Proofreading in Composition

Glossary of Grammatical and Rhetorical Terms

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In composition, proofreading is the process of reviewing the final draft of a text to ensure that all information is accurate and all surface errors have been corrected.

According to Thomas Means, "Proofreading differs from editing in that it mainly involves looking for errors or omissions rather than improving writing style or tone" (Business Communication, 2010).


"Proofreading is a special kind of reading: a slow and methodical search for misspellings, typographical mistakes, and omitted words or word endings. Such errors can be difficult to spot in your own work because you may read what you intended to write, not what is actually on the page. To fight this tendency, try proofreading out loud, articulating each word as it is actually written. You might also try proofreading your sentences in reverse order, a strategy that takes you away from the meanings you intended and forces you to think about small surface features instead.

"Although proofreading may be dull, it is crucial. Errors strewn throughout an essay are distracting and annoying. If the writer doesn't care about this piece of writing, thinks the reader, why should I? A carefully proofread essay, however, sends a positive message: It shows that you value your writing and respect your readers." (Diana Hacker, The Bedford Handbook. Bedford/St. Martin's, 2002)

Slow Reading

"Proofreading is about being remorseless in attending to detail: checking things like spelling, punctuation, double or missing word spacing, use of upper- and lower-case letters, grammar, layout, and highlighting. So it's about getting things right, making them consistent, and avoiding the burrs and blots that may distract or derail the rushing reader. It corrects mistakes before they embarrass you.
"Proofreading is not like other reading where we skim-read for information, usually in a hurry. To proofread well, go slowly. Make time for two checks, if you can. That's one for the big picture--layout, headings, type--and one for sense, spelling, grammar, and punctuation."
(Martin Cutts, Oxford Guide to Plain English, 3rd ed. Oxford University Press, 2009)

Proofread for One Kind of Error at a Time

"Proofreading is paying very close attention to what is on the page. If there are too many interruptions or distractions, your attention will be divided, and you won't see your error."

"As with editing, you want to proofread a chapter several times. Each time, make use of a different technique for proofreading so you'll be able to catch all of your errors. Proofread for only one kind of error at a time. For example, if you know that you have a difficult time with commas, go through the chapter once looking just for commas. If you try to identify too many things at once, you risk losing focus, and your proofreading becomes less effective. In addition, some of the techniques that work well for spotting one kind of mistake won't catch others.

"As the basis for effective proofreading, we encourage you to develop a style sheet of your own most common errors. When you notice errors that you make frequently, write them down alphabetically on a sheet of paper to create your own personal style sheet.

Using this style sheet, you can easily look for the errors you make most frequently."
(Sonja K. Foss and William Waters, Destination Dissertation: A Traveler's Guide to a Done Dissertation. Rowman & Littlefield, 2007)

Proofreading a Hard Copy

"Avoid doing your final proofreading on a computer screen. Ideally, you should do a preliminary editing and proofreading job while you are working on the computer. After printing out a copy, edit and proofread once more, before making final corrections on the computer and printing out your final copy."
(Robert DiYanni and Pat C. Hoy II, The Scribner Handbook for Writers. Allyn and Bacon, 2001)

Professional Proofreading

"In traditional proofreading, the proofreader checks the proofs (live copy) against the manuscript (dead copy) to ensure that proof copy corresponds word for word with the edited manuscript. With the advent of computer typesetting, however, it is not always possible to provide the proofreader with an accurate manuscript against which to check the typeset copy. In this case the proofreader must read the proofs without reference to an authoritative manuscript. This entails checking the accuracy of spelling against the dictionary, and checking for correct style against the publisher's accepted manual of style and any other references provided by the publisher. The proofreader is responsible to see that all typographical specifications (specs) called for by the editor are carried out correctly."
(Robert Hudson, The Christian Writer's Manual of Style. Zondervan, 2004)

Proofreading Exercises and Tips

Pronunciation: PROOF-reed-ing