The Ultimate Proofreading Guide for Academics

The Ultimate Proofreading Guide for Academics

Proofreading is a process that involves examining your manuscript/document/text in order to identify and correct mistakes in spelling, grammar and style. Proofreading usually takes place on the final draft of an academic manuscript, right before it is printed or published. The writer is usually on the final version in this situation. Readers, especially journal reviewers, will immediately stop reading a manuscript if they spot multiple errors in a short span of time. Your audience will also become less enthusiastic to continue reading your manuscript if they stumble upon obvious errors. One or two errors is fine – we all make mistakes as humans, and no one is perfect. But to leave out common mistakes that are explicit and obvious will cause you to lose  your value, credibility and reputation. This is true especially if submitting your manuscript to high quality journals. It is important to proofread the text yourself if you have the skills, or send it to a professional editor to have a look at it. A good publication will definitely lose valuable credibility if the content is poorly written. A good publication should come with good writing.

In order to effectively proofread an academic manuscript, it is important to transform yourself to a reader, and not a writer. Imagine you are a reader and carefully examine the text for errors. Remember, this is a one time process, and once published, your manuscript is no longer under your control – you can no longer edit it. Therefore, it is crucial to put in the time and effort in this final proofreading stage before submission. At this point, writers are usually tired and burned out from all the pressure, and want to submit their manuscript and get it over with as soon as possible. How can you take the time to proofreading and edit the manuscript? It is important to forget about it for at least two days. During this time, it is a good idea to go out and do something your enjoy to free your mind from your work. Then you can come back with a fresh mind, making it easier for you to focus entirely on the editing process.

Once you have come back after the two-day break, you can start to correct the manuscript. But before you proofread, make sure that you are completely done with writing the content, ideas, methods, discussions, etc. in the paper. An incomplete paper will result to even more proofreading later on, especially when you need to move pieces of text around. The next thing to do before you start is to remove any words that are not necessary. Do not repeat ideas, and do not use long run-on sentences. Reviewers like short sentences that are straightforward and to the point. Be sure to adjust them, and reduce comma usage. Now list down all of the mistakes you plant to search for throughout the text. This could be spelling errors, punctuation errors, grammatical errors, sentence structure adjustments, etc. This would be used as a reference during the actual proofreading process.

Now you can finally start with the editing. The following is a list of effective strategies and techniques to help you with the proofreading process. Please list them down somewhere; I am certain they will be of benefit and contribute to the overall correctness of the paper.

Use a printed softcopy, and not a hardcopy.

This is very important. Reading directly from the computer screen is difficult, and will cause you to miss errors that may be very obvious, not to mention the eyestrain and posture problems this will cause, especially if the manuscript is long. So print it out and then read from the hardcopy instead. This is an extremely effective technique that students often fail to apply. Using the hardcopy will also enable you to easily highlight and comment on errors spotted.

Read out loud.

This will enable you to spot problems that would otherwise hidden when reading silently. This is especially proven to be effective if you want to detect run on sentences, which you can easily recognize during reading the text out loud.

Use a spelling checker.

It is wrong to rely completely on a spell checker. However, it is a good idea to use it after you have finished correcting your work. This way, any spelling or typographical errors you have missed would be flagged by the spelling checker. These come in handy at the end of this process. A spelling checker is common in many text editing software such as Microsoft Word. If you do not use this software, many good spelling checkers are available freely online. We have also found this spelling and grammar checker to be quite useful and reliable.

Check each type of mistake independently.

This is a good approach to use if you tend to have many different types of errors in the text. You can read the text for four or five rounds. In each round, you can try to detect only one type of error. For example, in the first round, you can try to detect spelling errors, in the second you can try to detect grammatical errors, and so on. A separate round can be done to ensure subjects and verbs are in agreement, one can be done for singular-plural mistakes, etc.

Read backwards.

This is a good approach to apply when trying to detect spelling errors. When you read normally, you tend to read quickly because you already know what the content is about. But when you read backwards you are forced to read individual words, word by word. This makes it easy to ensure there are no spelling errors in the text.

Use grammar references.

It is a good idea to keep a few reliable references that contain grammar rules, as well as a dictionary to use to check how words are spelled. A thesaurus may also come in handy when looking for synonyms to replace words that are repeated too much.

Get your friends to help.

It is always more effective to have a fresh pair of eyeballs look at the text. This always results in another person detecting errors you were not able to. Therefore always have another person that is skilled in correcting mistakes carefully read your manuscript and point out any errors you may have missed.

Hire a professional proofreader.

Even if you are skilled in this, you are human, and therefore you make mistakes. A proofreader would highlight all of the mistakes you may have missed in the final round. Some professional writers send their work to editors to double check and ensure they have not missed anything important. Your work will be published after this stage, and you are no longer able to correct any mistakes. Therefore it is critical to get a proofreader to complete the final round of correction before submission. This way at least you will be positive that there are no more errors in your work.

Change the font.

People usually ignore this because they believe it will not help. But the truth is that it will, even if slightly. When using the same font you have become accustomed to, you will naturally speed up when searching for mistakes. But this would force you to slow down, since your mind needs more time to process the words written in a new way. This will trick your mind, and you will think it is a new document, which will enable you to spend more time reading it. It may even help in giving you a different perspective about the way the content is written. Other properties of the text can be changed other than the font, including the text size, color, spacing and style.

If you have any other recommendations or strategies not mentioned, please include them in the comments below.


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