Five tips for proofreading your own work

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Five tips to help you proofread your own work

It is difficult to spot errors in your own writing. You are so close to the work that your brain will read what it thinks is on the page, rather than what is written. I’ve often seen the suggestion that reading your own work backwards will help to spot any errors, and even claims that this is a method used by professional proofreaders. I’m not so sure. This may be a useful technique for genuine, old-fashioned proofreading, which involved comparing two documents side-by-side, but it won’t help when checking the flow or syntax of a sentence.

It’s always wise to have any important document or piece of writing reviewed by a second pair of eyes, preferably those of an experienced qualified editor and proofreader. However, there are a few things that you can do yourself if time or money is short.

Bigger is better

Make it bigger – I use a large screen, in fact, my set-up is two screens so that I can have an email or google tab open whilst working. On the main screen I usually increase the size of a document up to as least 140% but often 180% if possible. It is much easier to edit and proofread on larger text.

Check the proofing language

Check the default language – Give yourself a head start by ensuring that Word is set to the language you want to write in. It’s quite common for me to receive a document that should be written in British English that is set in American (US) English, or the writer’s own native language. You can quickly check this at the bottom left hand corner of the page and change it to English (United Kingdom) from the drop down menu on the ribbon.

Consistent style

Decide on your style and layout from the outset and stick with it – Word can help you with this, especially on large documents such as theses, using the ‘Styles’ functions. For smaller documents remember to keep the font type, font size, line and paragraph spacing consistent. It can be difficult when you have written the text over a period of time or have amalgamated a number of pieces of writing into one document.

Show and hide

Use the show/hide button called a Pilcrow – Like many editors, I often work on a document with this function active. As I work through the text I can spot and rectify things like the extra spaces between words, or where paragraph indents have been made using the space bar rather than the tab key.

Find is your friend

The ‘find’ function is your friend – You can use this handy function to hunt out words with unusual spellings of words without ploughing through the whole text or to look for consistency in words where there are variant spellings like –ise/ –ize endings.


Finally, take a break

Finally, provided your schedule allows take your time. I try to leave several hours or if possible an overnight break between the first edit and the second pass of a document. If you write your essay and read it through immediately afterwards the work will be so familiar to you that you will be unlikely to spot any errors. If all of this sounds like just too much effort and attention to detail then contact me to discuss how I can help with your next proofreading project.

Proofreading sample