Fifteen Great Tips for Proofreading

When it comes to proofreading, the fifteen tips below have proven effective in all sorts of discipline from arts subjects through to medicine and science papers. As well as devising your own techniques, why not try these and choose the ones that work well for you?

NB: If a tutor or publisher gives specific instructions on proofreading, adhere to them.

  1. Be mentally prepared: Proofreading is an art that requires you to be patient, focused, and willing to give a sufficient amount of your time. Make sure, therefore, that you are not distracted, in a hurry, or over-tired.
  2. Gather up all the tools you will need: Firstly, this means printing out proofs. Even if you have chosen to or are required to electronically mark a document, work first with a printed version. Mistakes that are sometimes not obvious on screen can often be evident on a paper version. As well as an original or edited copy of the document and their publisher’s or tutor’s instructions (e.g. a guide to editing marks), proofreaders usually need spare paper, a ruler, and some colored pens.
  3. Look at the bigger picture: Begin by comparing your printed proof to the first or original text, or to an edited copy where applicable. Make sure every element is present. 
  4. Think about every detail: The next step is proofreading every part of the text, including any illustrations, tables and reference lists. Look for any spelling and/or punctuation errors, as well as any errors in illustrations and tables. Additionally, depending on your instructions, check for errors in notations, symbols, numbers and generally any type of error.
  5. Leave nothing to trust or chance: Every word, sentence and paragraph should be read thoroughly and slowly. Nothing should be assumed. Put your ruler beneath each line as you read or cover all text except the sentence you are reading with a piece of paper.
  6. Concentrate on small details: Highlight or mark symbols and punctuation marks so that you can concentrate on them. Look for mistakes in smaller words e.g. in articles, conjunctions, and so on.
  7. Look hard at illustrations and tables: Are these in the right place and right order? Are there any errors in captions and titles? Is all cross-referenced text accurate?
  8.  All numbers, scientific symbols and notations should be double-checked: Be extra careful when examining notations and numbers, in both text and tables. Is everything numbered in sequential order and shown correctly on printed proofs?
  9. Corrections should be noted with two proofreading marks: Use in-text marks (e.g. carets, lines, and so on) as well as the associated margin marks (e.g., notations or symbols). Thoroughly check that all marks are in the correct place. NB: Refer to a guide or manual on Proofreading Marks if necessary.
  10. Margin marks should be separated: A slash mark “/” should be used for separating marginal marks on the one line. For example, to note similar corrections on one line, a slash should be added for each individual correction (e.g., the word ‘caps’ and three slashes (/ / /) indicates three instances where capital letters are needed).
  11. Instructions should be circled: Place a circle around any margin mark that is an instruction, even short forms e.g. ‘caps’ for capital letters, ‘ital’ for italics, and ‘lc’ for lower case letters. Distinguishing instructions from words that should be entered into a text eliminates confusion. 
  12. Make sure margin marks correspond correctly: It is essential to work from the left margin to the right, making sure that all margin marks are an exact match with the in-text marks. 
  13. One proofreading is not sufficient: A lot of mistakes are often found in the second or even third reading. Be clear about what you are looking for each time. For instance, look for spelling mistakes first time, then mistakes in symbols and numbers and next something else.
  14. Use different techniques: Use a variety of tips, techniques and methods when proofreading. Read aloud, get another person to read your text aloud, or swap proofreading projects with other people. Look for a method that works well for you.
  15. Have frequent rests/breaks: Work out break times in advance, but take a break earlier if you feel tired or start rushing. After one full proofreading, break for longer – one day if you can – before embarking on the next round.  
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