How to... proofread your work Part: 2

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How to... proofread your work

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Techniques for proofreading

When you read a draft of a paper, you will primarily be looking for content, accuracy and flow – that is, questions such as have you provided sufficient (but not too much) detail of your research methodology, does your literature review go into sufficient (but not too much) depth, is the structure of your paper clear, is it free of major inaccuracies etc. In other words, your focus will probably be at the paragraph and section level, looking at meaning and clarity.

When you proofread, however, your focus should be at the level of the sentence. You should read every sentence carefully and accurately, looking out for:

  • incorrect grammar, spelling and punctuation
  • unintended typographical errors
  • accuracy of any mathematical or statistical content
  • incomplete or inaccurate references.

What is also important, but difficult, is to ensure consistency over your manuscript, for example that you are using the same spelling of a word which has variations, the same way of writing out dates, etc.

Some tips for effective proofreading

  1. Do not leave the proofreading until the last minute: allow for it in your writing schedule. If you try and proofread just after you have completed your final draft, or after making peer review changes, you will be far too mentally exhausted, and will probably be mainly concerned with seeing the back of this piece of work! You are better off doing the proofreading check after an interval of at least 24 hours.
  2. Read each sentence carefully, focusing on the accuracy of that sentence.
  3. You may need to do several reads, looking for different things (e.g. one for punctuation, one for spelling, etc., and a separate check for a particular element, e.g. tables, statistical formulae).
  4. Use a ruler to enable you to focus on the detail and to prevent your eye moving down the page too quickly.
  5. Read the paper backwards, sentence by sentence.
  6. Show the draft to someone else – have a fresh pair of eyes look at it.
  7. Know what mistakes you commonly make (i.e. words that you commonly misspell etc. and look out for these in particular).

Using computers

These can help, but definitely do not replace humans!

  1. Use, but don't rely on, the spell checker. It has been known to make embarrassing errors, for example a letter beginning "Thank you for your constructive letter" was changed thus by a spellchecker: "Thank you for your contraceptive letter".
  2. If you find a particular error and know that you have probably repeated the error elsewhere (for example, if you have misspelt a frequently referred to author's surname), use the "find and replace" function in word to correct this throughout the paper.
  3. Proofread the printed, not the on-screen version.