In this post, we’ve compiled a comprehensive checklist for proofreading your work to a professional standard using the collective knowledge of our expert editing team.
Whether you’re a proofreader yourself or want to proofread your work like a pro, be sure to bookmark this handy resource! If you want to skip the explanation of each step, you can view the checklist at the bottom of the page.
A proofreading checklist is a great resource for anyone who writes. Instead of trying to remember everything (and inevitably missing things because you’re human and have a lot to think about in a day), you have a resource that highlights common errors and mistakes. You can stay on track, avoid silly mistakes, and make sure your writing is clean, professional, and error-free.
Below we’ve broken down the checklist in detail, so you can understand what each checklist item means.
When you want to proofread a document, it’s useful to make two copies. The first copy is the original document, and the second is your “clean copy.”
When you’re ready to begin proofreading, open the original document, click Save As, and add “Clean Copy” to the beginning of the document name. Then remove “Track Changes” under the Review Tab (if working in Word) so you can make changes without marking up your document in red.
Depending on the English dialect required for the document, you might need to change the language settings on your document. This will help catch regional spelling mistakes.
To check your language settings, go to File, select More, and then Options. You will see the Word Options page pop up. Select the Language tab on the left. Make sure the correct language is listed under the “Office display language” box.
Under the “Office authoring languages and proofing” box, you will see the “Add a Label” option to the right. Select that and add your English dialect, such as English (United States) or English (United Kingdom).
Always review any style guides, referencing guides, or assignment requirements. If you’re a freelance proofreader working for a client, check your client’s notes to make sure you haven’t missed any details or overlooked specific requirements.
If you’re working with a specific referencing guide, check out our comprehensive guides to all major referencing systems (e.g., MLA, Chicago, Harvard, and APA).
If you’re a student, review your feedback from previous writing assignments. Do you see any recurring comments? If so, write those down and look for those issues in your current work. If you’re a professional, you can do the same by making a list of feedback you’ve received from colleagues or supervisors.
You know your writing best, so think about mistakes you’ve made in the past and things you tend to struggle with. Make a list of those items before you start so you’ll remember to keep an eye out for them.
Now, you’re ready to begin proofreading your document. Here are some general tips to make sure you catch every mistake and error as you go:
If you have a reference list, it can be helpful to proofread this first. Be sure to check your referencing system for guidance in this section. Reference lists should always start on a new page (unless specified otherwise). You can do this by inserting a page break.
When you start proofreading the main text, go through each page twice before moving on. If reading one page is too much, try going paragraph by paragraph instead. Take your time and give your eyes frequent breaks so you don’t miss anything. Additionally, the Read Aloud function in the Review tab can help you catch sneaky errors.
You should always use find/replace when you see recurring errors, especially spelling errors. Additionally, use find/replace to remove double spaces in the text.
Thanks to spellcheckers, spelling mistakes are easy to find and correct. However, technology sometimes overlooks them, so it’s still important to pay close attention to spelling. Additionally, ensuring consistent spelling among names of people, groups, places, and organizations, as well as paying attention to dialect differences, is key to achieving neat and professional writing.
Here are some common spelling mistakes to look out for:
Punctuation includes all marks and symbols, such as commas, colons, semicolons, quotation marks, and parentheses. Punctuation is just as important as correct grammar. Like grammar, punctuation marks add clarity and meaning.
Punctuation usage also varies among English dialects (i.e., British vs. American vs. Australian English), so make sure your punctuation usage follows the right dialect.
Here are some common punctuation mistakes to look out for. If you’re not sure how to use a specific punctuation mark, click on the link to find a detailed article on the topic.
Always check your document for formatting mistakes or inconsistencies, as they detract from professionalism and neatness. These can include empty lines at the start of the document, spaces at the beginning of a paragraph, or graphs, charts, figures, and tables that spill over into the margins.
Capitalization should follow standard rules and be consistent. For example, the titles, headers, and subheadings might all be sentence or title case. Additionally, ensuring that proper nouns (e.g., names of organizations and places) are capitalized correctly and avoiding random capitalization will enhance the overall quality of the writing. When writing a CV or resume, always check the capitalization of job titles.
If you’re unsure about capitalizing a term or phrase, check a dictionary. If you can’t find guidance from a dictionary, such as for scientific terms or jargon, look at other works or websites that use them and maintain consistency.
Here’s a short list of capitalization guidelines:
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