How to Proofread Your Own Writing

Everything you write — blog posts, marketing copy, emails, etc. — is a reflection of your professionalism, your communication skills and your experience. Of course no one is perfect, but you still should want to give the best impression you can by writing with as few typos and grammatical errors as possible.

In an ideal situation, you will be able to have someone else proofread your writing for you, but that’s not always possible. Sometimes, it’s necessary to self-edit. Here are some tricks for proofreading your own writing so you can present the sharpest, most knowledgeable and best “you” through your words.

Make Your Own Shortcuts

We each have our own writing demons … words we frequently misspell, punctuation we misplace and phrases we misuse. Start a list to keep track of mistakes you make repeatedly, with the correction right alongside it. Not only will this give you one place to go for a quick error-check, but putting the list somewhere you can see it every day will help you remember the right way, first.

Get a Stylebook

Stylebooks are not just for professional writers; they can be valuable tools for anyone writing just about anything. There are several different writing styles; pick one that feels best to you and use it as your frame of reference for all of your writing. A stylebook also helps you write with consistency, and that can enhance your professionalism.

Read It Out Loud

Reading out loud is a great way to catch grammatical errors. It’s also a useful exercise for identifying locations for commas and other punctuation. If wording sounds off to you when you read it out loud, it probably will to others, too.

Print and Read Backwards

This is a trick I learned in my college days when I worked in the publications office at the University. Print out your writing, and read it backwards word-for-word (it’s helpful to use an envelope or other straight-edge tool to keep your place). Forcing your eye to look at each word — out of sentence context — can help you catch errors you might otherwise miss.

Use Spelling and Grammar Checks

Spellcheckers aren’t perfect, but they can help you find common errors, or at least show you words and phrases that might have alternatives. It’s a good idea to run a check on everything you write before letting it loose.

Give It a Rest

When you feel like you’ve caught everything you can, give it a break and come back to it a few hours later with a fresh eye. You might find errors or ideas for improving language that seemed perfect when you first wrote it.

What are your tricks for proofreading your own writing?

Image credit: myles

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  • Avonelle Lovhaug

    Great tips! Another option: Use tools like the Adobe Acrobat “Read Out Loud” feature to have your document read back to you. Just like reading it out loud yourself, this can help you find missing words and other problems.

  • Aljiro

    First time I encountered the read backwards method. Its genius I tell you! :)

    Thanks.

  • strgt

    I tried the read backwards and I didn’t get it at all. You can record yourself ( i use the voice recorder in my nexus one :P ), specially if you write in any language that doesn’t sound right with an English text2speach.

    The list to track common mistakes is new to me, but it totally make sense.

  • Anonymous

    indeed a helpful article. especially the first point of keeping a check on common mistakes.
    could you help with how to give a good beginning to articles? thats something i simply cant seem to do.

  • moflow

    You’ve summarized all of my tricks and then some, but my favourite is reading out loud – something I started long ago when doing quality control on speeches, but which I now realize is useful for any writing.
    I’ve also been guilty of ignoring spell check, even though it’s always on. I start to tune it out because it picks up so many names/Canadian spellings, but that’s dangerous. Also dangerous: relying on spell check, since it doesn’t pick up typos that are legitimate words, just not the right ones.
    I too have struggled with reading backwards. Maybe I just don’t have the patience for it.
    Nothing beats a second set of eyes, though! If I work on copy long enough, I just see what I know should be there, versus what is actually in front of me.

  • Professional Writer

    Proofreading means checking written work for mistakes. It is something which everyone who writes essays, reports or documents does (and should do) before they decide the piece of writing is finished. It is like doing a final check of your luggage before you go on holiday. You wouldn’t leave your house before checking you had your passport, tickets, mobile phone and credit cards and it should be the same with your writing. Only give it to the intended reader such as your tutor, lecturer or manager when you have checked the grammar, spelling and punctuation are correct.