How to Proofread Effectively

how to proofread effectively

Introductory Note

Proofreading seems like a mundane task, but it deals with a lot of subtlety. Much like a keen detective, a proofreader has to know and pick up on details that most people don’t see. Can we learn how to proofread professionally without going to school for it? There are definite ways to improve one’s proofreading. Below, I will discuss how to proofread in the most effective manner.

Before You Proofread

You might think that any time is a good time for proofreading; however, you have to make sure you have edited the writing first in terms of its more significant concerns. Remember, proofreading comes after editing. Proofreading does not involve organizing text or changing ideas. Therefore, you need to sort out the exact structure and composition of ideas before proofreading.

Also, after you edit, you need time to let your mind become fresh. It depends on the individual, but at least 15 minutes are needed for your mind to see a piece of writing again with a clear mind. Without this important step, you will not notice the mistakes you need to pick up on. Sometimes, reading something else between the time you decide to proofread is a fine way to refresh your mind. Some people like to watch mindless entertainment in order to calm down the brain as well.

Another essential step is knowing what to look for when you proofread. Compose a list of what you want to check within the paper. Commonly, proofreading involves checking over the grammar, punctuation, technical mistakes, inconsistencies, unneeded words, fonts, styles (italics, bolding, etc.), page numbers, proper names, and incorrect phrasing. If you are unclear about what to look for, you can write these areas of interest down.

As a note, the best time to proofread is in the morning after writing at night. Also, get your favorite music ready to play, as proofreading can be a mundane task that makes people fall asleep. It is best to listen to music without lyrics, however. In addition, make sure you are not working under fluorescent lights, as not only will you get headaches, but you cannot read as well under such light.

How to Proofread Better

The first thing you need to learn to do is be more attentive while reading. How to proofread a document attentively? I know this seems a bit obvious, but when you proofread, you should slow down your reading speed and try to take in each word, punctuation mark, and sentence as a whole. You are no longer reading for pleasure or information gathering, but for analysis of the writing itself. You should consider everything that is written as something significant and question its meaning and place. Sometimes, a proofreader uses his or her finger to point at each word to keep his or her attention from faltering.

The method by which you proofread is key. Most people recommend printing out writing in order to proofread more effectively. Having a hard copy is not just for show: reading writing from a paper, and using a physical pen or pencil to mark up mistakes, activates certain parts of your brain that proofreading from a computer screen cannot activate.

Reading out loud is another recommendation that most professionals will tell. This is due to the fact that when we speak out a piece of writing, we can hear (adding another sense) the words instead of imagining their sound in our minds. This added sense allows you to notice mistakes to a greater degree. Just make sure you let the people know around what you are doing: you don’t want to seem like you are crazy.

If you want to get really serious about attention, you can use a blank sheet of paper to cover up the part of the writing you have not read. This guarantees you won’t skip over mistakes as easily and concentrate on the writing you see immediately. This is not necessary, though it is a time-honored technique.

How to proofread in Word, or other document processing programs? You can also read out loud from a screen, but it is also recommended to use the search function for words and phrases you think might need to be worked on. For instance, you saw an error, and you can search for that error again by using ctrl+f. You can also use the search-and-replace function in many document processing programs for the easy changing of words and phrases. In addition, it is recommended to use “track changes” or “mark changes” so that your corrections can appear to reviewers. The same can be said about programs such as Google Docs, which has a “suggestion” function where every change you make is indicated. This is easier than leaving comments, and is more visual for people reviewing your work.

For thorough proofreading, you can check for particular mistakes for each read through. Like the list of aspects to check over that I mentioned in the “Before You Proofread” section, you can go through a piece of writing each time focusing on only one characteristic. This makes your concentration on mistakes more acute, and allows your brain to compartmentalize issues. However, this method takes a long time, and for proofreading that needs to be done within a tight schedule, it is better to use another method. Also, it is sometimes recommended to proofread the text and not headlines or section headings first. These are subject to change based on content, and that is why you can hold off proofreading these until to the second round of reading.

This other method is proofreading a document at least two times. The first time, the document is proofread in the normal way, and the second time, the document is proofread from bottom to top. This allows your mind to catch mistakes you would otherwise miss. It is tricking the brain to see the text in a different way. Often, the mind skips over mistakes because it fills in gaps automatically. However, when you read a document from bottom to top, your mind cannot engage in this type of automatic correction. A more extreme method is to read a document backwards, which truly tricks the mind to see writing differently. However, this type of method is not for everyone, as some proofreaders might feel lost more than anything else while reading something backwards. After a document is read two times like this, you can go over any sections you feel concern over, or go over it entirely one more time from top to bottom.

You can also end a proofreading with a spelling check. However, you can’t always rely on computer-assisted spell checks. Computer programs will not pick up homonyms, such as “their” and “they’re,” or “the” and “he.” So, besides using the help of software, use your own eye as well.

Another invaluable exercise while proofreading is keeping a list of the most common mistakes you make. This can become a reference list for yourself for future proofreading. This can bring more attention to mistakes that are present in the document you are proofreading at the moment. As I mentioned before, attention is probably the most important aspect of proofreading.

A cool thing to do as a proofreader is to invent your own symbols for remarks. These can be shorthand symbols that describe an error. Like, instead of writing “misspelling” you can write “ms.” However, you do not have to reinvent the wheel, so to say. Here are a copious amount of copyediting symbols for you to incorporate into your proofreading practice:

The main thing about proofreading is that you should have no more doubts about the text you are looking over when you are finished. You should double-check anything that concerns you. If you are not sure about a certain rule, or a particular usage, then look it up in authoritative guides. Online, there are many guides on grammar, punctuation, and other technical parts of writing you can use.

Giving Your Writing to Somebody Else

We have been going over how to proofread your own writing, however it is key to let other people see your writing. Having another eye look at your writing is an essential part of the process, as you cannot detect every mistake you make. We have many inbuilt conditionings in our brain that do not allow us to notice all the mistakes we commit in writing. Giving your writing to a trustworthy proofreader after you have completed your own proofreading is best.

When you look over the work of the other proofreader, make sure you keep your mind open to his or her suggestions. Yet, do not be gullible and too complacent when accepting suggestions. Use your common sense and knowledge to see what is correct and what is not. You may have to consult guides or handbooks on technical aspects of writing to clear up some matters.


No matter how you do it, effective proofreading takes an ample amount of focused attention and expertise. Don’t be shy to look things up you are doubtful of, and also don’t be afraid to go over a document several times. Also, do your best to cut out human error from your proofreading by giving a text to someone else.