Tips when proofreading and editing your work

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Here’s the simple truth: Another person should proofread and edit your work.

There are three good reasons why checking your own work is not the best practice. First, because you are too familiar with what you wrote. It will be hard for you to note small mistakes, like missing “the,” “a” or “an,” because your brain will fill them in. That’s because the flow and message of the sentence is clear in your mind. Second, you will be less critical because it is your own work. And third, after writing your piece, you may be too tired to go over it again.

But if you absolutely have no choice and you have to check your own masterpiece yourself, take note of the following tips:

Let it rest

Allow your mind to forget what you wrote. Come back to it after a day or two and check. This will allow you to go over your document with fresh eyes.

Decide on what aspect to focus on

Proofreading is easier when you have only one goal to focus on. Read through your work several times, each time focusing on one aspect. You can start by going through the entire document looking for typo or spelling errors. Next, look at your sentence structures and see if you need to improve them. Then, check word choice. Then punctuation. These are technical aspects relating to form. You may need to do another round of checking, this time looking at substance. Were you able to say what you meant? Did you answer the question fully? Or did you provide the correct information?

Spell check and other tools

Do you notice some squiggly red, blue or green lines under some words in your Microsoft Word document? That’s the automatic spell check function and the words underlined deserve a double check. But don’t rely only on spell check. It has its limitations. It will not tell you if you used the correct word or not. For example, take this line from the popular song (from the musical “Annie”): The son will come out tomorrow. The word “son” should be “sun” right? Spell check will not alert you to it because the word “son” also exists. This is why when proofreading, I look at word choice first and then proofread for spelling errors. If you want to spell check manually, read backwards starting from the last word of your work (from right to left). This will help you concentrate on each word without having to process the meaning of the sentence.

Hearing the text aloud may help you recognize errors better. You can transfer your text to Google translate (or other text-to-speech tools) to hear what you wrote. You can note down some missing words, or revise clunky sentence construction as you listen.

If you wrote an essay or a longer piece, you can use tools like the Gunning Fog Index to measure readability. Readability measures how easy a reader can understand your work. You will need a fog index of less than 12 if you are writing for a wide audience. An index of 12 to 14 is good for professional texts. Another helpful online tool is the Hemingway app. It will point out your use of adverbs and check other parts of your sentences. Coloured highlights direct your attention to parts you should change.

New apps like Grammarly, or even ChatGPT and similar tools that use artificial intelligence (AI), can be used to edit and proofread work. But just like any other tool, use them judiciously. They have limits. You should always do the final check yourself.

Look for common errors

Look for common mistakes like “their” instead of “they’re,” “your” instead of “you’re,” and “its” instead of “it’s.” Double check some words that you are not sure of and see if there are better synonyms. Personally, I always check my prepositions (in, on, at, etc.) because I have trouble with them.

If your work contains facts and figures, proper names, direct quotes, or citations, always double (even triple) check. It is also a good practice to cite your sources to show that your work is backed by solid research, that you are acknowledging the source, and that you do not intend to plagiarize.

Avoiding Plagiarism from

Check for repetition

See if there are sentences that you may have repeated or sentences that say the same thing. Another mistake is using the same word over and over again in the document, or worse, in the same sentence. Unless you’re using a technical term that absolutely has no other synonyms (or if it is the most precise term to use), your document will look and sound better when you use a variety of words. Get a dictionary or thesaurus (or online versions of them) and replace repeated words. But, do check if the meaning of your sentence is unchanged. You may need to completely rewrite your sentence if replacing words with synonyms do not work.

Check for consistency

Check your structure, format, and even your fonts (type and size) if they are consistent. If you are using bullet points to enumerate, or if your spelling and style guide uses Canadian English, follow this throughout your work. Consistency will makes it easier to read and understand.
Article updated April 28, 2023.
Source:Top 10 proofreading tips by Richard Nordquist (

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