Text: Proofreading Strategies

Below, you’ll see a long list of potential items to look for in the proofreading process.  Because everyone has a unique writing style, some of these items are much more likely to apply to you (and be helpful for you to consider) than others.

As you continue to write papers and get feedback on them in college, make note of the concerns that show up in your writing again and again.  Make your own customized list of proofreading tips, to save time in the future.

Some suggestions to get you started–again, not all of these will apply to each paper, each time.

Woman holding an orange typewriter, staring at the camera, while sheets of paper blow in the wind around her

Editing for Language

With language, the overall question is whether you are using the most accurate language possible to describe your ideas. Your reader will have an easier time understanding what you want to say if you’re precise. Be sure to check for the following.

  • Pronoun clarity: Make sure it’s clear what each “it,” “he,” and “she” refers to.
  • Precise vocabulary: Make sure every word means what you intend it to mean. Use a dictionary to confirm the meaning of any word about which you are unsure.
  • Defined terms: When using terms specific to your topic, make sure you define them for your readers who may not be familiar with them. If that makes the paragraph too bulky, consider using a different term.
  • Properly placed modifiers: Make sure your reader can clearly discern what each adjective and adverb is meant to describe. 
  • Hyperbole: See if you can eradicate words like “amazing” and “gigantic” in favor of more precise descriptions. Also examine each use of the word “very” and see if you can find a more precise adjective that doesn’t require its use.

Finally, pay attention to wordiness. Writing that is clean, precise, and simple will always sound best.

Editing for Sentence Construction

If you want to make everything easy for your audience to read and understand, start by simplifying your sentences. If you think a sentence is too complicated, rephrase it so that it is easier to read, or break it into two sentences. Clear doesn’t have to mean boring. 

blue circle icon with a hammer and screwdriver crossedConsider how balanced your sentences are within a paragraph. You don’t want every sentence to have identical length and structure or to begin the same way. Instead, vary your sentence style. 

This is also the time to add transitions between phrases and sentences that aren’t connected smoothly to each other. You don’t need to introduce every sentence with “then,” “however,” or “because.” Using these words judiciously, though, will help your reader see logical connections between the different steps of your argument.

Suggestions While Proofreading

  1. Remove unnecessary words such including that, very, just, so, and actually.
  2. Avoid the passive voice. Rewrite sentences that include am, is, was, were, be, being, and been so that the sentence reads in the active voice.
  3. Don’t end sentences with a preposition. For example, don’t end sentences with these words: in, for, at, with, by, and from.
  4. Is the content in past, present, or future tense? Do a scan to make sure you use the same tense from start to finish.
  5. Are you writing in first, second, or third person? Do a scan to make sure you use a consistent voice throughout.  Generally, avoid second person pronouns–“you”–throughout an essay, unless you have specific reasons to in the assignment.  Use the “find” feature in your word processor to locate any that may have slipped in.  Likewise, only use first person pronouns–“I,” “me,” “we,” etc.,–if your assignment calls for it.
  6. Have you used one space after each sentence or two spaces? Double check for consistency. 
  7. Run spell check, but also check for commonly misspelled words that your spell check might not pick up. Here’s a quick list:
    • To/ Too/ Two
    • Than/ Then
    • Trail/ Trial
    • Were/ Where/ We’re
    • It’s/ Its
    • Lose/ Loose
    • Complement/ Compliment
    •  Their/ There/ They’re
    • Compliant/ Complaint
  8. What words do you commonly misspell?
  9. Eliminate words you overuse. Keep a running list near your workspace that notes words you rely heavily on, and edit use the “Find” feature of your word processor to search for them while editing.