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These are our top strategies for more effective proofreading 

By Newcastle University

How often do you spot a glaring spelling mistake or an incomplete sentence in your work right after you hand it in? Or receive an assignment back and notice all of the referencing errors that you didn't see at the time?

Proofreading a piece of work you've only just finished can often be difficult. Our brains have a tendency to pay less attention to anything they're very familiar with and this includes work that you've just spent the last few days or weeks writing.

Because your brain 'recognises' your work you're likely to skim over your writing when reading it back, making it more difficult to spot mistakes. 

The easy answer to this problem is to spend a few days away from your work before proofreading or ask a friend or family member to check it over for you. But what do you do when that's not possible? Here are some strategies that might help you to achieve enough distance from your writing to better see your own errors.  


Print your work out 

The internet and social media have conditioned our brains to go into 'skim reading' mode when we try to read on a screen.

Reading your work on paper presents it to your brain in a new way (avoiding the 'recognition effect') and slows your reading down so you don’t miss things. 


Create a proofreading checklist 

You may have an idea of what your common mistakes are from feedback on previous work. Compile these into a checklist to help focus your proofreading. 


Read your work aloud 

Your ear will notice issues that your eye can't see, particularly when it comes to long, incomplete or confusing sentences.

You could use screen reading software for this but bear in mind that the voices are often stilted and unnatural, so you won't get a sense of the flow of your writing. Reading it aloud yourself gives the best results. 


Break the task down 

This might mean proofreading one section at a time, so you don't lose focus (particularly if you're working on a long piece of work like a dissertation) or proofreading more than once, focussing on a different issue (spelling and grammar, sentence length, referencing) each time. 

If you're struggling with academic writing, or you just need a helping hand, discover our academic writing toolkit. And remember, it's normal to find academic writing a challenge, particularly in your first year.  For additional support, why not visit our writing development centre

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