Proofing means reading each word (and punctuation mark) in a document slowly and carefully while looking for errors. It means focussing on the surface of your text, not on the content. Some people believe you should finally read your text backwards to catch all the errors, but modern proofreading manuals challenge this method. Others recommend reading out loud during reading. Everyone agrees that it is best not to proof your own writing, but to ask someone else to do it.
The main reason for proofing a document is to catch every single error. While one or two small errors might not create too bad an impression on a reader or marker, a document that is full of errors will create the impression that you do not care about your work and your course and that you do not respect your reader. If this happens, your grades are sure to suffer. If you proof-read well, you will gain the satisfaction of knowing that you have taken care to create a good impression on the marker. Apart from just finding errors, proofing will also raise your awareness of the types of error you regularly make. This should help you avoid these errors in the future.
When should I proof-read?
If you can, give yourself a break of two or three days between finishing your last re-draft and starting to proof-read it. Better still, swop your paper with another person and proof-read each other's paper. The reasoning behind these suggestions is simple -- if you are fresh to something, you are more likely to notice errors.
Before proof-reading your own paper or a classmates' paper, run your word processor's spell checker and grammar checker. Once you've done this, print-off a hard copy (most people find it easier to proof-read on paper than on screen). The program's checker functions will catch many but not all errors. They may even introduce some new errors. But that's OK, because you'll find them later when you or your classmate read the final draft very carefully.
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