18/01/2019 Tips to improve your proofreading

Tips to improve your proofreading

Proofreading may be the simplest way to improve your university grades. An effective proofread before the submission can also change an amateur job request into a strong, memorable application.

Yet reading, editing, checking for typos and then correcting them can be an incredibly tedious process. Further, in our modern rapid-response email and texting culture, a proofread rarely extends beyond a cursory glance. If any tweaks are made, the reason is usually to avoid an auto-correct faux pas.

Therefore, most of us, when we finish typing the final line of that long piece of work, already consider the task complete. The deadline is upon us and consequently, we must navigate to the next urgent project. Our work gets a tired skim. Then, click, the project is sent.

If the above description sounds familiar, I would urge you to dedicate more time to proofreading. For every written task, ensure that you are assigning sufficient time for copy-editing, error spotting and restructuring.

Neglecting these routines in your coursework means leaving the easiest marks on the table. In your written correspondence, this lack of basic oversight risks creating an uncomfortable first impression. Unfortunately, I have vast experience generating both of these negative outcomes. Therefore, to help you, I have outlined some tips that I feel have enabled me to gradually develop my proofreading accuracy.

Take a critical approach

First, it is important to realise that the basic errors are almost certainly not where you think they are.

What does being wrong feel like? You may answer with ‘sadness’ or ‘apprehensive’. Yet these experiences are not the feelings of being wrong. These are the emotions that you receive only when you suddenly come to realise that you are indeed… wrong. However, you have been wrong for a while. The problem is that being wrong usually feels exactly the same as being right.

Therefore, you may have been continuously correcting your work. You may be confident in your writing. You may even, before beginning, have rigorously checked the marking criteria. But during your proofread, feel free to criticise.

Engage from the reader’s perspective. Seriously ask yourself, what may not be accurate here? Frequently, it is not the paragraph that you deliberated over that contains the mistakes. Rather, many basic mistakes occur in the places that you have wholeheartedly admired, checked already and overlooked.

You should also focus critical eyes on distinctive aspects of your work. For instance, first assess whether the overall argument is persuasive. Second, see if your paragraphs are too lengthy. Third, correct basic typos. Fourth, look at indentations and tabs. Finally, check that all the footnotes are correct.

Focusing on correcting specific elements should increase your chances of catching the errors. Further, obtaining familiarity with the text will make you appreciate it more as a reader, not the author.

Become organised

Successful proofreading takes time. It can also take a lot of paper. For expansive work, like your dissertation or redacting a court bundle, you can easily spend a day making minor changes.

My experience suggests that any writing created on Microsoft Word, when I print it out, just does not flow as effectively. The paragraphs often seem stylistically wrong. Moreover, they suddenly feel awkward to read. This is the case even if I have already spent hours editing. In addition, typos and punctuation errors that I have previously missed now become evident.

My suggestion would be to read the work on paper and highlight any required amendments. Then undertake the redrafts, print again and repeat the proofreading process. Therefore, if you will face urgent deadlines, ensure that you possess enough of the old A4, red pen and Epson ink to produce enough draft copies.

Check for small mistakes

Most of your changes will be for simple mistakes. For example, a footnote lacking the correct citation. Alternatively, you may have page numbers that are centred, but according to the mark scheme, the numbers should be in the right-hand corner. In addition, you may be missing words such as ‘that’, ‘the’ or ‘a’, which are not always orally pronounced.

These amendments appear to be small changes. Yet when they are compounded, they substantially reduce the work’s perceived quality. Unfortunately, these missed words are also something that lawyers are particularly attuned to spotting.

Shearman and Sterling’s graduate recruiters are quite open regarding the impact of these minor errors. They state that any typo means that the candidate lacks the required attention to detail that their firm desires. Therefore, the candidate will not be progressed to the next stage.

This attention to detail includes mistakes in any section of the application. So ensure that you also check in the exam results and the work experience sections. As law firm applications take endless hours to perfect, proofreading is crucial to avoid wasting your time.

Read grammar books

I can remember very few occasions during school where I was ever explicitly taught grammar. As a result, I have actually gained immensely from reading grammar books such as Eats, Shoots and Leaves.

Learning the basic rules of grammar (then no doubt forgetting them here!) has helped me to recognise more of the corrections that I need to be conscious of. I am now less confused by distinctions between British English and American English. In addition, I have started to actively detect my habitually misplaced semicolons, commas and apostrophes. Previously, my ignorance would have probably disregarded these mistakes.

Ask a friend

When multiple people attempt a word search, others tend to find the words that you have missed. The same logic applies with proofreading.

When your companion is looking through your work, they may ask you questions that appear to be obvious. However, in hindsight, your answer may not be addressing these key areas. Therefore, your partner has identified a gap that requires further explanation. In addition, their questions may emphasise the need to check important formatting details with the relevant style guides.

Be careful about this approach though. Other individuals are not a guarantee of spotting everything. Further, some universities explicitly state that your work should be solely your own. So be aware of the academic rules before requesting assistance.

Get Grammarly

Human error means that individuals are rarely a proofreading failsafe. Therefore, it helps to have a technological solution. Word will make corrections on spelling errors. However, spellcheck will rarely correct a word that is used in the wrong context. It will also be of minimal assistance if you have edited a sentence but accidentally left the additional or misguided word in.

Grammarly has been a bit of a personal lifesaver. The package is free and although set for US English, it is still useful. When I am quickly typing emails, it has enabled me to add in the required words that I have forgotten.

Grammarly has also accounted for my poor grammar and I have learned from its recommended changes. Crucially, these suggested amendments have ensured that the email content still conveys the meaning that I intended. By correcting my mistakes, it has meant that my emails now read more professionally.


I hope this blog post helps others to make minor changes that have an impact on their work’s readability. Also, I am aware that despite my best efforts, almost inevitably some mistakes will remain. If you have spotted them, congratulate yourself. You are well on your way to proofreading success.

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