How to Proofread Your Own Writing

Published March 28, 2018
man with laptop writing in notebook

Writing on your own without the help of an editor can open you up to missing typos and grammatical errors. There are many tactics you can use to proofread your writing effectively by yourself.

Print Your Writing Out

If you've been working at a computer screen for an amount of time, it's easy for your eyes to get tired and lose some focus on the words on the screen. Printing your writing out on a sheet of paper can help with proofreading in a few ways.

Read It Out Loud

Take your printed piece and read it out loud to yourself. You may find that the spoken words indicate errors and unclear wording compared to when you are silently reading it in your head. Make your revisions and read it aloud again and repeat the process until you feel satisfied with the spoken version.

Be Your Own Audience

When reading out loud, try to pretend that you are the person you are trying to reach with your writing's message. When you place yourself "in their shoes" your writing may sound different and you'll pick up immediately on changes you should make to improve your work's clarity.

Cover It Up

When you've been working on a piece for a while, it's common to miss the details of a specific sentence because you are mentally moving ahead to the next section's message. Forcing yourself to look at one line at a time makes you more aware of what is right in front of you. Take a piece of paper or anything with a straight, opaque edge and cover up all your writing below the line you are reviewing.

Read It Backwards

This sounds like a strange step, but it works because it makes you focus on each specific word separately rather than the overall content. Typos can tend to blend in to your sentences if you are reading with the content in mind. You can read each word out loud or silently as long as you do it in reverse and are focusing on each word separately.

Take a Breather

Writing can take a lot out of you mentally, and errors are hard to catch when you're tired. Give yourself a break and get up and away from your desk. Engage in some exercise such as stretching, walking the dog, or take a nap. You should find your mind refreshed and ready to go when you get back to reviewing your work.

Environment Is Important

Make sure you are working in a space that is not full of distractions such as noise or movement. If you are in a crowded, busy space, concentrating on proofreading can be tough. Either clear the distractions from the room or find a quieter place. Likewise, remove distractions from your workspace such as your phone or social media on your computer. If you need some help with the temptations of checking Facebook, try a program like Forest or RescueTime to help you.

Follow Checklists

It helps to create a series of checklists to go through with your writing so you are looking at finding one type of error at a time. In other words, make a list of each type of error you want to find and then go through your entire piece looking just for that error. Then repeat the process. Types of errors on your checklist could be:

  • Misspelled words and names
  • Grammatical errors
  • Incorrect style rules (i.e. AP versus Chicago)
  • Passive voice
  • Capitalization errors
  • Misused words
  • Bad HTML links

Use Online and Software Tools

There are many excellent software options you can use to help you with proofreading. If you are using a word processing program such as Microsoft Word or Google Docs, you can use the built-in spelling and grammar checker function.

  • Grammarly is a free app that reviews your writing for spelling and grammar problems. You can review your writing on their website, add it as a browser extension, or download it to use locally. If you want more help, Grammarly has a premium version starting at just under $30 per month with a more robust review process.
  • Slick Write is a free service you can use on their website or with a browser extension. A nice feature in Slick Write is the Flow view that presents a graphical representation of how well each sentence of your piece reads. The Statistics view will show you graphs indicating your level on indexes such as Passive Voice, Vocabulary use and percentage of adverbs.

Proofreading On Your Own

Obviously having a second set of eyes on your written work can be one of the strongest ways of finding errors. However using some tried-and-true techniques with a little help from modern technology can produce an effective proofreading process when you're working on your own.

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How to Proofread Your Own Writing