Proofread Like a Lit Major

literature major proofread
literature major proofread

Like a Lit Major is a mini-series in honor of those school-time skills, where once a week I’ll be sharing tips to power up your reading and writing skills. Whether you’re a student, a blogger, a book club devotee, or just looking to polish your email correspondence, there’s a little something for everyone!

Confession time: I’m a stickler for grammar, but cannot stand proofreading. I usually pawn it off on my mother because I can’t always distance myself from my work to catch the fine distinctions that need to be found while reading. Despite my dislike of proofreading, it’s still a necessity, and I’ve managed to devise a few strategies to buckle down and be a better proofreader.

But first, a brief Public Service Announcement: editing is not the same as proofreading!

And now on to the tips!

  • Read it aloud so you can hear things that automatically throw up the “red flag” alarm. Duplicate words and nonsensical phrases will be easy to spot when you hear it spoken aloud.
  • Have someone else read it to catch mistakes you might have missed. Having a fresh set of eyes can help catch things that made sense to you, or that you might’ve overlooked.
  • Print it out to get a new perspective. Follow along with a pen or your finger to focus on reading each word as you encounter it.
  • Assume the correct mindset. Proofreading is a completely different mindset from writing, and requires you to slow down and read more deliberately.
  • Wait! Give it a day after writing, longer if possible, before you start proofreading. If it’s still fresh in your mind, you’re more likely to fill in the blanks automatically with what you know you just wrote down.
  • Break it up. Some people will break their proofreading efforts into INSANELY small categories and focus on a different one with each read-through, but you can just do the biggies; focus on punctuation in one read-through, spelling in another, pay attention to formatting and citations, in a third, etc.
  • Watch out for boobytraps. Words like they’re/their/there or effect/affect and other homonyms are more likely to get mixed up, whether from autocorrect, spellcheck, or just hasty fingers.
  • Look up tricky words. I see too many emails and the like where names and other proper nouns aren’t spelled properly. Heck, I still get Facebook messages from family members who can’t seem to remember how to spell my name, much less look at the screen to see how it’s spelled.
There’s a lot of mixed feelings out there, but I’m firmly of the camp that it’s okay to make mistakes; they happen. I’ve poured over papers time after time after time, and still found one little typo after getting my final copy back. Try your best to avoid them – they really do influence how others view your credibility, but don’t freak out if one happens every blue moon.

Next week I’ll be wrapping up the back-to-school series by sharing some of my favorite resources for researching and presenting, so stay tuned!