How to Improve Your Proofreading Skills

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If you've ever paid someone to proofread a document or paper, or waited a long time for someone to proofread your work for free, you have probably asked yourself what can you do to proofread better and avoid this situation all together? While many proofreaders have an innate ability to detect and correct errors in writing, it is still a skill that can be learned and honed over time. Here are just a few ways that can improve your proofreading methods:

1. Read, read, and read!

Reading is the number one way to improve proofreading skills. The more exposure to correctly written language one has, the easier it becomes to spot incorrect language. Most, if not all, professional proofreaders were avid readers before they started proofreading for pay.

Reading also helps you to learn new writing techniques. Maybe the problem is not that the writer has poor language skills, but that he or she was not exposed to different styles of writing, or has not practiced other styles.

Reading Makes You a Better Writer and Proofreader
Reading makes you a better writer and improves your proofreading skills.

Certain genres, like news reporting, use shorter sentences with a strong, active voice, while poets and fiction writers tend to use more lengthy, flowery sentences. Neither is incorrect, but exposure to both styles, as well as other kinds will help you see which genres you need to practice. Reading across genres is imperative for building proofreading skills! 

2. Avoid using spell check and grammar check tools. 

In this day and age, many writers – professional and amateur – rely almost automatically on spell check and grammar check tools featured in word processing programs.  Turning off the spell check and grammar check features encourages the writer to be accountable for mistakes because he or she is forced to sift through each sentence in a document. Over time, this process will become natural and the writer can then use the grammar and spell check as backup tools, rather than as the main mode of proofreading. 

Writing with a Typewriter
To develop your proofreading skills try writing without spell check and grammar check tools. Try seeing how many of your errors you can identify manually.

 3. Take a grammar class or pick up a "Grammar for Dummies" guide.

Unfortunate but true, many people do not have a strong grasp or command of their native language's grammar, especially Americans and English. Social media and texting have changed the writing habits of most people and these platforms do not encourage or require proper grammar and spelling. In fact, text messaging was originated with the intent to abbreviate everything. Before the full keyboard, it would have been a monumental task to type out a few sentences.

Proper grammar is typically taught in elementary and grade schools, but if those skills were lost through the high school years, a crash course in English grammar might not be a bad idea. If the thought of sitting through a grammar-intensive course makes you shudder, consider going to the local bookstore or searching Amazon for a simplified grammar guide. Read a bit each day, and practice the skills actively and frequently. 

4. Ask for help.

When learning how to proofread more effectively, have a “grammar police” friend or coworker help you work your way through a document. While it is much easier to just hand that person the text and let them do it, it cannot hurt to have them show you the errors and how to edit them, in order to avoid making the same mistakes again.

Try to find the person with the strongest command of grammar in your language. The only problem with this method is that while there are many good proofreaders out there, not all of them are good teachers or explainers. Find someone who can help, edit, and explain grammar!

5. Leave a lot of time between drafting and proofreading.

While this will not help you to develop grammar skills, it will help you see blatant errors more easily. Errors like typos and obvious misspellings can be easily missed when proofreading immediately after drafting. You always want to proofread with fresh eyes, almost as if you were reading someone else's paper. Leaving at least twelve hours between drafting and proofreading is necessary for this tip to work. The more time you can leave in between, the better off you will be!

6. Read the document in a different format.

This is especially true if you usually proofread on the computer. The computer, unfortunately, lends itself to shoddy proofreading for several reasons. First and foremost is the spell checker, as mentioned previously.

Digital proofreading is also not tangible, and having a physical, hands-on experience while proofreading is often much more helpful. Print out the document and work through it with a colored pen. Even if you do not know why something sounds off, mark it anyway and go back to it. If the document is hand-written (rare nowadays, but nonetheless still relevant), type it and proofread it as you type. 

7. Proofread more than once.

This is one of the major differences between experienced and inexperienced proofreaders. A once-over is not enough to aim for perfection. Each proofreading session should have a focus: grammar/spelling, formatting (MLA, APA, etc.), and clarity of thought (i.e., does all of this make sense?) These sessions should not be performed back to back; just like waiting between drafting and proofreading is necessary, waiting between proofreading sessions is also necessary. You want to be in a focused mindset for each session. You do not want to be distracted by typographical errors when you should be checking APA formatting. 


While each of these methods is powerful on its own, using them all together will improve your proofreading skills much more efficiently. Proofreading is not learned overnight, but learned over time, through rigorous practice and patience. There is a good reason why proofreaders are paid well: they have honed their skills and continue to practice them for years. You may not become a professional proofreader, and you may still need to ask another party to proofread for you, but you can become better!                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          

Post by Online English Editor.  

Online English Editor provides editing and proofreading services to academics, students and professionals.