Once you have edited your project and feel happy with the results, it’s now time to proofread and polish the document. By checking (and double checking) each letter, you’ll allow your writing – and its message – to really shine.

Nothing distracts readers like spelling errors and grammar flaws. While a few are permissible (after all, we’re all human), several mistakes detract from your overall message and credibility.

Many people love this step – striking out unnecessary words, fixing spellings and incorrect punctuation with a red pen, almost as a form of catharsis. I’ll admit to nerd-ishly enjoying finding mistakes, but I need to be somewhat systematic to catch as many errors as possible.

I always proofread by reading backwards. By starting at the last sentence of the project and slowly moving to the first sentence, it’s easier to focus on each letter and punctuation mark, rather than the sentence’s meaning. Here’s my checklist of what to look out for:

Check spelling mistakes that spell-check doesn’t catch.

  • Homonyms and contractions are easy to type incorrectly, but change the sentence’s meaning completely. Pay close attention to these words, such as “it’s” and “its” or “there,” “their” and “they’re.”
  • Some words have similar spellings and meanings, so they’re easy to mix up. Always double check words like “complement” and “compliment”, “prospective” and “perspective”, “effect” and “affect.”
  • If you type quickly, you may omit a letters, causing spelling errors. “Your” is frequently misspelled as “you,” and “too” as “to.” Like with many other mistakes, spell-check can’t catch these.

Subjects and verbs must agree. “The dog see the cat” should be changed to “the dog sees the cat.” For complex, compound sentences, the verb form is determined by the subject closest to the verb.

Revise punctuation carefully because small mistakes can change a sentence’s meaning dramatically.

  • Make the decision to use – or not use – oxford comas, then be consistent within that document.
  • Check the placement of each coma to make sure it’s correct. They’re easy to mess up, especially after several rounds of editing!
  • Punctuation marks belong inside quotations. For example, “Thanks for your e-mail regarding Bill’s report, “Exponential Growth.” I enjoyed your input!”

Eliminate word repetition as much as possible. If one word is used too frequently, circle it every time you see it on a page. This helps visualize where synonyms should be substituted.

Revise slowly and carefully to ensure your project’s flawless. Of course, it never hurts to enlist the help of a professional for a sharp set of eyes.

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