In this post, we’ve compiled a comprehensive checklist for proofreading your work to a professional standard using the collective knowledge of our expert editing team.
Whether you’re a proofreader yourself or want to proofread your work like a pro, be sure to bookmark this handy resource! If you want to skip the explanation of each step, you can view the checklist at the bottom of the page.
Why You Need a Proofreading Checklist
A proofreading checklist is a great resource for anyone who writes. Instead of trying to remember everything (and inevitably missing things because you’re human and have a lot to think about in a day), you have a resource that highlights common errors and mistakes. You can stay on track, avoid silly mistakes, and make sure your writing is clean, professional, and error-free.
The Proofreading Checklist – At a Glance
- Create a clean copy
- Confirm the dialect
- Consult any notes
- Review any feedback
- Use Find/Replace
- Check spelling
- Fix punctuation
- Fix the formatting
- Check Capitalization
- Remove contractions
- Remove first-person pronouns
- Review abbreviations, acronyms, and initialisms
- Check grammar
- Consider the meaning, content, and word choice
- Do final checks
- Create a track changes copy
Below we’ve broken down the checklist in detail, so you can understand what each checklist item means.
The Proofreading Checklist – In More Detail
Create a Clean Copy
When you want to proofread a document, it’s useful to make two copies. The first copy is the original document, and the second is your “clean copy.”
When you’re ready to begin proofreading, open the original document, click Save As, and add “Clean Copy” to the beginning of the document name. Then remove “Track Changes” under the Review Tab (if working in Word) so you can make changes without marking up your document in red.
Confirm the Dialect
Depending on the English dialect required for the document, you might need to change the language settings on your document. This will help catch regional spelling mistakes.
To check your language settings, go to File, select More, and then Options. You will see the Word Options page pop up. Select the Language tab on the left. Make sure the correct language is listed under the “Office display language” box.
Under the “Office authoring languages and proofing” box, you will see the “Add a Label” option to the right. Select that and add your English dialect, such as English (United States) or English (United Kingdom).
Consult Any Notes
Always review any style guides, referencing guides, or assignment requirements. If you’re a freelance proofreader working for a client, check your client’s notes to make sure you haven’t missed any details or overlooked specific requirements.
If you’re working with a specific referencing guide, check out our comprehensive guides to all major referencing systems (e.g., MLA, Chicago, Harvard, and APA).
Review Any feedback
If you’re a student, review your feedback from previous writing assignments. Do you see any recurring comments? If so, write those down and look for those issues in your current work. If you’re a professional, you can do the same by making a list of feedback you’ve received from colleagues or supervisors.
You know your writing best, so think about mistakes you’ve made in the past and things you tend to struggle with. Make a list of those items before you start so you’ll remember to keep an eye out for them.
Now, you’re ready to begin proofreading your document. Here are some general tips to make sure you catch every mistake and error as you go:
If you have a reference list, it can be helpful to proofread this first. Be sure to check your referencing system for guidance in this section. Reference lists should always start on a new page (unless specified otherwise). You can do this by inserting a page break.
When you start proofreading the main text, go through each page twice before moving on. If reading one page is too much, try going paragraph by paragraph instead. Take your time and give your eyes frequent breaks so you don’t miss anything. Additionally, the Read Aloud function in the Review tab can help you catch sneaky errors.
You should always use find/replace when you see recurring errors, especially spelling errors. Additionally, use find/replace to remove double spaces in the text.
Thanks to spellcheckers, spelling mistakes are easy to find and correct. However, technology sometimes overlooks them, so it’s still important to pay close attention to spelling. Additionally, ensuring consistent spelling among names of people, groups, places, and organizations, as well as paying attention to dialect differences, is key to achieving neat and professional writing.
Here are some common spelling mistakes to look out for:
Affect vs. effect
Complement vs. compliment
Judgement (British spelling) vs. judgment (American spelling)
Centre (British spelling) vs. center (American Spelling)
Missing or adding double letters (e.g., neccessary ✘ vs. necessary ✔)
Punctuation includes all marks and symbols, such as commas, colons, semicolons, quotation marks, and parentheses. Punctuation is just as important as correct grammar. Like grammar, punctuation marks add clarity and meaning.
Punctuation usage also varies among English dialects (i.e., British vs. American vs. Australian English), so make sure your punctuation usage follows the right dialect.
Here are some common punctuation mistakes to look out for. If you’re not sure how to use a specific punctuation mark, click on the link to find a detailed article on the topic.
- Misuse or overuse of semicolons and colons
- Missing end punctuation: periods, question marks, and exclamation points
- Quotation marks around direct quotes
- Use of brackets and parentheses
- Apostrophes with possessive nouns
- Correct punctuation with conjunctions
- Oxford commas in American English
- Misused, overused, or missing commas
- Hyphens in compound adjectives before nouns (except when they end in -ly)
- Unspaced em dashes for parenthetical information in American English
- Spaced en dashes for parenthetical information in British English
- Unspaced en dashes for ranges of dates or figures
- En dashes for relationships of equal weight (e.g., “student–teacher relationship”)
Always check your document for formatting mistakes or inconsistencies, as they detract from professionalism and neatness. These can include empty lines at the start of the document, spaces at the beginning of a paragraph, or graphs, charts, figures, and tables that spill over into the margins.
Capitalization should follow standard rules and be consistent. For example, the titles, headers, and subheadings might all be sentence or title case. Additionally, ensuring that proper nouns (e.g., names of organizations and places) are capitalized correctly and avoiding random capitalization will enhance the overall quality of the writing. When writing a CV or resume, always check the capitalization of job titles.
If you’re unsure about capitalizing a term or phrase, check a dictionary. If you can’t find guidance from a dictionary, such as for scientific terms or jargon, look at other works or websites that use them and maintain consistency.
Here’s a short list of capitalization guidelines:
- Capitalize proper nouns.
- Use consistent sentence or title case for titles, headers, and subheadings.
- Capitalize titles (e.g., Mr., Dr., and Ms.).
- Be consistent.
Contractions are shortened versions of two words commonly used together. For example, “I am” becomes “I’m” or “should have” becomes “should’ve.” Avoid common errors with contractions, such as “should of” becoming “should’ve” or “would of” becoming would’ve.”
While contractions are used in spoken language regularly, they should not be used in formal writing. However, contractions can be used in creative writing, especially in dialogue.
Remove First-Person Pronouns
In formal writing, such as academic or certain business writing, it’s best to avoid first person pronouns and language (e.g., “in my opinion,” “I think,” or “our research”). However, this can vary depending on your guidelines and requirements.
Always check your style guide or ask your academic supervisor for further guidance. Overall, if you can reword the text to avoid using first person language, do so. For other types of writing, such as poetry or creative writing, pronoun usage is up to the author.
Review Any Abbreviations, Acronyms, and Initialisms
Abbreviations are shortened versions of words, such as “min” for “minute.”
Acronyms are a type of abbreviation where only the first letter from each word is included, creating a new term. For example, “National Aeronautics and Space Administration” becomes NASA or “as soon as possible” becomes ASAP. Acronyms are spoken as a single word. We don’t spell out N-A-S-A, we say NASA.
Initialisms are like acronyms, but the new abbreviation is not read as a word. Instead, we spell out the initials, such as BBC for “British Broadcasting Corporation.”
Let’s look at how to use abbreviations in writing. One rule remains the same for all types of writing (in general): abbreviations should be fully introduced on the first use. For example:
An exception to this rule is if the term is used only once in the text. In that case, you should use full terminology by itself. Additionally, you don’t need to introduce commonly known abbreviations, like TV. Which terms this includes will depend on your academic or business field, so follow referencing guides as needed.
Abbreviations in Academic Writing
You should treat abstracts as a separate document from your thesis or journal article. This means that if you introduce an abbreviation in the abstract, you still need to introduce it on the first use in the main body.
Additionally, avoid using abbreviations in headings and subheadings unless it makes them too long (consult your style guide on these matters as well). Last, avoid using abbreviations in captions and descriptions of figures, charts, tables, or graphs. These items can be used independently from the manuscript, so it’s important that the terms are spelled out in full.
Everyone makes grammar mistakes in their writing. However, missed grammar errors can make it difficult for your readers to understand the meaning.
Below is a list of common grammar errors to look out for when proofreading. If you need a more detailed explanation, click on the item to find an in-depth post on it.
● Use of nouns
● Correct article usage (i.e., a, an, the)
● Use of non-restrictive and restrictive clauses (i.e., who, which, that)
● Consistent and correct verb tenses
● Confusing pronouns (e.g.., correct uses of “he,” “she,” and “they”)
Consider the Meaning, Content, and Word Choice
Sometimes we use the wrong word because we make a spelling mistake or have a fundamental misunderstanding of a word’s definition and usage. That’s okay! What’s important is that you ensure proper word usage in your writing. When in doubt, use a dictionary.
Additionally, use the right words to convey your desired tone. For example, avoid using casual, conversational, and emotive language in academic and business writing to achieve an objective, professional, and confident tone.
The weather is very cold = The weather is frigid
We used a lot of tests = We used many tests
The author was basically saying = The author stated
Last, check each sentence for overall clarity and meaning. This can be remedied by ensuring proper grammar, punctuation, and word choice. However, there could still be some sentences that are too long (aim for around 25 words per sentence), awkward, or wordy. Reading aloud can help identify these sentences.
Conduct Final Checks
Once you finish editing, you’re not entirely done. It’s important to review your proofreading marks to ensure you didn’t miss anything. Do another find/replace to remove any double spaces you might have introduced while proofreading.
Scan the text to see if Word has highlighted any errors you might have missed (look for the red squiggly lines). Last, double-check any style guides, referencing guides, assignment requirements, or client notes to ensure you haven’t missed anything.
Create a Track Changes Copy
The final step in your proofreading process is to create a “Track Changes” copy. To do this, you need to save the “Clean Copy” document you’ve proofread. Then, go to the Review tab, click Compare, and upload your “Original” and “Clean Copy” documents (“Original” goes in the first box, and “Clean Copy” goes in the second box). Click OK.
Save the “Track Changes” document and rename it with “Track Changes” instead of “Clean Copy.” You should now have three documents: Original, Clean Copy, and Track Changes.