Proofreading your work

The end of term is approaching and as coursework deadlines loom my students are looking pretty busy! Some are looking relaxed and smug (I guess those are the ones who started their assignments ages ago and have everything under control) whilst others have an air of panic about them. A lot of my students are hoping that I am going to check their assignments for them for grammar mistakes before they hand them in. Er, no I'm not! That is your job. But I am going to help you think about how you can find your own mistakes by suggesting two ways of proofreading your work.

The first method is to read your piece of work checking only for ONE particular type of mistake each time. You should know what type of mistakes that you most commonly make - for example subject-verb agreement mistakes, mistakes with articles, singular/plural mistakes, mistakes with tenses. Decide which type of mistake to check for first (eg subject-verb agreement) and then read through the essay checking for ONLY this type of mistake. If you are doing subject-verb agreement start with the first sentence and find the subject. Is it singular or plural? Countable or uncountable? Now find the verb that goes with this subject - is it in the right form to go with the subject? Go on to the next sentence and do the same, and so on through the piece of work. When you have done that you choose the next type of mistake, maybe articles, and you go through the piece of work checking just for article mistakes. Then you do it again with the next type of mistake and so on. Just to help you with this method, let me suggest the type of errors you look for:

ARTICLES (A/THE)
SINGULAR/PLURAL
TENSE
SUBJECT-VERB AGREEMENT
ACTIVE / PASSIVE SENTENCE CONSTRUCTION
WORD FORM (NOUN/ADJECTIVE/ADVERB/VERB)
VERB FORM

Phew. That may take some time but your work will benefit from it. What you are trying to achieve is objectivity when you look at your work. The problem is that you have been so involved in it that you cannot see it with new eyes. So my second method is to suggestion is that you check your work by reading it backwards. Sounds rather odd! What I mean is that you look at the final sentence first. You begin at the start of the final sentence and read it checking for mistakes. Then you move back to the next sentence and check that one, and then the one before that. The reason for doing this is that when you do this you take the meaning out of the sentence and you check it just for its grammatical form. When you read from start to finish you are focused on meaning, and it is really difficult to try and ignore the meaning and focus just on the grammar.

Try putting these two suggestions together!

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