How to Proofread

Proofreading 101

red pencil

Knowing how to proofread is an essential skill if you are writing for an audience of any kind. Whether you are writing for publication, for a homework assignment, or simply to share with friends or family, you need to proofread your writing.

Remember that every piece of writing that you put before someone’s eyes either builds your reputation as a writer or diminishes it. Always put your best foot forward. Proofreading is one of the chief ways that you can learn to write with excellence. 

Image courtesy of Pixabay

"Proofread carefully to see if you any words out." Dave Barry

What to Look For When Proofreading


Many people have the mistaken notion that proofreading is only about looking for spelling errors. Spelling is one component of proofreading, but there are other equally important things to consider. While proofreading in its truest sense primarily involves looking for mechanical errors, if you want to make your work the best it can be you will also consider things that need to be edited.

Content- Perfect spelling isn’t going to help you if your writing lacks great content. Content is the message being delivered to the reader. It needs to stick to the topic, be interesting to read, and satisfy whatever your reader was looking for when he or she decided to read your writing.

Grammar- You might have the best content in the world, but poor grammar will greatly affect both your reputation and the reader’s ability to understand what you’re trying to convey. You will lose a significant number of readers if you don’t make grammar a high priority. Even readers who don’t know grammar themselves will detect if you’re consistently using bad grammar. Try using Grammarly if you struggle in this area. 

Spelling- If you don’t know how to spell then make hearty use of a program that checks your spelling, a dictionary, or find someone who knows how to spell and can proofread your work. Just remember that if you are using a computer program to check your spelling, it will not correct if the word is spelled correctly but used inappropriately. 

Complete Sentences- I edit for everyone from grade school kids to bestselling authors and the most common problem I encounter among writers is the inability to write a complete sentence. Check to make sure that every sentence is a single complete thought, has a subject and verb, is capitalized at the beginning and punctuated at the end.

Flow- Writing needs to be easy to read. If it sounds clunky, choppy, or labored, the reader will quickly tire of it. The best writing is smooth writing where one thought connects easily to another.

Style- Nobody likes reading a textbook so unless you’re writing one or something similar to it, add a little personality to your writing. When proofreading, ask yourself, “Is this boring?”

Proofreading takes time and it will likely result in revisions, which also take time and effort, but the end product is worth it. Make it your goal to produce excellent writing. 

Further down the page you will find six proofreading tips that will help move your work from good to excellent. 

Image courtesy of Pixabay

Cool Stuff for Proofreaders

Click on any image to see a bigger version or for ordering information. 

A Writing Assessment

"There is no great writing, only great rewriting." Justice Brandeis

Tip #1 Let Your Writing Sit for a Few Days.

One of the best ways to proofread your writing is to simply write something and leave it alone for a few days. Don’t read it or even look at it. Just put it away.

What does this do? It breaks the strong emotional ties you have to your writing. Whenever a writer produces a piece, it’s kind of like birthing a child. Whether you realize it or not, you develop a bond with your words. Until this bond is broken, it’s hard to think clearly about your own work or be willing to improve it. Setting it aside for a few days distances you from it enough that you should be able to view it a lot more objectively when you read it again. 

Tip #2 Read it Aloud.

I tell all of my writing students that once they’ve let their work sit for a few days untouched, they should pick it up and read it aloud. They always ask, “Why can’t I just read it silently?”

If you read your work aloud word for word exactly as it is written, you clearly hear things that don’t sound right or flow well. Missing information will beckon you, questions will arise in your mind, and mistakes will glare at you. Whereas, if you try to proofread something immediately after you write it or if you read it silently, it’s much easier to gloss over issues without even noticing them. 

Tip #3 Write a Single Sentence Summary.

You can do this step before or after you write, but write one sentence that fully explains the message you are attempting to convey with this piece of writing. Check every paragraph and sentence in your paper against your single sentence summary to make sure it adheres to your topic. Omit rabbit trails or anything that doesn’t add value to your message. 

Tip #4 Check Mechanics.

As a mechanic searches the engine of a car for faulty parts, check your work for mechanical problems such as spelling, grammar, and punctuation.  Circle and omit any unnecessary words that take up space, but don’t add meaning. 

Jane is just wonderful!
Revised: Jane is wonderful!

My dog is very excited that you’ve come to visit.
Revised: My dog is ecstatic that you’ve come to visit. 

Fix whatever is broken. 

Tip #5 Hire an Editor.

If you are writing something lengthy or important it might be worth your while to hire an editor. Even though I edit for other people, when I’m writing something really important I hire someone else to edit for me. Another trained eye will often see what you and I miss when we evaluate our own work. 

**If you happen to be one of my writing students reading this, DO NOT hire an editor!

Tip #6 Do Your Best Work.

When you finish proofreading ask yourself, “Is this my best work?” In most cases it doesn’t have to be perfect, but it should be excellent, not just adequate. Do your best and rest. 

Free Writing Lessons

Instructional videos for middle and high school students

If you're looking for some help with writing, I've created a series of video writing lessons that teach the standard essay format. Visit Hands-On Essays to watch the lessons and to find out how to order the accompanying handbook. 

Extra Proofreading Tips for Writing Online

Writing online is different from writing in other venues. The writing is as much for the eye as for the mind. The visual effect is as important as the words themselves.

Be brief. Long pages of text are death to an online writer. A reader feels stress when he or she sees an enormous amount of uninterrupted text. It might be fine in a tangible book, but it won’t fly with online readers.

Get to the point. Write tight. Say what you need to say and move on.

If you need to say a lot then break it up into bite-sized pieces by using subtitles, sections, images or anything that will make it look less like millions of words strung together.

Use paragraphs. Short paragraphs are a must. They offer natural breaks in the text. One line paragraphs are also acceptable.

Allow plenty of white space. It’s far more pleasing to the eye to see lots of white space on a computer screen. This is why it’s so important to break up the text.

Check for visual appeal every time you write online. 

Proofreading Apparel

Click on any image to see a bigger version or for ordering information.

Even More Writing Help

If you enjoy writing or would like to learn more about improving your writing or writing for publication, stop by my blog, Encouraging Words for Writers, where you will find plenty of tips, motivation, and encouragement. I'm a published author, freelance writer, writing instructor, writing consultant and editor. Can you tell that one of my great passions is helping writers of all ages and skill levels? I'd love to help you, so stop by Encouraging Words for Writers and look around a bit. 

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Share Your Thoughts on Proofreading


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Daniela12 on said:
I mostly have trouble going with the "flow", but I think if it read it out loud it will help me much more. Thanks Bonita, another great leaf you create!
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Bonita on said:
Yes, reading it out loud should help with the flow. Thanks for your encouragement!
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Fantastic! This ought to be required reading for Petting Zu graduates. I'm a freelance writer and I find letting your writing sit and reading it again with fresh eyes is invaluable. Glad you included that here and plenty other great tips too.
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Bonita on said:
Thanks! I agree that this and some other leafs would be great for Petting Zu graduates to read.
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Lorna on said:
Being not born in the US, my weakness in writing is always my grammar. I was so happy to read your tip #1, I've been doing it ever since. So I am doing the right thing with out knowing it, lo!. Thanks for this great info.
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Bonita on said:
So glad you're employing tip #1. It really does help a lot. I can understand how grammar would be a problem is you're not born in the U.S. It's even hard for those of us where were born here!
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belinda342 on said:
Very good information for any writer wanting to improve his (or her) writing. Thank you so much for this!
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Thanks for a succinct and informative leaf. I appreciate your book suggestions. I'd recently come across Eat, Shoots & Leaves. Now I know it's a must for my writing library!
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Bonita on said:
It's such a fun book!
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Very helpful tips. Thanks. Writing is a growth process. You sound like an excellent teacher. Great leaf, that I think writers of all levels can benefit from...
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Bonita on said:
Thanks, Miriam! You are a great writer so I greatly respect any feedback that you give.
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This leaf and a few others that you wrote are featured on my writing group leaf! Lol..

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