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How to proofread your text and NEVER pay for proofreading services

I’m going to start by saying something controversial here: proofreading services are a waste of your money.

OK, they might help you get that paper published. However, what will happen with your next paper?

you will have to get it proofread again. And the same for any other paper you will write in the future.

What you want to do instead, is to learn how to proofread yourself, so that you NEVER have to pay for proofreading services in the future.

It’s a HUGE myth that you need them. You don’t. regardless of your first language.

So how do you learn how to proofread effectively yourself?

Here are my best tips:

Take a break:

If you’ve been toiling over your written assignment for quite some time now, you’ve probably become so familiar with it that you won’t be able to spot any mistakes. Your ideas will sound crystal clear and perfectly logical. But probably you will be seeing what you think you wrote rather than what’s actually on paper. So setting the text aside can help you clear your mind and see it anew when you get back to it. Ideally, sleep on it. If you’re in a rush, relax for as long as you can, before proofreading. Try closing your eyes for 5 minutes and clearing your mind. Or gaze through the window and think about something else.

Print it:

I’m not sure why, but it’s much more difficult to proofread on the screen. Perhaps because if you’ve been writing the text on your computer, your eyes are probably already quite tired. Printing it might also help you see your writing from a different angle. A fresh perspective. Try it. It definitely works.

One thing at a time:

Remember – it’s not a sprint . Divide the process of proofreading into several stages. This will enable you to focus on a particular aspect (e.g. punctuation; subject/verb agreement) more closely and increase your chances of spotting the mistakes. Also, shifting your focus should help you stay concentrated and fresh for longer, as you will be looking at different and new aspects of your writing at each proofreading stage.

Check the flow:

Before you start looking at language mistakes, read the text for the overall meaning. Check if it’s logical. Try to put yourself in the shoes of somebody who knows little or nothing about the topic. The best texts are the least convoluted ones. Remember to go from general to specific. Check your paragraphs are organised logically. Ensure your ideas are logically linked.

Typical mistakes first:

Prepare a list of the most typical and recurring mistakes that you’ve made in your recent texts. Don’t go for too many. Select maybe 5 that are the most persistent. Have this list in front of you and focus first only on the mistakes listed there. They can be quite difficult to spot, because you might have made them so many times that they seem correct to your brain. So read the text carefully. Once you’re happy the typical mistakes are out, proofread again for other errors.

Read it backwards:

I’m not joking. Try it. Reading it word by word from back to front will shift your attention from the content to the text itself. This should help you spot some spelling, punctuation and grammar mistakes which have so far been overlooked.

Read it aloud:

And backwards! No, this time I’m only joking about the last one. But reading aloud can actually be very helpful. You might be able to hear the mistakes you were not able to see. This technique is particularly effective for spotting punctuation errors, run-on sentences and some word endings (e.g. -s).

Don’t rely too much on grammar and spelling checkers:

Of course, Word spell-checker for example, can be very helpful. But they also make you lazy. And many mistakes are overlooked by them. For example, “to” and “too” are both perfectly good words, so the error in “I like reading to” will not be underlined. Neither will “His advise was really helpful”. Sometimes a correctly spelled word might be underlined because it’s not found in the spell checker’s dictionary. In short, grammar and spelling checkers are quite smart, but only as far as it goes. So do use them, but don’t treat them as the ultimate solution. You will still need to proofread.

The devil’s in the details:

Double-check all the figures, proper names and references. Often one zero missing in a figure can cause a whole lot of problems. Make sure the information given in your text is accurate.

Ask for help:

If all else fails, ask somebody else to proofread your text (for example, in exchange for one of their texts). It doesn’t necessarily mean you have to pay somebody to proofread your work. Even just a quick look by a friend, relative or colleague can often make the difference. They’ll be looking at your work with a fresh pair of eyes and are much more likely to spot the mistakes that have escaped you. You can find a writing buddy in our community.

If you know you have problems with a particular area (e.g spelling), ask your proofreader to focus on it. This should make it more effective and time-efficient. We provided you with handouts that will help you proofread different parts of the text. They can be found below each of the assignments on the program.

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