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Author: Gavin McCall

This lesson teaches proofreading.

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Video Transcription

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Welcome to English Composition. I'm Gavin McCall. Thanks for joining me. What are we going to learn today?

Today will be all about proofreading. We'll talk about what proofreading is, the best times to do it, and what to look for during the process. Last, we'll look at an example text before and after being proofread.

As we'll remember, proofreading is one of eight recursive steps in the writing process. It comes last and involves fixing grammar, mechanics, punctuation, and formatting errors in an essay or other piece of writing. Proofreading is sometimes called proofing. And it's important to remember that even though the two previous steps, revising and editing, are sometimes mixed with proofreading, this is a distinct step. And it's best performed as a separate process.

Remember, revision is re-visioning the essay and rethinking its ideas, organization, and structure, and editing is improving style via word choice and sentence structure. Proofreading, meanwhile, requires a closer look. Focusing on such things as punctuation and spelling, for example, doesn't allow for the broader and still important questions of revision and editing to be asked.

It's common for writers to spend some amount of their time throughout the writing process proofreading. But even for those who proofread as they go, it's important to devote the last bits of time spent on the project to proofreading exclusively. Writers do a final proofread, or proof, because editors, teachers, audiences, and professionals will be unimpressed with prose that's not clean-- that contains errors, that is-- no matter how impressive the ideas are.

It's unfortunate, but such things as typos and grammatical errors are easy to spot for experienced readers. And often these people will use such errors to judge the value of a writing project as a whole. So time spent proofreading is valuable. After all, you spent time on all the other steps to the writing process. Why fall apart right before the finish line?

Proofreading, because it's technical focus, is the one step in the writing process during which it can be acceptable to allow another person to help with the project. It's similar in some ways to using a spelling or grammar check program to copy edit the text. But I should caution that allowing another person to directly change your text is not only a bad idea. If doing so impacts any other part of the writing process, it's considered plagiarism, or at least dishonest.

My advice is to never allow anyone to actually make changes to your text. Rather, if you find you need help proofreading, ask your friend, your tutor, or whoever's providing assistance to point out and explain the errors that he or she finds. That way, you'll be the only one writing your essay. And the chances are, the next time you won't have nearly so many proofing issues, since you'll have already learned to deal with many of them.

When proofreading, there are many specific things writers should be on the lookout for-- spelling errors and typos, obviously, which include the mistyped words or incorrectly used words that spelling and grammar programs often miss. Writers should also look out for incorrectly used capitalization, as well as issues with punctuation, including commas, semicolons, and more.

We also need to be on the lookout for errors in grammar and syntax, including incomplete and run-on sentences, missing or misplaced articles, awkward sentence constructions, and needlessly passive voice constructions. Writers of academic essays should also look for errors in quote formatting, both in their text and on the reference page or bibliography. And they need to look for errors in author attribution in the text-- for example, referring to another writer by first name only. Finally writers should take a little time to look for any errors in document formatting-- things like margins, font, and font size, and anything else required by the assignment or submission protocols.

Oh, and a side note about spell checkers-- they're useful programs, but limited. A writer should be careful not to grow too dependent on them, because spell checkers will miss incorrectly used but correctly spelled words. And we have yet to invent a grammar checking software that accurately and consistently grasps the nuances of written English.

Now, just to give us a better sense of the kind of work that proofreading entails, I've taken the liberty of putting together a terribly proofread paragraph. Pause the video and read it carefully. And when you think you've spotted all the typos, errors in punctuation, grammar, syntax, attribution and formatting, hit Play again, and we can compare notes.

So what did you find? I found and changed five problems myself. Let's see if they're what you spotted.

And if not, don't worry. Even though proofreading might seem like, and sometimes be taught like, a black and white, right and wrong kind of thing, it's in fact more a matter of style and opinion than many composition teachers would like to admit. So anyway, here's my corrected version. Now I'll go over what changes I made.

The first two are pretty obvious. I forgot to capitalize the O in over. And I shouldn't have referred to Hank Williams, Junior as Hank, since it's either disrespect, or informal, or possibly both.

Oh, and I added a couple commas to the first sentence to give readers some places to pause. Then I thought the second to last sentence, while not exactly wrong, could be rephrased a little. So now it flows a little more smoothly, more logically.

Oh, and I also noticed that I'd misused the word empire right towards the end, so I changed it to entire, the word I meant to write the first time. So as you can see, even with a short text, and one whose ideas are pretty well developed, if I do say so myself, it's always a good idea to take the time to proofread. It'll save you some headaches and probably some embarrassment.

What have we learned today? We learned about proofreading, what it is, and when to do it, as well as what to look for the process. Then we saw an example of a text before and after proofreading. I'm Gavin McCall. Thanks for joining me.

Terms to Know

Fixing grammar, mechanics, punctuation, and formatting errors in an essay or other piece of writing.