Rhetoric and Composition/Proofreading

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Proofreading[edit]

Traditionally, proofreading means carefully reviewing the "page proofs," or the preliminary versions of a document just before it goes to press. At this stage, authors, editors, and professional proofreaders are concerned only with typographical and other minor errors. Major changes should have occurred at the editing and revising stage.

Professional readers usually rely on a series of special annotations called proofreaders' marks. Your teacher may or may not use these or require you to use them. Modern techniques such as the "track changes and comments" feature in Microsoft Word and other word processors have greatly reduced the need for these marks, but they are still used by many publishers and teachers. You do not need to know these marks, however, to proofread your own work.

What teachers generally mean by "proofreading" is your final scan of a piece of writing before it is submitted to be graded. Typically, this means carefully reading over your work to catch and fix small errors, such as misspellings or missing commas. Taking time to properly proofread your work can make a substantial difference in the grades you receive on your writing assignments. It shows you care about your work and the teacher's time.

Proofreading Basics[edit]

Most of us are familiar with the concept of "speed reading," and may be quite good at skimming through large reading assignments very quickly. However, the same traits that make us good speed readers hurt us when it comes to proofreading. Proofreading requires "slow reading," carefully focusing on each word, letter, and punctuation mark for correctness. Good proofreaders train themselves to focus clearly on what other readers may skim over or only glance at.

For instance, try reading this sentence quickly, and then slowly:

Staring closely at each sentence, Henry found and correct over thirty-two errors.

Did you notice that "correct" is missing -ed? Speed readers learn to skip over small particles of words, and sometimes entire words--especially if they are short and generally unimportant to the meaning of the sentence, such as "of" or "on."

To break these habits, you must force yourself to read slowly. When you find an error, fix it, and then read back over the entire sentence. Sometimes you might fix one problem only to introduce another one. For instance, if you changed "correct" to the present tense "corrects," you would also need to change "found" to "finds."

Proofreading Tips[edit]

There are many different techniques to help you proofread your work. One of the most common and useful suggestions is to read all of your work aloud. Read slowly, emphasizing each syllable correctly. This process forces you to slow down and will help you find many small errors that you would have missed reading silently.

It is also useful to print out your documents and read from the paper rather than the screen. The higher contrast of the paper will help you see problems that you may not have noticed on the screen.

You should also read the document out of order, perhaps starting with the conclusion and working your back up. As you read, follow the sentences with your finger or pen, and keep reminding yourself to go slowly. You might also try placing another sheet of paper over the one you're working on, lowering it line-by-line as you proofread.

Anything you can do to stay alert will help you find errors. Never proofread while you are tired or distracted. It also helps if you give yourself a day or two after you stop writing before proofreading. If you finish your draft the night before and proofread the next morning, you will find many more errors than if you had not taken a break. If time is an issue, try to give yourself as much of a break as possible. Even an hour or two will make a difference.

Proofreading & Copy Editing Symbols[edit]

Basic Symbols

Expanded Symbols

Comprehensive Symbols

Sample Document

10 Steps for Proofreading Your Work[edit]

1) Look over your writing from the past and present. Identify frequent critical errors and rank them by severity of the issue or mistake. By doing this, you may be able to recognize where you frequently have trouble in your writing.

2) If you are student at St. Cloud State University, visit the writing center: The Write Place, or investigate their website. If not, visit Purdue University's comprehensive writing center website.

3) Write as you normally would, then apply some of the tips and ideas from the two previously-mentioned resources to your writing after you finish the first draft.

4) Take a break from the work you have just completed before you begin editing. Editing and proofreading is an important step in the process, and taking a slow and steady approach will allow you to find as many mistakes as you can.

5) Read it by sliding a blank piece of paper down the page, doing a line-by-line analysis of what you are reading. Try to put yourself in the place of readers and see things from their perspective.

6) Allow someone else to read over your paper and have them point out the areas of your essay that may have confused them and the statements that could have been worded better.

7) Divide the parts of your paper into two categories: high-order concerns (HOC) and low-order concerns (LOCs).

8) HOCs include:

  • Thesis or focus: Make sure the paper has a central thesis. Ask someone to read the first paragraph or two and tell you what he or she thinks the paper will discuss.
  • Audience and purpose: Who is the audience for this paper? What is the purpose or intention behind the paper? Why should anyone read your paper?
  • Organization: Is the language and structure of the paper smooth? Make a brief outline and decide if the organization makes sense and if any parts should be moved.
  • Development: Find places where more details, examples, or specifics could be used. Have someone read the paper and let you know if something is unclear and needs more explanation or support.
  • LOCs include sentence structure, punctuation, word choice, and spelling.

9) Read the paper aloud, watching and listening for anything that sounds incorrect. Know why punctuation marks were placed in certain places. It will be helpful to target the area of your writing that is difficult to read, as it may contain grammatical errors.

10) Read the paper backwards, word by word. Instead of just naturally skimming, you have to comprehend each individual word, thus catching more typos and grammatical errors.

– Adapted from OWL at Purdue University