Proofreading 101 for ESL Writers
For many students, writing in a foreign language is a tiring exercise. Once the writing is finished, the first instinct is to push the paper away, or press save on the computer and close the document without proofreading it. Proofreading means rereading your work to detect and correct your errors. In some cases, failing to proofread can mean a drop in an exam or assignment grade (such as IELTS), the loss of your message, or even leaving your reader with a bad impression. There are various ways to become a more effective proof reader.
Ways to become a more effective proof reader
- Type your work on a word processing programme on your computer: You will be able to use the spelling and grammar checker options in English. This will automatically highlight some mistakes. It will also mean that if you need to make changes, you do not have to redo all your work by hand.
- Leave time between finishing the writing and proofreading: You will feel tired after writing in a foreign language. If you can leave a space after you write, from a couple hours to a day later, this will help you notice any mistakes.
- Read your work out loud: This can help you to see and correct your mistakes.
- Ask another student to have a look for you after you have proofread: Another person might also spot mistakes. Sometimes showing it publically to another person also helps you to see your mistakes.
- Proofreading your work for one type of mistake at a time: If you know that when you write in English, you usually make subject-verb agreement mistakes, or present perfect mistakes, read the whole text looking for that one type of mistake first. This would mean reading the text for subject-verb agreements. You would read the text again, looking at your tenses and checking you have used present perfect appropriately.
Areas to consider when proof reading your own text
There are a few areas that can be helpful to look at when proofreading. These have been split into grammar and spelling and punctuation
1 - Grammar: Common errors made by foreign language learners include:
- Subject-verb agreements
- Tenses (particularly present perfect)
- Active or passive sentences
- Articles (a/the or nothing, particularly with countable and uncountable nouns)
- Word form (noun, adjective, adverb or verb)
- Word order
- Collocations (word partnerships, particularly nouns/verbs and prepositions)
2- Spelling and punctuation: some common errors include:
- The spelling of vowels (with 32 vowel sounds, represented by 5 letters a,e,i,o,u, this creates confusion)
- Silent letters (these are written but not pronounced, i.e. ‘environment’ where the ‘n’ is not pronounced in spoken English)
- Doubling of the same letter (as in ‘business’ or ‘accommodation’)
- Double consonant clusters (such as, ‘th’,’ gh’, ‘sc’)
- Homophones (words that are spelt the same but are written differently, as in ‘site’ and ‘sight’)
- Capital letters (particularly, at the start of the sentence and for proper nouns, months and so on)
- Commas (,) after adverbial phrases and in lists
- Apostrophe (‘) for possession (i.e. Ece’s)
- Confusion between single (‘...’) and double quotation marks (“...”)
- Full stops (.) at the end of sentences
Zac Wearden is a freelance editor at Cambridge Proofreading and PSUK. He is a keen blogger and plans to attend journalism school in 2014.