Wednesday, September 8, 2010

To Err is Human, to Proofread, Divine

We’ve likely all reached that point in crafting an essay when we can’t stand to read over our writing again. The resulting work may be full of interesting ideas and insightful arguments, but too often these positive aspects are overshadowed by proofreading errors that drag down the essay.

To be sure, proofreading can be a daunting task. We often haven’t allotted enough time to allow for careful proofreading and we may feel so burned out with a paper that we would rather eat the essay than read it again. When coupled with the old mantra that “it’s the content that matters most,” we may even convince ourselves to focus only on the “big picture” issues.

Proofreading, though, is an important step of the writing process that helps to make our ideas clear for our readers. Polished writing also makes a good first impression on a reader, helping to ensure that they will follow the essay through to the end (which is, of course, the ultimate goal of any piece of writing).

So, how can we become better proofreaders? Below are some (hopefully) helpful strategies to consider when reaching the proofreading stage of revision:

1. Take a break from an essay: This strategy requires you to start an essay earlier rather than later which is always a good idea. Often writers who take even a 24 hour break from their work come back to the text with a renewed focus and the seemingly uncanny ability to spot errors that were missed previously.

2. Read your paper out loud: Reading a paper aloud to yourself, a friend, or even an enemy can really help to hear proofreading errors. This may be particularly helpful for auditory learners.

3. Work from a paper copy of your essay: Many students find that they are more likely to spot errors and make necessary proofreading revision when working from a hard copy of an essay rather than making corrections on the computer. The downside: trees hate this.

4. Make a note of common proofreading errors: If you notice and document your tendency to make proofreading errors (i.e. tense shifts, fragments, etc.), you’re more likely to avoid these errors in the future. This means less time proofreading/revising and more time for (insert favorite activity here).

For more proofreading tips check out the University of North Carolina’s helpful webpage:

Extra Credit to those who can spot the 3 proofreading errors in this post.


Mary Inks said...

Nice post! I'm definitely going to direct my Penn State students to this blog for some proofreading inspiration! They're trying to convince me that only the "big picture" is important...silly students. Happy tutoring :)

Jonathan Hutter said...

You can tell your students that, as someone in the business world, when I see something with typos, that hasn't been proofread, my conclusions may include:

- You don't pay attention to details
- You are sloppy
- The subject of your writing is not that important to you
- You may even be stupid

Big ideas that may be worth something are often lost over details. Details matter.