Proofreading Your Writing Study Guide (page 3)
Proofreading Your Writing
Sometimes I think my writing sounds like I walked out of the room and left the typewriter running. - GENE FOWLER (1890–1960) AMERICAN JOURNALIST AND SCREENWRITER
You're in the home stretch now, and the final step is fun. In this lesson, you'll learn how to be a good proofreader. There are tricks here that will help you produce perfect essays every time.
At last, you've reached the final step in preparing your writing to be read by others. All your efforts at planning, writing, revising, and editing thus far have been focused on getting your ideas down on paper thoroughly and effectively. The last thing you need to do once all the writing and revising are done is proofread, which means checking your document to make sure that no errors in spelling, grammar, punctuation, or formatting have crept in.
This step may be the last, but it is far from the least. If you don't proofread carefully, you risk presenting your work in the worst possible light—full of avoidable errors that reflect badly on your skills and may result in a lowered grade or a negative response from your teacher. As with all the other steps in the writing process, the best strategy is to proceed slowly and carefully. Hold your imaginary magnifying glass in one hand and your pencil in the other, and look closely and critically at your work.
Is It Okay To Use Spell-Checking And Grammar-Checking Computer Programs?
The answer to this question is Yes, use them—but with extreme caution. Computer spell-checkers and grammar-checkers are wonderful aids for the writer, but they make lots of mistakes, and you must never rely on them totally. These checkers are huge programs full of lists of words and word combinations that might appear in written documents; it's as simple as that. The problem with spellcheckers is that they don't think; they simply look for words spelled correctly without regard to their usage. Note this sentence that passed the spell-checker program in Microsoft Word successfully:
My teacher promise me that she would gave me a good grade.
Technically, there are no spelling errors in this sentence. However, there are two grammatical errors. Can you find them? The sentence should actually look like this:
My teacher promised me that she would give me a good grade.
The spell-checker does not know that both verbs in the sentence need to be in the past tense. In fact, this sentence also made it through Microsoft Word's grammar-checker, which caught only one of the verb errors in the sentence.
Here's another sentence that the grammar-checking program let slip by. This step may be the last but it far from the least.
Note that the second clause of the sentence is missing a verb, and the sentence requires a comma before the word but. The program missed both errors, but your teacher wouldn't. Nor would your teacher miss capitalization errors, a common problem for spell-checking programs that don't contain many proper nouns. For example, if you wrote the words dunkin' donuts, the program might suggest that the word dunkin' is not spelled correctly, but it wouldn't remind you to capitalize this proper name. And of course it would not know that Dunkin' Donuts is an actual proper name that is always spelled that way on purpose by the company's owners.
Never rely on spell-checkers or grammar-checkers. Use them only for a quick run-through on your computer, and then print your essay and get out your pencil to do the real work of proofreading.
How To Be A Good Proofreader
Professional writers learn, over time, the mistakes they frequently make, and they take extra care to be on the alert for those errors. You may not have had enough experience writing and proofing your own work to be aware of your error patterns. However, there are four common kinds of errors writers make that you should always check for when proofreading your own or anyone else's writing.
1. Check for Run-ons and Fragments
|Run-ons and sentence fragments are the two most common errors made by student writers. Do not overlook them; there is no excuse for these in your writing. Reading your essay aloud, slowly, should help you catch any of these your eye doesn't catch on careful reading.|
2. Check for Agreement in Your Sentences
|Pairing a singular verb with a plural noun, or a plural noun with a singular verb—these are common student writing errors. Here is a typical error:|
|Jeremy, like most kids, don't want to do homework on the weekends.|
|Be careful always to note the actual subject of the sentence and pair it with the proper verb. In this case, Jeremy is the subject, so the verb in the sentence should be the singular doesn't.|
|You must also be on the lookout for incorrect pronoun use. Students too often pair a singular pronoun with a plural noun, or a plural pronoun with a singular noun.|
|Jeremy, like most boys, wants their weekends free.|
|Here the writer has paired a plural pronoun (their) with the singular subject of the sentence. It is the plural word (boys) in the clause in between the noun and the verb that has caused the writer to make the error. The verb in this sentence is correct. Jeremy is the subject of the sentence; he alone is doing the acting.|
3. Check for Misspelling of Confusing Words
|Confusing words often get missed by writers who are not proofing slowly and carefully enough. Pay particular attention to word pairs such as your/you're,they're/their/there, affect/effect, and advise/advice. Similarly, watch out for frequently confused verbs such as lie/lay, sit/set, and lend/loan. Review Lesson 18 to make sure you've got all these confusing pairs straight in your mind.|
4. Check for Punctuation and Capitalization Errors
|Incorrect punctuation and capitalization are the easiest mistakes to overlook. As you're proofreading, make sure that
Be Sure To Format Your Essay Properly
Look back at your written assignment, or recall your teacher's usual instructions, to make sure that you have formatted your essay properly. You don't want to be penalized or evaluated negatively because of mechanical errors. If you are using a computer, make sure that you have adjusted your margins correctly, and that your paragraphs break correctly. If you are handwriting your essay, make sure you have left time to write out a clean, perfect final copy, with no words left out, and no cross-outs or smudges. An essay that looks neat is bound to make a good first impression.
Professional Proofreading Techniques
|1.||Do not proofread when you are tired and up against a tight deadline. You are certain to miss errors. Plan to have at least an hour's rest between your last revision and your final proofreading. Ideally, let your essay rest overnight before you proofread and print out the final version.|
|2.||Read your essay aloud—very, very slowly. Reading silently at a normal pace is likely to allow you to miss errors. Often the sound of your voice making a verb error, or a pronoun agreement error, will alert you to a problem.|
|3.||Read only one line at a time. Do this by printing out your essay, and then cover it with another piece of paper from the bottom of the page, leaving visible only one sentence at a time. This technique will focus your eyes more narrowly and enable you to consider sentences word by word.|
|4.||Read backward. Publishers use this technique to proofread the text they plan to put on book jackets. Reading backward, word by word, helps the proofreader to catch spelling errors.|
|5.||Slow down. This is the most important strategy of all. Reading aloud in a normal voice or reading silently at a normal rate may not help you catch all errors.|
Practice: Proofreading Practice
Proofread the following passage. Circle and correct all the errors you find. Then list briefly the kinds of errors this writer has made.
Hint: There are ten errors in this very short passage. My friend Janet and I decide that we would bake brownis to take to the sleepover that our Gossip Girls Club was planning for Saturday night. We look up a recipe on the Internet, and we checked to see if my mom has all the ingredients we needed. Sure enough, everything was their and ready. Then we went into my bedroom to chose what outfits I should wear, and we got distract figuring out a new hairstyle for me. Suddenly the time was late, the cookies never got made we were in a hurry to get ready to go. I guess cookies were just not meant to be that saturday!
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