There is an old saying related to classical opera. Many people don’t understand opera because people are singing in foreign languages and it is hard to follow the plot line. And in days gone by, the female star of these operas was usually a pretty big gal. So, those who were unable to understand what was going on developed a saying, “It’s over when the fat lady sings.” And so it is with your writing. It is over when the proofreading has been done and done well.
Mark Twain was a newspaper reporter before he became a famous author. And as progressive as he was in many areas of societal concerns, he was unforgiving about grammatical, spelling and punctuation errors of others. It is said that he used to proofread the articles that other reporters wrote, circle all of their errors and then place the articles on their desks. You may have an instructor or professor just like Mark Twain.
When you don’t proofread your work, here is what you are saying to your instructor. “Your assignment is just not that important to me, so I am just handing in what I wrote without cleaning it up.” Or “I am basically a lazy person, and this is the best you can expect from me.” You don’t want to do this – instructors are human and they do take offense. So, here is your guide for proofreading everything that you write.
You are not a master proofreader, so don’t try to be. You need to go through your piece several times, looking for only one thing each time. For example, the first time, read it out loud to yourself to check for sentence and other wording errors. You can catch most if not all of these if you read it aloud. Once you have done that, you decide what you will check for next – spelling? Punctuation? Wrong word usage?
Re-Check and Facts, Figures and Other Numerical Information, as well as capitalization
No spell check will correct incorrect dates, amounts of money, percentages, etc. You may have typed them wrong and not known it. So, just double-check them.
Another thing spell check does not always do well is recognize proper names. So read through and make sure they are all capitalized.
Here we go again. The biggest errors are usually in the use of commas. There are only a few comma rules really, and you should review them. But if you will read the piece out loud again and listen for where you pause naturally, you will pick up where commas should go. When in doubt, check the rules.
Using a Spellchecker is not Enough
Your spellchecker only lets you know if a particular word is spelled correctly. It does not tell you if you have used that word correctly. And there are many instances when incorrect usage is an issue. Do you know the difference between “their, there, & they’re,” “desert & dessert,” and “your & you’re?” If you are not sure, then you need a reference sheet for these kinds of words that sound the same but are spelled differently. There are some instructors who just see “red” when these words are used incorrectly, so let’s keep them calm. There are glossaries of mis-used words all over the Internet, so use one!
Proof for Subject-Verb Agreement
There are some errors that we make in everyday conversation that should not be made in formal writing. For example, we say, “Everyone want their voices heard.” “Everyone” is a singular pronoun, not plural. But the rest of the sentence treats it like it is plural. The proper way to write this sentence is, “Everyone wants his voice heard.” It may sound wrong to you, but it’s not. “Someone” and “anyone” is singular too.
Print Your Essay or Paper Out
Reading a hard copy of your piece will often let you find errors that you haven’t found reading it from the screen.
Read Your Piece Backwards
This is one of the best ways to find spelling errors, if you are typically a pretty good speller. When you are not reading the word in context and as a part of a sentence, it is easier to find your mis-spellings.
Get Some Help
Writing is just not everyone’s strength. Nor is grammar and punctuation. If you know that you have a problem in these areas, then you really should not be proofreading your own writing. If you a friend who is a good writer and is willing to help out, that is great. If not, you need to find a good writing service that can give you a quick turnaround time. When you find a good one, you can email your essay or paper over and have an English expert proofread and correct it – a smart choice if your goal is to get a good grade. In the meantime, you also need to bone up on the rules of grammar, composition and mechanics.
Make Your Own Cheat Sheet
You should identify the typical mistakes you make and put together a “cheat sheet” for yourself. You can refer to this as you write and as you proofread. And, as you do this, you will ultimately learn the rules that you have forgotten or never learned in the first place.
So…what will it be? How about making that fat lady sing?