What exactly differentiates proofreading from revision? The exact dividing line is a bit fuzzy, but generally speaking, revision is more about the big picture, while proofreading is more about the nitty-gritty details.
Proofreading is about making sure that there are no errors in spelling, word choice, grammar, and other superficial aspects of your writing. Because the purpose of proofreading is to polish your document, the most effective and efficient time to proofread is generally once you’re done revising.
1. If you can, get a friend or coworker to proofread for you. It’s not about being lazy (to reciprocate, you should offer to proofread something for them). It’s just that it’s too easy to miss little errors in a document you’ve already been working on for a while. A great alternative (or supplement) is eType, which can help correct your spelling and make suggestions while you’re drafting, so that there will be less to do when the time comes to proofread. The service also comes with a dictionary, so you have a quick and easy way to double-check a spelling or definition if need be.
2. Try to take a break between revision and proofreading. Again, if you’ve been looking at the same thing for too long, it may be easy for errors to slip by you.
3. Read backwards. No, not letter-by-letter – just start by reading the last sentence and then read the sentence before that, and then the sentence before that, and so on all the way back through the first sentence. Reading your sentences out of order lets you focus on each individual sentence, which makes it easier to spot errors or awkward phrasing. (Of course, if you have time, you should also read forwards just in case that allows you to catch any other issues.)
4. Keep reference documents around you. By reference documents, I mean things like a personalized spelling list as well as guides to grammar and usage. Review these documents before you begin proofreading in order to psychologically prime yourself to spot the mistakes you’re likely to make. When you do catch errors, use your list and your guides to help you clean them up.
While many people don’t find proofreading to be fun, it is an important part of making your work presentable for many settings. It’s worth putting the time into it so that instead of silly typos, your audience can focus on the brilliant work you did while writing and revising.