Course Content
Chapter 3: Writing Mechanics Help
Chapter 12: Teaching Writing
Chapter 23: Teaching Reading
College English Composition: Help and Review
About Lesson

What Is Proofreading?

Any good writer knows that their work is far from done once the last paragraph is penned and the final period is placed in an article, short story, chapter, report, etc. Editing is essential to a piece’s quality and appeal.

Editing involves two steps. The first step entails taking the time to review and revise vocabulary choices, turns of phrase, and sentence structure for the sake of providing clarity, adjusting a storyline, offering more vivid or interesting description, building suspense, and other important considerations of effective written communication. The final step of editing? That is where proofreading comes in. Proofreading is the process of ensuring that a document is free of any errors in grammar, spelling, punctuation, and formatting.

Spelling & Grammar: Proofreading Components

When it comes to proofreading, special attention should be given to spelling and grammar. Writers may misspell words by transposing letters, mistaking the combination of letters needed to make a certain sound, or simply mistyping. Proper word usage is also a spelling concern when different words have the same pronunciation. For example, “there” is not the appropriate spelling for the phrase “the color of their house.” Any necessary capitalization is also taken into account when documents are proofread for spelling.

Proofreading for grammar means double checking a number of things. Sentence structure is one. Correct sentences should contain the basic elements of a noun and a verb, plus other parts of speech—adjectives, adverbs, prepositions, conjunctions, etc.—should be appropriately placed.

Another common grammatical error occurs with tense, which is the way verbs are written to allude to when they occurred in time. For example, if an author writes that their character “ran” home then “drinks” water, the tenses of the verbs do not agree. No matter if a writer is penning a piece with the present, past, or future in mind, tense should be consistent.

Yet another grammatical issue is subject and verb agreement. This most often relates to plural versus singular nouns and the verb form associated with each. “He say” and “they says” are examples of improper noun and verb usage; “he says” and “they say,” on the other hand, demonstrate proper agreement.

Other grammatical problems include incorrect pronoun usage, wrong or missing prepositions, missing articles, split infinitives—the list goes on and on. Even those who pride themselves as grammar experts admit to their not knowing every rule and related exceptions. The Gregg Reference Manual by William A. Sabin, Elements of Style by William Strunk, Jr. and E.B. White, and other grammatical resources help writers work through the many complexities of the English language.

Proofreaders pay particular attention to spelling and grammar, but also keep an eye out for errors in punctuation and formatting. Marks of punctuation, which include periods, commas, semi-colons, colons, apostrophes, quotation marks, question marks, and exclamation points, may be incorrectly inserted or omitted. Unlike the other components of proofreading, formatting is not about the specific words and other marks made on the page, but all about how a page looks and is organized. Proofreaders review how lines are indented or spaced, how margins are set up, what page breaks are needed, etc. There are various styles of formatting from which to choose or that are mandated based on the type of writing but, once again, consistency is key.

Importance of Academic Essay Proofreading

Some may think that the editing process, including proofreading, is only important for professional book publishers, scientific journalists, and news organizations. This false belief about proofreading, however, could lead to even the most brilliant student’s downfall. Thorough and careful proofreading of all assignments, such as academic essays, is crucial not only in obtaining good grades, but also in building credibility among teachers and classmates. After all, the primary aim of education is to prepare students for success in the “real world,” and they are sure to face some brutal scrutiny even for the smallest mistakes in company memos, customer correspondence, press releases, and the like.

Proofreading for and correcting errors in their essays helps students retain credibility among their teachers and professors.

Teacher returning paper to student

How to Proofread

It’s not called proofreading for nothing—careful, slow, and focused reading helps to unearth any errors. It’s also beneficial to know some standard proofreading marks to indicate where corrections are needed. For example, two underlines signal where capitalization is required, and a carat (^) shows where something needs to be inserted. Grammatical reference books generally feature a section of common symbols to incorporate into the proofreading process.

So what parts of an essay or another piece of writing need to be proofread? Absolutely every word! In addition to the body content, proofreaders should also review titles, bylines, headers, and footers for any errors in spelling, grammar, punctuation, and formatting. Consider these examples:

Before proofreading After proofreading Corrections made
The truth, Abotu You’re Future (essay title) The Truth About Your Future
  • Capitalized “Truth” to follow titlecase
  • Removed unnecessary comma
  • Fixed the transposed letters in “About”
  • Replaced “You’re” with “Your” to follow proper word usage

The johnson family
Ate and talk quick during there weekday males together (sentence)  

The Johnson family eat and talk quickly during their weekday meals together. 

  • Capitalized “Johnson” 
  • Removed the erroneous line return 
  • Lowercased “eat” 
  • Made the verbs agree in tense
  • Added “ly” to “quick” to transform it into an adverb modifying the verbs “eat” and “talk”
  • Corrected “there” to “their” 
  • Changed “males” to “meals” 
  • Added a period to the end of the sentence

Proofreading Strategies

Proofreading may seem like an overwhelming and arduous task without a clear idea about how to begin, what tools to use, and when a proofreader can feel confident that their piece of writing is in tip-top shape. In turn, some proofreading strategies are recommended:

  • Allow some time to pass between writing the essay and editing it in order to approach it with “fresh eyes.”
  • Print out a hard copy versus reviewing the piece on a screen. Use spellcheck and grammatical software or online tools before printing it out, but beware relying on them; such resources may not always suggest a correction if the misspelled word remains a legitimate word (i.e., note “males” and “meals” in the example above) or will make assumptions about the appropriate rules of grammar to follow (i.e., changing the verb tense in a quote from cited material).
  • Read the essay out loud, perhaps even backwards to eliminate the “distraction” of context. Use a ruler to track the lines being read.
  • Check for one type of error at a time, and consider following a detailed checklist to help keep track of all of the components of proofreading: spelling, grammar, punctuation, and formatting. “CUPS” is a popular acronym that reminds proofreaders to check for capitalization, usage, punctuation, and spelling.

Proofreading an essay in hard copy is a recommended strategy.

Women at desk with paper

Lesson Summary

As the final step in the editing process, proofreading involves checking for errors in spelling, grammar, punctuation, and formatting. The quality of a written piece—not to mention the writer’s credibility—depends on proofreading. It may be perceived as an arduous task, but knowing certain strategies can improve one’s proofreading abilities and effectiveness. Those strategies include printing out a hard copy, reading the essay backwards, and checking for one type of error at a time.

Join the conversation