Monday, February 7, 2011

Don't Fall into the Spell Check Trap: Tips for Strong Editing and Proofreading

Before turning in a paper for a class or before submitting an article for publication, if writers want to get it right, they must take time to carefully edit and proofread their documents.

Only using the Spelling and Grammar Check through Microsoft Word will not get the job done, however. It's a trap.

As I've told people for years, "Spell Check isn't evil, but it's pretty darn close." I say that because if writers only use that system to edit and proofread their documents, then all kinds of silly errors will show up on the page.

So to combat the Spell Check trap, here are five different methods you can use for editing and proofreading your work:
  1. Read the Paper Out Loud
  2. Read the Paper Backwards
  3. Read the Paper Out Loud & Backwards
  4. Use the Pencil or Ruler Method
  5. Use Each Sentence as Its Own Paragraph Method
To get details about these strategies, all five are described on the Writing Center's "Tips on Editing and Proofreading" page.

Another strategy that isn't listed is when someone else reads your paper out loud to you. We use that in the Writing Center from time to time. For example, if you come into 3110 Coleman Hall and sit down with a Writing Consultant for a session, that consultant might read your paper out loud as you note places in the paper that need more development and also mark errors you notice.

When I'm in the later stages of writing a document, I like to read the paper out loud first and then read the paper backwards after I've given the paper enough time to rest.

Letting the paper "rest" is important because when I read a draft right after I've written it, I miss sentence-level glitches since the sentences are so fresh in my mind. If I leave the paper alone (for two hours or for two days), then I come back to it with a different set of eyes and mindset that is much more critical.

So I wonder what are other people's favorite methods for editing and proofreading?

What works for you?

And do you know any other methods that work well?


  1. Reading it out loud! Especially if there is limited time for it to "rest." After looking at a piece of writing for a long time, I can't see it any more, but I can hear it.

  2. I'm fond of the reading out loud and backwards method when I'm crunched for time.