Proofreading is an essential step in preparing a piece of writing for its final draft.
In conjunction with revising and editing, proofreading double checks sentence structure and completeness.
No amount of creativity can hide good old proofreading. I can sit here at this computer and spit out phrase after phrase of sweet-sounding expressions, but if I don’t stop and look over what I have written, then I am sabotaging all my efforts.
There’s no sense in spending all the time it takes to write a paper and then just quitting on it before the deadline. But, so many students do just that and forego the proofreading, either because they are in a hurry or because they don’t know how to make sure the sentences are written correctly.
To simply tell students to proofread is not enough either. They have got to know how to do it. I tell my students to sit down with their finished revision at the point where they believe the paper is all done. The content is set. The spell check has been done. The only step left is to ink the final copy. This is the last chance to proofread the paper.
I have the students spread their two or three pages on the desk. (It is imperative that only one side of the sheet of paper has been written on so that the student can look over the entire paper without having to fiip sheets over and again trying to keep everything straight.).
Most students, regardless of their writing levels, know how a good sentence sounds. They can’t explain why very often, but their auditory instincts are more reliable than their cognitive knowledge. In other words, they can’t necessarily explain the grammatical reasons why a sentence sounds right or wrong; they just sense it.
Given today’s time constraints during writing exams, students have to–all too often–rely on these instincts.
My favorite way to proofread is suitable for the time-constrained situations.
I tell my students to start at the end of their papers. Go to the last page; find the last sentence, and read just that final sentence of the paper.
When we read anything from beginning to end, our brains have a built-in tendency to fill in the blanks as we go. This is one reason we miss whole words. Our brains know what should be there, and it fills in the missing words or punctuation marks as we read the paper.
Therefore, when my students read from the end of the paper, sentence by sentence, back to the first sentence, they tend to catch more fragments and run-on sentences. The student is singling out the sentence this way, forcing the sentence to stand on its own from capital letter to end mark.
Try this method on one of your own pieces of writing, and you will see that you can hear the correctness of the sentences.
My students find more fragments and run-ons this way because they are taking the single sentence out of its normal context and looking at it for what it is rather than as part of a whole explanation. The brain cannot inadvertantly add the missing link. The sentence has to sound right alone, out of context.
If we read the sentences one after another in order, then our brains attach meaning that extends from one sentence to the next, disallowing any separation of meaning of the strings of words from the grammatical focus of the act of proofreading. On the contrary, when we read the sentences in backward order, we see the sentence nakedly, as it is all by itself.
This is the key to this kind of proofreading. If the content is set, then the student should no longer be concerned with the overall meaning of what’s been expressed. That step is done. The student has already decided the content comes out logically.
Fragments stand out when the sentence is read out of context. The brain cannot rely on the previous sentence’s subject to assume the sentence is expressing the next thought properly. It is much more obvious that the subject of the sentence is missing or the rest of the predicate is incomplete. As well, run-on sentences are really easy to find because the student tends to lose breath trying to finish reading the sentence without having to pause for a breather.
This backward proofreading technique makes fragments sound fragmented and incomplete; this way of checking makes the run-on sentence run on and on, and it becomes clear to the student that the sentence has to be rewritten in shorter strings.
I myself am notorious for stringing out a long sentence of several phrases, trying to express my point as naturally as I can. Sometimes, though, I try too hard, or–as is the case for this particular article–I begin falling asleep amid my phrasing, and the serpentine sentence gets out of control.
Using this proofreading technique allows me to catch myself making gibberish.
For proofreading, it’s best to have a grammar text nearby that is full of examples and explanations; however, if you do not have that luxury, then simply read backward through the paper from the last sentence to the first, and you will undoubtedly find errors that need revision or editing.