Tuesday, March 7, 2023

High School Writing Tip Sheets - Proofreading Properly

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High School Writing Tips Sheets - Proofreading Properly

For the past few years I have been teaching high school writing in our homeschool tutorial co-op. Having seen several groups of students through the courses, I've noticed some issues and questions coming up regularly. I hope these Tip Sheets will be helpful to my students, their parents, and perhaps to other students and parent/teachers as well.


This was an article I could have linked for my students almost every week while I was teaching at the co-op. "Remember to proofread!" is something that they were probably tired of hearing me say every week. The writing process isn't complete without this crucial step, and none of us should think that we can get away with skipping it. Here are some tips for doing it well.

Writing and Proofreading are Separate Processes

Do not try to proofread as you write. It's just not efficient. Write a first draft and start getting things on paper. Then keep refining that draft until you think it's finished. Yes, you will catch a lot of mistakes in those rewrites, but it's not until you have a final draft that you do a careful proofreading. 

Print out your essay on paper.

If you've been working on your computer up until this point, this is where you'll make use of your printer. Yes, even if the assignment will be turned in as a digital document! Make sure it's double spaced, and print it out. You will catch more mistakes reading from a printed page. You might want to try printing it in a different font (choose one that's easy to read) from what you're used to looking at. Grab a colored pen or pencil, and get some practice using these editing and proofreading marks! You can find a tutorial on them, and download your own copy at: Writing With Sharon Watson.

available at: https://writingwithsharonwatson.com/using-proofreading-marks/

Read it through several times and mark up everything you want to change or correct.

The goal is to read it as if you haven't seen it before, and look for all the things your instructor will be looking for when he or she is grading. Ideally, you should take a break between working on the essay and doing the proofreading. Kind of giving your brain a chance to forget a little of what you wrote. You see, your brain often automatically inserts the words you missed or corrects other mistakes because it remembers what you meant to say. 
And then there is that other thing: when you think you are reading proof, whereas you are merely reading your own mind; your statement of the thing is full of holes & vacancies but you don't know it, because you are filling them from your mind as you go along. Sometimes―but not often enough―the printer's proof-reader saves you―& offends you―with this cold sign in the margin: (?) & you search the passage & find that the insulter is right―it doesn't say what you thought it did: the gas-fixtures are there, but you didn't light the jets. ~Mark Twain
Try reading it out loud. You'll feel awkward and your little sister will make fun of you, but that's okay. Try reading it starting with the last paragraph and working backwards. These tricks will force you to read more slowly and pay attention to what's really there.

Proofread at least two timesat least once for grammar, spelling, punctuation, and all those mechanics; and at least one time for content and clarity.
You're never "keeping it real" with your lack of punctuation and proofreading, you're keeping it unintelligible. ~Austin Kleon

Grammar and Mechanics to look for: 

Is everything spelled correctly? Your computer will probably put squiggly lines under misspelled words and if you're paying attention, you'll probably fix those as you refine your draft. Your computer cannot be counted on to catch mistakes with homophones (to, two, or too? their, there, or they're?) or misspellings that are actually words. Is the punctuation correct? Pay special attention to the commas and the quotations. Those seem to be tough for a lot of students. Is the grammar correct? Did you use the correct verb tense consistently? Are you writing in complete sentences? 

Is the paper formatted correctly? It should have a header with your name, the date, and the assignment identifier. If there's more than one page, the pages should be numbered, and identified with your last name. The title should be centered, and the rest of the essay should be in standard paragraphs, with the beginning of each paragraph indented. It should be double-spaced. If a Works Cited section is required, it should be formatted properly and on a separate page.

Content questions to answer:

Does your assignment follow the assignment instructions? For example, if the essay is supposed to have a call to action in the conclusion, did you include it? Make sure you've cited sources correctly and according to the instructions.

Did you include all the necessary elements of the assignment? You should have an interesting title that indicates what the essay will be about. Your introduction paragraph(s) should give the reader a clear idea of what you're writing about, and usually - not always! - the thesis statement will be in the introduction. Your concluding paragraph(s) should sum up the paper, and give a call to action (if appropriate), but shouldn't introduce any new arguments or information.
So the writer who breeds more words than he needs, is making a chore for the reader who reads. ~Dr. Seuss
Is the content arranged logically and does everything support the thesis statement? Double check that your paragraphing makes sense, and that your arguments or points are arranged in the most effective order. Each paragraph should have a topic sentence that is clear. If you need transitions from one paragraph to another, make sure they flow logically.

If your instructor provides a grading rubric or checklist, look over it to see if you've met all the requirements and know how the assignment will be graded.

You may want to look at the tips in Word Count Requirements for making sure your paper stays on topic and covers the subject well without being too wordy.

Get another set of eyes.

Get a parent, an older sibling, or a classmate to read over your paper and offer suggestions. Switching papers with a classmate and critiquing each other's work will help you both.
No compulsion in the world is stronger than the urge to edit someone else's document. ~H.G. Wells

Update and Print the Final Draft.

Take your marked up copy and go back to your document and make all the corrections and revisions. Double check it. Print it out in the format your instructor specifies and do a final read-through before submitting it. 

I've based most of my suggestions on ideas shared in the wonderful textbook The Power In Your Hands from Writing with Sharon WatsonThis textbook is the one I've taught from in the co-op for several years, and I highly recommend it. You can find out more in one of my full reviews. The most recent is: 

What are your best tips for proofreading effectively? Did you see any mistakes in this article that I missed when I proofread? Leave a comment and let me know!

A previous version of this article was published on Homeschool Coffee Break in May 2021.

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