Monday Grammar & Teacher Journal

In Grammar on October 20, 2009 at 6:47 am

stack of books


As I’m writing this, my desk is covered in eraser dust. A thick dictionary sits in front of the computer, and two red pens are somewhere  in here, probably under a stack of papers. I’ve been proofreading.

I worked a freelance proofreading job this weekend, helping to prepare a magazine for print. As a proofreader, I had to bust out the red pen (something I never use when commenting on student papers), read oh-so-carefully, and look for anything I could that was out of place. I had to be picky. I had to be tough with grammar. I had to catch all mistakes. Here’s how I handled the project:

  • I worked in a quiet room, a place without any interruptions
  • I worked at my own pace and gave myself plenty of time for breaks. When my eyes went a little buggy, when I got tired, or when I saw myself losing my concentration, I would take a rest for at least 15 minutes. Proofreading does not work well when you’re sleepy or unfocused.
  • When I had a doubt about spelling, rules of formatting, or punctuation, I stopped and researched to find the answer. I kept a dictionary, a formatting guide, and the internet handy to look up anything I needed (no Facebook breaks were allowed!).
  • I proofed each page 2-3 times. It’s amazing how your mind can focus on different things with each reading.

At the end of a weekend of careful reading, I have to say that it can be satisfying to check all the commas and to catch all the misplaced modifiers. It’s the same kind of feeling I get when I clean a closet, organize bookshelves, or tidy stacks of papers. Still, I know that proofreading is often one of the most frustrating parts of writing for students.

Here are a few ideas to help:

  • Try reading your paper out loud. Reading out loud forces you to slow down, and you’ll often notice mistakes that you might otherwise miss.
  • Have a friend read your paper out loud with you. If your friend stumbles on a sentence, there might be something that you want to edit.
  • Look at each sentence separately. Sometimes, it helps to read the last sentence first, then the second-to-last sentence, and so on. This will help you focus on grammar, rather than the ideas you wrote about.
  • Separate the processes of revision and proofreading. Revision is when you analyze your ideas and look for places to expand or clarify your thoughts. Proofreading is when you look at your grammar, spelling, and punctuation. Do this separately from thinking about your ideas. You’ll do a better job at both revision and proofreading.

With a little less rushing and a few tips, proofreading isn’t so bad. I promise. It can even be a little fun.


It’s been a busy week. In addition to the proofreading, I visited the opening of an art show that featured portraits of people in Los Angeles who are car-free. The show, Without a Car in the World, opened on Saturday at the 18th Street Arts Center in Santa Monica, and photos were taken by photographer (and all-round amazing person) Diane Meyer. If you look at the photos carefully, you might find one of me in the mix. I was a little shy about the whole ordeal, but it’s pretty inspiring to see the stories of other people who live in a car-centric world without owning a car.


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