1. Know your usual errors
Everyone has them – those little pitfalls, habits that you just can’t shake. Maybe you overuse commas or often write too informally for serious pieces. Before you even start proofreading a piece of work, it’s worth looking back through feedback you’ve received on your writing before and making a note of your usual error(s), so you can watch out for them.
2. Take a break
Proofreading your own writing can be particularly challenging when you’ve spent hours, days or even weeks writing the piece. One of the most common proofreading tips is to walk away from the piece and do something else. Work on another project, go for a walk, whatever you need to do to clear your head – check out our wellness tips for office workers for ideas on this!
Ideally, you should sleep on it and give yourself until the following day before you begin proofreading, but if that’s not possible, try to give it at least an hour or so.
3. Avoid distractions
Proofreading requires you to take a close, in-depth look at a piece of writing. It is much more difficult to do that if you’re making a coffee, walking on the treadmill or watering the plants while you read it.
A proper focus state will look different for every writer – maybe you need an empty room and absolute silence, or maybe you need some background noise or music to keep you on track. One of our top proofreading tips is to find your zen and proofread there.
4. Print it out
For the most part, if you’re writing a piece on a screen – laptop, tablet or phone – when you come to proof it, your eyes will be used to skimming over the text and will do it automatically. You’ll probably pick up most things, but the detail is what’s important. One of our best proofreading tips is to print it out; you’re changing the medium, and you’re more likely to notice anything odd.
5. Read it aloud
Writing with grammatical errors disrupts the flow of your internal reading, and that’s what reading your piece aloud helps you identify. This is one of the best proofreading tips for picking up overly-long or run-on sentences and words that are repeated too often.
Read it at a normal talking pace and make sure you say every word on the page – don’t skim past it and self-correct, because that won’t help your writing. It may feel a little embarrassing at first, but it’s one of the most effective methods for how to proofread your own work.
6. Use a text reader to hear it
Okay, reading it aloud isn’t for everyone – especially if you’re sitting in the middle of your office. If you can’t read it yourself, find a text-to-speech tool and have it read your piece to you. You can just plug in your headphones and edit as it reads.
One of the best proofreading tips is to make sure you listen through the piece one more time after you’ve made your edits, just to make sure it reads clearly.
7. Read through it backwards
This one can be a bit time-consuming, depending on the length of the piece, but working through your writing backwards can help you spot the surface-level grammatical errors that your brain might just skim right past when reading.
8. Start with the big stuff and work inwards
Another of the best proofreading tips is to start big. Look first at your structure and layout, then your tone of voice, then go down into the nitty-gritty of your spelling and grammar.
The last thing you want to be doing is sorting out your commas and then having to scrap the whole paragraph!
9. Evaluate each sentence
When you’re trying to make a point, it can be all too easy to repeat yourself for clarity and come off instead as redundant. As you proofread, make sure that every sentence says something new and adds value to the text. The average attention span of an individual reading something online is short, and if there’s a lot of fluff content around the point, they’ll go and find something more concise.
Example: The sentence ‘Ice cream is my favourite food, and I love eating it’ could be simplified to ‘Ice cream is my favourite food’. Nothing else in the sentence adds new information – if it’s your favourite food, of course you love eating it!
10. Don't forget about your headings
Headings are designed to be skimmed through – scannability is a big part of the reason we include them in our writing! However, that does make them easy to overlook when you’re proofreading.
Make sure your headings are consistent in tone and style, and that they’re concise. Learn more about using headings for SEO in our previous blog post.
11. Look for common mistakes
In an online world, grammar very often takes a backseat to simply getting your point across, which means that there are a lot of very common mistakes out there.
As a priority, keep an eye out for homophones (their/they’re/there), misspellings (definately/definitely) and misplaced apostrophes (it’s/its). Check out some more common copywriting mistakes in our previous blog post.
12. Focus on one type of error at a time
If you try to do everything at once, you can easily get muddled or lose your place. Proofread methodically to reduce the chance of overlooking a mistake.
A great proofreading tip is to start by focusing only on spelling errors, then grammatical mistakes, and then formatting inconsistencies. It might help to take a short break between each read-through to give your eyes and mind a chance to rest.
13. Don't rely on online grammar checkers unless you know grammar well
Online grammar tools can be your best friend or your worst nightmare and, generally, the distinction lies in how confident you are with your own grammar. If you want to use these tools, you need to have the foundational knowledge to see when its suggestions would make your writing worse instead of better.
While very clever, an AI cannot think, and it’s not fluent – it just recognises patterns that it has seen before. If you do use a grammar checker and something it suggests doesn’t sound right to you, it’s best to do your own research before you commit to changing it.
14. Ask someone else to proofread your work
This is one of the most effective proofreading tips because while you’re very used to the text in front of you – by the time you’re proofreading, you’re probably quite well-acquainted with it – someone else can come at it with an entirely fresh perspective.
15. Brush up on your grammar knowledge
Okay, this doesn’t exactly sound like a fun way to spend your time, but if you’re not very confident with spelling or grammar, it can be helpful to do some reading. Learn the why behind the rules so that you can apply them more confidently in your writing.