Updated: Nov 7, 2019
“The secret to editing your work is simple: you need to become its reader instead of its writer.”
––Zadie Smith, Writer
While stages two and three of this essay process have been about “re-seeing” your work and exploring its possibilities as opposed to “fixing” and correcting it, proofreading is where you begin to really focus on finding “mistakes” and working toward removing them. But to fix an error, you need to see it, something that can be hard for writers to do since our sentences are already so familiar to us.
Here’s some ideas and strategies about how to carefully and fruitfully go through your work, so you can see it, fix it, and ensure your essay is free of “errors.”
First, set the work aside for a day or two to distance yourself from it as much as possible.
Second, read it out loud very, very slowly, so you HEAR it with fresh ears.
Consider re-reading it from the bottom of the last page to the top of the first, so you are forced to hear and see each word and sentence out of order and with fresh eyes.
Make marks as you go, but don’t stop to figure out how to fix things while your reading. In this way, you let your brain focus on one thing only, seeing the errors.
As you read, make sure each sentence makes sense.
Then re-read again looking for missing and/or unnecessarily repeated words?
Is each sentence really a sentence?
Does it begin with a capital letter?
Does it have a subject?
Does it have a verb?
Does it make sense and complete an idea?
Does it have a final punctuation mark?
Make a list of words that are spelled alike but mean different things, words such as: they’re/their; its/it’s; your/you’re; etc… Check to make sure you’re using each of those words correctly.
Are there errors you regularly make in your writing, errors such as: comma splices; fragments; and spelling beginning as begging etc…? Make a list of errors you sometimes make and check your writing for those kinds of things.
Do the subjects match the verbs?
Do the verb tenses match and make sense within each paragraph and across the piece?
Are apostrophes used correctly, so that an s stands for plural nouns, as in apples, and a ‘s for possession, as in Adam’s apples, and s’ for plural possession as in all the boys’ apples? (The exception, of course, being: it’s = it iswhile its = possession.)
Are quotation marks used consistently and correctly?
What else can you look for? What are the other small errors you tend to make? (Some examples: to, two, too; there, they’re, their; where, we’re, were.)
Does your essay follow the directions, exactly, as they are written on the contest’s website?
Might you also be willing to exchange your work with a gentle and trustworthy friend? It’s often much easier to see another person’s mistakes than it is our own. In this case, such clarity can bring about a fruitful exchange.
Dear Writer, I am so proud of you! Here you are at the very end a long process that required quite a bit from you. You gave your heart and shared your vision, utilizing your imagination, all your expressive powers, and the most disciplined aspects of yourself too.
It required a lot, and you gave a lot! The world is lucky to have you.
Once you’ve submitted your essay, take a moment to celebrate your hard work. Life will present many challenges and opportunities as you continue to grow and mature. Being willing and able to spend time writing your way into our future is using writing like a super power. For what can be imagined can be accomplished. Thank you for taking the time to put your dreams, thoughts, and plans into writing. The world will be better for it.
Good luck on your journey!