Proofreading involves directed reading of a paper. Even good proofreaders must read the paper many times before all problem areas can be identified and corrected.
Here are some ways to improve your proofreading skills:
1. Switch your point of view from writer to reader. Read the paper as if someone else wrote it. This is a skill you can develop with practice. Sometimes it helps to put the paper aside for a day or two and then look at it fresh.
2. Read the paper aloud and listen to it as you read. This will slow your reading speed down and encourage you to read what you actually wrote rather than what you intended to write. Be aware, however, that you may tend to read what should be there instead of what is actually on the paper. If you can, get a friend to read the paper to you and listen to it.
3. Look for one thing at a time. If you're checking organization, read the paper and make an outline as you go along. Then look at the outline to see if it is logically organized. If you're checking subject-verb agreement, circle each subject and draw an arrow to the verb. Know the kinds of errors you tend to make and check for them one at a time.
4. Take the sentences out of context. No matter how careful you are to check for something as you read your paper, you will eventually find yourself reading for content rather than checking for the error. To take the sentences out of context, read the last sentence of the paper first. Then read the next-to-last sentence. Continue reading the paper from the last sentence to the first. This is especially effective when you are checking for fragments or comma splices. Another thing you can do is print the sentences out separately. Try changing each period on your computer text to a page break or a hard return. If you can complete grammar exercises correctly but can't identify these same errors in your paper, format your paper like a grammar exercise.
5. Print your paper out. Although you may be fairly good at catching errors by reading your paper on a computer screen, there's no substitute for a printed copy. Make your font easily readable. Make your corrections, and print out the paper again. Repeat this process until you can't find any more errors. You may feel this wastes paper, but it's an important proofreading technique and worth the extra few sheets of paper it requires.
6. Be sure to understand the kinds of errors you tend to make and how to correct them. Work through the appropriate modules in the Writing Center. If you keep making the same type of errors, make an appointment with a writing consultant to talk about why you're having problems. For example, if you constantly write fragments, maybe you need to improve your knowledge of sentence structure. We have books we can loan you to help you learn more about the language. Also, get help with your graded papers. Some students look at the grade and ignore the instructor's comments, but your instructor makes these comments to help you improve your writing. Study them and come to the Writing Center if there are any comments you don't understand.
7. After you've gone through all these steps, you might want to make an appointment to speak to someone in the Writing Center to check to see if there are any problems you missed. We don't have the time to proofread the paper, but we can glance at it to see if we can spot any problems you overlooked. If we do, we'll explain the problem to you so you can correct it in the rest of your paper. Another effective technique is for you to highlight parts of your paper that gave you problems. We can check them to see if your corrections were good.
Proofreading takes time, but the results are worth the effort.