak that last sentence or paragraph until it sounds perfect in your mind; after all, the text that follows that heavily edited passage may change its meaning. Even worse, you may cause yourself to compromise the intent of that critical succeeding text because you’ve invested so much time and effort into the preceding portions.

Above all else, the goal of your writing should be to finish the job. True, extensive research is required for certain projects, be they your thesis or the manuscript of your novel, but once you’ve assembled that research, invest yourself completely in the writing. When you’re finally satisfied that you’ve crafted a work that has a logical beginning, middle and end, save your work-twice-before you start the revision process.

Ready, set, proofread.

When you’re finished writing, re-read the prompt or the assignment. With that background information fresh in your mind, begin reading what you’ve written. If you’re more comfortable reading your work in printed form then by all means print a copy; otherwise, grab a cup of coffee and simply start reading. Don’t correct yet, just read your text from beginning to end. If you think your work responds adequately to the original writing prompt when you’ve finished reading, then you’re ready to proofread your work. But if you’re unsure whether you’ve answered the mail, highlight the critical elements of the assignment, compare the prompt to your work and revise your text as necessary.

When you’re satisfied that the writing portion of your task is complete, then it’s time to proofread. One of the most effective ways to begin this process is by working from the outside in. For example, make sure that your margins are correct per the style in which you’ve written the document (APA, MLA, etc.). Ensure the headings are appropriately boldfaced and that the citations are noted correctly. Make certain that your name is on the report, that it’s paginated correctly and that your contact information is both present and correct. Now, it’s time to get into the deep end of the pool.

If possible, read your text aloud so that you, just like your readers, will be forced to interact with the words. PC-based proofreading will allow you to highlight and correct errors as you identify them. For printed or typed text, keep a pencil handy to circle errors. Your first pass through the document is for content. Make sure that your sentences are complete, that your parentheses and quotation marks are closed appropriately and that any run-on sentences-the kind that make you take a breath before you’re able to finish reading them-benefit from an additional period or two. When you’ve made all the corrections from that first pass, scan the document again to ensure that the corrections really fixed the error that jumped out at you and that the corrections themselves are correct. After all, it’s great to substitute a synonym for a word that you’ve used too often, but if you spell that replacement word incorrectly by typing “there” rather than “their” for example, then you’ll only have added to your misery. Your PC-based spellchecker won’t catch that error, either.

During your second pass, check closely for spelling errors of the type mentioned previously. Your word processor probably contains a very capable spellchecker but whether you’re proofing on-screen or off, double check every questionable word. Also, review your text for words that you’ve inadvertently repeated, and phrases, clichés or incorrect subject-verb agreement. It’s here that your dictionary, style manual and thesaurus will become invaluable.

Wrap it up.

You’ve made sure that your text says what you want it to say, you’ve scoured it for misspellings, lone quotation marks, names that aren’t capitalized or ordinary words that are, and you’ve even made sure that the font is appropriate for the task behind your writing (hint: academics frown on using Comic Sans MS). Moreover, your margins, paragraph indentations, headers and footers are all uniform and correct. Now, make certain that the printer you intend to use can handle the job. After all, the last thing you want is a laser device that leaves toner droppings all over your pages thus turning your crisp white sheets into something akin to recycled newspaper sections. After all, when your reader picks up two identical submissions and one appears significantly neater than the other does, she’ll probably select the one that’s more visually appealing. Your job in proofreading is to ensure that your product wins.

Proofreading references.

Proofreading becomes easier over time.
If you make writing errors repetitively, such as comma splices or subject-verb agreement, tab your style manual for ready reference.
If you’re proofing your document on a PC with Internet access, take advantage of Web-based dictionaries and thesauruses.
If you find the process of proofreading overwhelming, seek the assistance of a capable editor.
Above all, never submit a document until you’ve proofread it completely. Once it’s gone, you can’t get it back.

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One Response to “Proofread Your Writing”

  1. Hor Mengheang October 25, 2010 at 10:34 pm #

    It is very good instruction in writing professionally. It is a huge contribution to the learners who wish to improve the writing skill.

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