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Proofreading Basics and Tips

Updated on September 26, 2017
Marie Flint profile image

Marie is a Michigan State University alumnus and has over 10 years of business writing experience. She writes content, poetry, and stories.

Do you feel as if you need a Sherlock Holmes to proofread your writing? Let's eliminate the mystery.
Do you feel as if you need a Sherlock Holmes to proofread your writing? Let's eliminate the mystery. | Source

The Need to Proofread

Do you write enthusiastically only to have your work rejected because of spelling, punctuation, and grammar? Rules of modern American English can be confusing.

Refresh and enhance your skills with a brief overview of spelling, awareness of homonyms, and 12 of the most common writing errors. Learn the editing process that works and take a helpful quiz.

Writing without revising is the literary equivalent of waltzing gaily out of the house in your underwear.”

— Patricia Fuller, fantasy author

Spell Check

While the spell check in word processing programs on the computer are helpful, misused words are not distinguished when spelled correctly--or you may be one of those writers who hasn't taken the time to even run the spell check. In either case, it's good to be familiar with the most commonly misspelled words.

25 Most Commonly Misspelled Words

a-em
ex-lia
lic-pre
pri-w
accommodate
existence
license
privilege
acknowledgment
foreword*
occasion
proceed
argument
harass
occurrence
separate
commitment
inadvertent
perseverance
supersede
consensus
indispensable
prerogative
withhold
deductible
judgment
 
 
dependent
liaison
 
 
embarrass
 
 
 
*foreword is what is used at the beginning of a book

Confusing Homonyms

A homonym is a word that sounds the same, but has a different meaning and spelling. A few examples are:

bear (n) the animal; (v) to carry; bare (adj) naked or scant

carrot (n) a vegetable; carat or karat (n) 200 mg of gemstone; caret (n) a ^ mark to show insertion

dear (n or adj) a kind person - heartfelt; deer (n) the animal

eve (n) the night before; eave (n) the overhanging part of a roof

four (n) the number; fore (adj) at the front; for (prep) purpose or desirous of

there (n) a place; their (pron) belonging to them

to (prep) direction toward; two (n) the number; too (adv) 1. also 2. very

write (v) graphic use of words; right (n, adj) 1. side of body, direction 2. correct

12 Common Writing Errors

1. Fragmented sentence - a subject or verb is missing, or the phrase is a dependent clause that needs explanation.

Example: When it rains.

Solution: When it rains, it pours.


2. Comma splice - sentences separated by a comma without a conjunction.

Example: The town was finally built in 1870, the architect planned it for five years.

Solution: The architect planned the town for five years, and it was finally built in 1870.


3. Run-on sentence - sentences incorrectly combined that would work best separated.

Example: The climate of South America varies greatly from north to south temperatures also vary greatly from mountains to coast.

Solution: The climate of South America varies greatly from north to south. The temperatures also vary greatly from mountains to coastline.


4. Comma omission - no comma preceding the conjunction combining two sentences1.

Example: It rained nearly all afternoon yesterday but it is sunny and somewhat humid today.

Solution (comma after "yesterday"): It rained nearly all afternoon yesterday, but it is sunny and somewhat humid today.


5. Comma omission after long introductory clause - when the first part of the sentence is not the subject and needs a comma for clarification.

Example: As Herculean winds brought giant waves threshing against the rocks where Adeline struggled to free her foot from a crag Brian saw her demise and used all his strength to battle that wind in an effort to get to her.

Solution (note comma inserted after "crag"): As Herculean winds brought giant waves threshing against the rocks where Adeline struggled to free her foot from a crag, Brian saw her demise and used all his strength to battle that wind in an effort to get to her.

6. Comma omission around nonessential phrase - parenthetical phrases and descriptive phrases after a noun are set off by commas.

Example: Jared blessings upon him possessed the skill of an experienced surgeon.

Solution (commas inserted after "Jared" and "him"): Jared, blessings upon him, possessed the skill of an experienced surgeon.

7. Noun antecedent agreement - the noun that substitutes or explains the pronoun should be preceding it without other same-number nouns or pronouns between them. The noun and pronoun should agree in number and gender.

Example: Most advertising is aimed at young adults, but those should be geared toward persons over the age of 50 because he has 70% of the spending power.

Solution (replace those/he): Most advertising is aimed at young adults, but it should be geared toward persons over the age of 50 because they have 70% of the spending power.

Example (needs antecedent): It is self-evident.

Solution: The precepts of the Constitution are self-evident.

8. First-second-third person shift - when person is changed within a sentence or paragraph

Example: I cross my t's and dot my i's. That way, you are less likely to be misunderstood.

Solution: I cross my t's and dot my i's. That way, I'm less likely to be misunderstood.

9. Verb tense shift - when present or past changes to past or present within a sentence or paragraph; a clause within the sentence expressed in a different tense is acceptable

Example: Yesterday I was going to the store when I realize I had forgotten my wallet.

Solution: Yesterday I was going to the store when I realized I had forgotten my wallet.

Acceptable tense shift in clause (am going is present tense, while forgot shifts to past tense): I'm going to the store when I realize that I forgot my wallet.

10. Subject-verb agreement - both should be singular or plural, not to be confused with nouns serving as objects of prepositions

Example: One fact from research studies are that children require more sleep than adults.

Solution: One fact from research studies is that children require more sleep than adults.

11. Misplaced or dangling modifiers - when a phrase does not actually modify the nearest noun (or adjective/verb)

Example (modifying noun): The pith of the grapefruit, or white part, is rich in vitamin C.

Solution: The pith, or white part, of the grapefruit is rich in vitamin C.

Example (modifying verb): The clerk kept a daily record accurately of sales.

Solution (better): The clerk accurately kept a daily record of sales.

12. Lack of parallelism - when three or more phrases are serving as either the subject or predicate, construction should be the same.

Example (subject): Ms. Adeline Gromeski, Rhonda "Jane" White, and Mr. Robert Jonson attended the meeting.

Solution (parallel style): Adeline Gromeski, Rhonda White, and Robert Jonson attended the meeting.

Example (predicate): The lady figure skaters were scheduled to skate in the following order: Beth Johnson (Canada), Ursula Brandon of Germany, and Tatiana Holmes, United States.

Solution (parallel style): The lady figure skaters were scheduled to skate in the following order: Beth Johnson (Canada), Ursula Brundt (Germany), and Tatiana Holmes (United States).

Proofread in 10 Steps

  1. Disengage yourself from your work several hours before attempting to proofread.
  2. Proofread only when alert.
  3. Read your article out loud.
  4. Consider sentences individually from last sentence to first (backwards).
  5. Make any desired changes in accordance with good English standards.
  6. Set your material aside another hour or two.
  7. Have someone else, regardless of experience, read your writing and listen to his feedback, making any changes that will improve the article.
  8. Observe the overall impression of your piece to see if it pleases you.
  9. Disengage yourself from the material for at least 20 minutes.
  10. Finally, run a mechanical spell check and consider any suggestions2. If there are none, publish.

A Video Summary of Proofreading

While you, as a writer, may not be going to the instructor in the following video for advice, the tips he offers are tried and true.

A Proofreading Skill Quiz


view quiz statistics

Footnotes

1. Comma omission is acceptable when the sentences are short, i.e. five or fewer words, especially in creative writing and fiction.

2. While the computer spell check program offers spelling and grammar corrections, context is not readily understood in binary language. As the author, you have to be able to recognize incorrect suggestions.

Resources

http://businesswriting.com/tests/commonmisspelled.html (Table Creation)

https://www.sophlylaughing.blogspot.com (Spellcheck Image)

Comments

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    • k@ri profile image

      Kari Poulsen 2 weeks ago from Ohio

      Great article. Very common errors that we all make. The quiz was fun. :)

    • Marie Flint profile image
      Author

      Marie Flint 2 weeks ago from Jacksonville, Florida USA

      Thanks for letting me know, Dora--I had no idea.

    • MsDora profile image

      Dora Isaac Weithers 3 weeks ago from The Caribbean

      Back to say Congratulations on your "Biggest Grammar Nerd" Award. I've been the recipient of your grammar expertise and I've been grateful. Best to you, going forward!

    • Marie Flint profile image
      Author

      Marie Flint 7 weeks ago from Jacksonville, Florida USA

      Dear Commenters, thank you for reading this article, one that took too many months to write out of procrastination and lack of enthusiasm. Poppyr did an excellent job in helping me proofread this; a second pair of eyes really helps!

      I took the quiz myself to make sure the answers were grading correctly.

      Now all I have to do is practice what I preach! As I have noted in a past forum, I have never received a 100 score on a hub. Writing this article gives me the incentive to do better, just as I know all of you want to do too.

      Blessings!

    • sarahspradlin profile image

      Sarah Spradlin 8 weeks ago from Little Rock, Arkansas

      This was great. I pinned on Pinterest for later :)

    • MizBejabbers profile image

      MizBejabbers 8 weeks ago

      You have some very good suggestions, Marie. As an editor with 32 years experience under my belt, I write with my spell checker and the syntax checker turned on. Occasionally, I have to go back and correct something the autocorrect "corrected" for me, so that is something that those who turn them on should watch.

      The most prevalent error I see writers make in HubPages articles are run-on sentences. I see some good ideas that are otherwise well-executed by popular writers, but for the run-on sentences. In my 29 years as a legal editor, the two most prevalent problems I saw with the bill drafters were no. 11, misplaces dangling modifiers because the drafter was trying to pack way too much information into one sentence. Editors weren't allowed to correct this type of error in most cases because we might not express the idea the sponsor of the bill wanted. (Ha, that's why the laws are so screwed up!) and no 12, parallelism. The problems we faced with parallelism was usually in a series: "1. authoring a budget; 2 getting an appropriation for the budget; and 3. to make sure the appropriation is funded before beginning the project." We were allowed to correct that error. So as you can see, there are all kinds of problems that good editing can erase.

    • MsDora profile image

      Dora Isaac Weithers 8 weeks ago from The Caribbean

      Thanks for the lesson. My quiz score was not perfect, but impressive. I enjoyed the practice.

    • Marie Flint profile image
      Author

      Marie Flint 8 weeks ago from Jacksonville, Florida USA

      Thank you, Mike and Eric for the comments--if you hadn't visited, I probably wouldn't have caught that missing period under Proofread in 10 Steps. Thanks!

    • Mike Bray profile image

      Mike Bray 8 weeks ago from Las Vegas

      Some outstanding advice, thanks.

    • Ericdierker profile image

      Eric Dierker 8 weeks ago from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A.

      A wonderful hub filled with good concepts.