When you’re preparing an admissions essay, funding proposal, marketing package, or any other important document, you want to make sure that you give yourself enough time to proofread your final version. Why? Because the quality of your final document can say a lot not just about your writing skills but also about how conscientious you are and how good you are at executing complex tasks.
Typos, spelling mistakes, and grammar errors can hurt your chances at success because they make you seem like someone who produces sloppy work. For this reason, some admissions committee members and hiring managers will toss an application in the “rejection” pile if there’s even one mistake in the first sentence of a document. After all, if you didn’t care enough to proofread the cover letter that you prepared to impress a hiring manager, what’s the quality of your work going to be like on the job when you’re just doing day-to-day tasks? And even if you’re just writing an essay for an undergrad university course, it can really irk your professor or teaching assistant if it’s clear that you didn’t bother to use spell check before submitting your essay.
To help you catch those pesky typos before they catch up with you, check out our top 7 proofreading strategies below:
1. Use an automatic spell checker
This one is really a no-brainer. No matter how pressed for time you are, you can probably find time to use the spell check feature in your work processor. It’s true that spell check won’t find all of your potential mistakes. For example, spell checkers are notorious for missing incorrect homophones (e.g., “their” instead of “there”) and typos that form other actual words (e.g., “morality” instead of “mortality”). However, spell checkers are great at finding more obvious typos and spelling mistakes, basic grammar errors, and even typographical issues (e.g., extra spaces between words). Even though you can’t rely exclusively on spell check, it’s often helpful to run it on your final document before you use the more labour-intensive strategies described below. This way, you’ll be able to quickly identify and correct most of the obvious errors so that don’t have to waste your time correcting them manually.
When to use this strategy: all the time
2. Manually search for typos
Because spell check won’t catch everything, it’s a good idea to manually read your final document too. In this day and age, most of us prepare documents electronically, so it’s tempting to proofread our work by simply reading through a document on our computer or mobile device. This strategy is okay if you’re preparing an informal document that won’t be graded, evaluated, or shared externally. However, if you’re writing an important document, you’ll want to use a more rigorous strategy to check your work. Why? Because you’ve probably read your document so many times that your brain now automatically corrects your errors each time you read it. This is why you sometimes don’t notice a really obvious typo until you’ve read your document 10 times. So how can you get around this amazing-yet-not-always-helpful ability of your brain to make you blind to your own mistakes? Try one of the four methods below:
2a. Read your document a few days after you finish it
When you set your work aside for a few days before you proofread it, you’re able to read it with “fresher” eyes and spot mistakes that you may not have noticed before. You may not always have enough time to wait a few days before proofreading and submitting your document, but if you can do, it can help you produce a more polished final product.
2b. Read your document aloud
Reading your document aloud will force you to read it more slowly, which can help you spot mistakes that you wouldn’t have noticed otherwise. Of course, it may not be the most feasible strategy if you’re sitting in a library or open-concept office, but it can work well in more private spaces.
2c. Read a hard copy of your document
As annoying as it can be to print a document, especially if it’s long, reading a hard copy of your document can help you spot mistakes that you may not catch when reading the document on your computer. When you read a hard copy, your document is in a different format than it was in when you were reading it on your computer, so your brain isn’t as likely to automatically correct your mistakes as you read the document.
2d. Read your document backwards
It may sound silly, but reading your document backwards can be a great way to find hard-to-spot mistakes. When you read backwards, you tend to read more slowly and focus more on each individual word, which make it more difficult for your brain to automatically correct your mistakes. Because you end up reading words rather than sentences, this strategy isn’t as good for identifying issues related to sentence structure, flow, or subject-verb agreement, but it can be really useful for identifying mistakes at the level of individual words.
When to use these strategies: Always read at least an electronic version of every final document. If your document will be evaluated or shared externally, use at least one of the four strategies described in 2a–2d. If you want to be really rigorous, you can use all four together!
3. Ask a colleague or friend to proofread your document
The strategies that we described in 2a–2d are aimed at simulating the experience of reading a document with a fresh set of eyes. When you’re writing an important document, though, it can be helpful to have someone who has never seen your document read it too. For example, if you can convince a colleague or friend to review your document, they may be able to spot some errors that you were never able to find. Having someone else read your document can also be helpful if you’re not proficient in the language that you’ve written the document in. After all, if you don’t know what is an error and what isn’t, it’s going to be hard for you to spot mistakes on your own no matter how meticulously you review your document. If you’re in this situation, having your document reviewed by someone who has a good grasp of spelling, grammar, and punctuation can go a long way toward making sure that your document is as polished as it can be.
When to use this strategy: when you’re producing an important document or you aren’t proficient in the language that you’re writing in
4. Use a professional editing service
Having a colleague or friend review a document can be helpful when this person knows a lot about spelling, grammar, and how to write well. The problem is that not everyone you know is a strong writer or editor. In addition, not everyone who offers to review your document is going to take the time to review it carefully. When you use a credible professional editing company, you can be confident that the person who reviews your document is highly skilled and motivated to do a good job. If you’re writing a document that could make or break your chances of getting into your dream academic program or getting your business funded, you may want to use a professional editing service so that your document is as polished as it can be. Of course, a professional editing company will charge you and need some time to process your order, but there are affordable companies out there that can return your document in a short amount of time. For example, at Inpression Editing, our proofreading service starts at $0.02/word, and we can edit your document in as little as 24 hours.
When to use this strategy: when you want a highly polished document or you aren’t proficient in the language that you’re writing in
Can you think of other proofreading strategies? Share them in our comments section below!
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