Methods for Effective Proofreading

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While the easiest method of proofreading is sending a document to a proofreading service, learning some tricks of the trade might help you save some time and money! Proofreading is, indeed, a tedious, time-consuming task, one that most people – even writers – loathe doing. It is especially difficult to proofread one’s own writing due to bias and the fact that we tend to see what we meant to write instead of what is actually written.

When proofreading one’s own work, it is imperative to remember that there are several levels of proofreading. This article covers sentence-level proofreading. Paragraph-level proofreading (not discussed here, though important) involves looking at transitions between ideas as well as the flow of sentences with individual paragraphs. Sentence-level proofreading is the nitpicking process of finding every tiny error that most associate with the term proofreading. Both, though, are equally important to an effective document or piece of writing. 

Peer Review

An integral part of any writing process is having others look at your work, identify errors, and offer suggestions for correction or revision. Although it is always a good idea to carefully review one’s own writing, another’s eyes are usually going to find errors the writer misses.

When looking at one’s own work, bias exists as well as the tendency to read what was intended rather than what is actually on the page. Never feel awkward or embarrassed to ask for another person to review your work – just remember to choose wisely as not all others are looking out for your best interests. A trusted colleague, friend, sibling, or even parent are good choices.

Peer review is great for checking spelling and grammar, especially if a writer has a friend or acquaintance that is a grammar cop. Not all writers are grammar experts or great spellers, so having at least one other set of eyes glance over a document is always a good idea. 

The Paramedic Method

The Paramedic Method for proofreading sentences was developed by Richard Lanham in his book Revising Prose. This method focuses on creating clear and concise sentences, not so much spelling and grammar. This method is effective because most writers are not thinking about how the sentences sound, just that they appear correct. The Paramedic Method helps writing sound more fluid and more persuasive as it helps the writer get directly to the point.

This method involves several steps that seem tedious at first (let’s be serious – all proofreading is tedious), but it will help create more effective sentences, even if those sentences are already technically correct. This is especially helpful when professionally writing résumés, cover letters, and e-mails in which writing space is limited. The Paramedic Method helps the writer say more with fewer words.

For each sentence – or least the very wordy and/or unclear sentences – follow these seven steps:

  1. Circle the prepositions (of, in, about, for, onto, into, etc.): This will help eliminate unnecessary prepositional phrases and replace them with more concise verbs or descriptions.
  2. Draw a box around the to-be verb forms (is, was, has, have, had, etc.): These verb forms often precede an action verb and consequently result in use of the passive voice. When writing professionally, active voice is more persuasive and concise and gets to the point. Eliminate these weak verb combinations, and replace the verb duo with one solid action.
  3. Ask, “Where’s the action?”: Figure out where the action of the sentence is and proceed to Step 4.
  4. Change the action into a simple verb: This relates to Step 3, where the writer found the to-be verbs. The writer should completely eliminate those verbs and replace them with “simple” (one-word) verbs.
  5. Move the doer into the subject (Who’s kicking whom?): Moving the doer of the action into the subject will also help eliminate passive voice and those to-be verbs. Placing the doer, followed by the simple verb, will create active voice!
  6. Eliminate any unnecessary, slow windups: Phrases such as “What I’d like to say is . . .” or “The point I wish to make is . . .” are slow windups to what the writer is actually going to say. These phrases are unnecessary as they are assumed by the reader.
  7. Eliminate any redundancies: When writing, especially quickly or under time pressure, writers tend to repeat themselves in sentences (as well as throughout a document, but that’s another story). Be sure to only mention information one time in a sentence – more than this is unnecessary and takes away from the sentence’s effectiveness. 

Homonym Check

Anyone who has a working knowledge or higher command of English knows that there are many words that sound similar but have different meanings. In an age dependent upon spell and grammar checks, knowing the differences between homonyms is imperative.

Spell and grammar checks in most word processing software programs will not pick up a homonym error unless it is grammatically incorrect. Familiarizing oneself with the commonly misused homonyms (there, their, they’re; your, you’re) is a good idea to avoid silly errors. Try to avoid guessing when it comes to word usage – the internet is constantly at our disposal, so use it! Look up which word is correct. 

Reading Backward

Last but not least, if a writer does not have a trusted grammar cop friend, reading each sentence backward can help check for spelling and grammar errors. Starting from the last sentence at the end of the document, read each sentence, editing along the way, until you get back to the start. This helps isolate each sentence, so the proofreader can see it out of context and also not read too quickly. This, of course, only completes the task if the writer has a strong command of English grammar; this method can help fix typographical errors, though, even if the writer’s grammar is not up to par.


These methods yield the best results when used in combination with one another; no one method is foolproof on its own. If all else fails, get in touch with a proofreading service for professional proofreading help! 

Post by Online English Editor.  

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