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Proofreading Your Writing Assignments
(Continued from 1)

Use technology. As you write, you may have a suspicion that you have used a particular word too often. Use the “find” tool on the “Edit” menu in Microsoft Word to locate all instances of a single word or even phrase. Then if you find that you have overused an expression, right click the word to get synonyms. If none of the synonyms seems suitable, check the synonyms for similar words.

Use the grammar check with caution. I often find that computer cannot think like a human and so I override many grammar check suggestions. The “word count” feature under the “Tools” menu is a lifesaver, however. You can even add “word count” to your toolbar to save some keystrokes. You can also set your spelling and grammar options to check for the use of passive voice. (Go to Tools, then Options, then Spelling & Grammar and check “show readability statistics.) Then when you run the Spelling & Grammar check, you will see a box that provides various statistics—one of which is the percentage of passive sentences.

Avoid distractions. Proofing should be done at a time of day when you are well-rested and alert. Each of us has a peak time—learn to take advantage of it. Turn the ringer off the phone. Don’t check your e-mail while proofing. Go to the library or someplace where you are not likely to be disturbed.

Mark the mistakes clearly. Whether you use traditional proofreader’s marks or your own hybrid of symbols and abbreviations, using a colored pen or highlighter will increase the likelihood that you will see all the errors when it’s time to sit down and make your revisions. Check off the errors on your paper as you correct them on your computer. Then if you become distracted, you’ll know where you left off.

Other tricks of the trade:

1. Increase the font size or enlarge the copy to make it easier to read and mark.
2. Watch for clusters of mistakes. (This might happen because you were becoming tired or were distracted at a point in your writing.)
3. Check numbering systems.
4. Check the familiar.
5. When you find an error, correct it and then re-read the line. (Especially common error caused by using a cut & paste feature).
6. Separate lengthy material into smaller amounts so as not to lose your level of concentration.

Resources on the Web:

Some great Web resources exist with other tips. Your own college or university may have grammar and proofing tips online. The University of Arkansas has an online writing lab (O.W.L.), and a good source of information for spelling, punctuation and grammar is available from Indiana University.


Cathy Rogers has a B.S. in Business Management and a teaching certificate in Business Education. After teaching computer and office skills classes for over ten years, she now coordinates non-credit courses for the University of Tennesssee. She also writes a community news column for a local newspaper and feature articles and essays for other publications.

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