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While reviewing things after finishing writing, I tend to miss the mistakes that I have made. Moreover, important things that I should have explained seem to appear "too obvious to be explained". How can I deal with this?

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Not the solution you are looking for, but I have always found it helpful to have another person proofread my writing. –  Gaʀʀʏ Jul 15 '13 at 21:41

8 Answers 8

Proofreading is a skill which can be trained - the way my mother (who is a proofreader for a couple of newspapers) and I learned was by:

  • first practising on documents written by other people
  • then practising on older documents written by yourself, perhaps by reading paragraphs out of order to stop you guessing what words or spelling should be there, rather than what is there
  • then by stepping away from new documents for 5 or 10 minutes after you have written them, so you come back fresh and ready to proofread
  • finally you get used to proofreading immediately after writing

It doesn't take that long, and it helps if you have a small element of OCD (which I have) then you find yourself proofreading everything around you - which is obviously good practice, but is incredibly infuriating!

xkcd Internet enlightenment (xkcd)

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Text to speech is my number one pick for this - have your PC read it back to you and you'll be amazed how many words you've missed out...

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is there any software for this? –  TheIndependentAquarius Jun 7 at 7:02

One benefit of not waiting until the last minute, is to take a break from the paper. Start reading it the next morning, and you're likely to catch many errors. Otherwise, it's too easy to continue to glance over the familiar text and miss the errors.

Make sure you're using a good word processor with spell and grammar check. If you send a teacher the document in this format with correction suggestions, it looks even worse.

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The most effective proofreading technique I've come across is to read the text backwards. This assumes that by "proofreading" we mean reading for spelling and grammar mistakes, not content clarity.

Other techniques (re-read after delay, read aloud, text to speech) are useful, and every time I use them, reading backwards finds more things to fix.

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Spellcheck is going to catch most mistakes except where content counts (e.g. individual word spelled correctly but it's the wrong word.). –  JeffO Sep 9 '13 at 19:01

Some techniques I use:

  • Allow time. I'm often amazed how I get a 'fresh' read an hour, or a day later.

  • Different text size or font style can make text much easier or harder to read.

  • have someone else check it.

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I need to put the writing aside (I say to myself "let it cool off") over night before I can spot many of my errors.

When it is more immediate I have found that reading it out loud is the best thing (for me). The key to this is that it makes you SLOW DOWN and read EVERY WORD.

The text-to-speech others mention sounds great. I'm eager to try it.

Having someone else read it is a luxury, and really effective and you probably know that so your question specifically says "by myself".

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I am a academic teacher so I write a lot of papers. The easiest way to check the text for errors is to read the test aloud (from a printed version) and mark mistakes. Secondly, I ask my wife to read the article. She helps me not only to find spelling mistakes but also she gives me a valuable feedback on the text structure and clarity.

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You read the test aloud? –  JeffO Jul 16 '13 at 14:35

One additional thing missing in the answers so far: distinguish what you're proofreading for. Usually there's two aspects of language to distinguish here: spelling and content.

Do not try to check these together. I prefer to check all content aspects first: is the order of my texts logical, are my arguments good enough, am I using the right adverbs, does the tone of the text fit, should this be a footnote, etc.

Once you have done that, do a second check leaving out all opinions about the content, and check spelling aspects only: missing or duplicate words, spelling errors, missing capitals or commas, too many adjectives. If you catch yourself judging content again, stop! - and go back to language only.

There's so much to check in proofreading that this division if labor is worth the time.

As written by others, do the content check after some delay, preferably the next day. The spelling check you can do any time.

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