Want to know all about the things to look for when proofreading? Well, it’s your lucky day.
We have created a list of 100+ things that every proofreader and editor must check for in any document.
A good proofreader looks for a number of errors and mistakes in a document to ensure that it is perfect. Every proofreader has a different way to go about proofreading. Some try to spot everything while they read the text, while others like to focus on one thing at a time when reading the text.
Some proofreaders like to review a hard copy of the text, while others feel more comfortable reviewing a soft copy. How you choose to work doesn’t really matter as long as you are getting great results. At the end of the day, you should be able to have a document that is free of all kinds of errors and mistakes.
To help you, we have created a list of things to look for when proofreading. This list is not only handy for proofreaders but also writers who want to improve their writing skills. Make sure that you proofread every part of the text, regardless of its nature and importance. The document should be flawless when you are done.
We have created categories to make it easy for you to follow.
Let’s get started.
Spelling & Grammar
1. Proper Nouns Must be Capitalized
We often tend to make the mistake of not capitalizing proper nouns when we are writing. Proper nouns must be capitalized every time in the document.
For example, the name of a person or place must always be capitalized. Similarly, the name of the days and the name of the organization should be capitalized. Simply put, anything that doesn’t fall under the category of a common noun must be capitalized.
2. Capitalization of the First Word of the Sentence
The first word of every sentence, regardless of what it is, must always be capitalized. While most of us know this rule, we tend to make this error while we are writing. When proofreading, you must check the first word of each sentence and ensure that it is capitalized.
3. Active/Passive Voice
It is always advised to use active voice as much as possible. If the writer is using passive voice to a great extent, it just makes the text difficult to read and unnecessarily long. Convert passive to active voice where you deem fit.
4. Right Tense Usage
The next thing that you should look for when proofreading is the usage of the right tense. If the writer is talking about something in the past tense, you have to make sure that the tense is consistent. The wrong tense is one of the most common errors that writers make.
It is the responsibility of the proofreader to ensure that no such error exists once the text is published.
5. Homophones and Homonyms
Homonyms are the words that sound alike but have a different meaning. They may have the same or different spelling. Homophones, on the other hand, have the same sound but different spelling. They also have a different meaning.
It is very important for a proofreader to critically examine the text for mistakes in the use of homonyms and homophones. Writers tend to make these mistakes when they are writing. You should check for any of these errors when proofreading to ensure that the text is free of all these mistakes.
Pear (a fruit)
Pair (a couple)
Fair (something reasonable)
Fair (a light complexion)
Pear (a fruit)
Pair (a couple)
6. All Parenthetical Commas Are Closed
Similarly, if the writer is using parenthetical commas to explain something, then it must be closed. Parenthetical commas enclose the part of a sentence that can be removed without changing the meaning of the sentence.
For example, Shakespeare’s longest play, Hamlet, is also his most popular play.
7. All Brackets are Closed
When you start a bracket in writing, you must also close it. When proofreading, you must check if the writer has closed all the brackets.
8. Hyphens in the Compound Nouns Ending in ‘ly’
When you form a compound noun using an adverb that ends in ‘ly’, then it must not be hyphenated. For example, you should write smartly dressed and not smartly-dressed. Similarly, it is largely irrelevant not largely-irrelevant.
When proofreading, you must look for these hyphen errors in the text.
9. Hyphenation of Compound Nouns
A compound noun is made by combining two or more words. For example, tooth and paste are two distinct words on their own. However, they form a new noun when combined, i.e., toothpaste.
Some of these compound nouns must use a hyphen between the two words. For example, son-in-law, dry-cleaning, well-being, etc. When proofreading, you must check if the writer has included a hyphen in these compound nouns or not.
10. Wrong Use of Articles
We often use the wrong articles in our sentences. When proofreading, you must check if the writer has used the right articles. Here’s the basic rule of using articles:
‘a’ and ‘an’ are used with singular count nouns.
‘the’ is used for a noun when you want to make it specific.
There are many exceptions to this rule that you should also take into account when proofreading.
11. Mistakes When Using Countable and Uncountable Nouns
Many writers make the mistake of using the wrong plural form in countable and uncountable nouns.
Countable nouns, as their name suggest, can be counted. They have both singular and plural forms. They can also be preceded by ‘a’ or ‘an’. For example, a cat or cats, a man or men, etc.
Uncountable nouns, on the other hand, cannot be counted. They generally don’t have a plural form and you can’t use ‘a’ or ‘an’ with them. For example, rain, gold, wine, wood, flour, etc.
When proofreading, you must check for these small errors.
12. Missing or Redundant Articles
You should also check for missing and redundant articles in the text when proofreading.
If you find any instance where an article is missing, add it. For example, ‘He is good boy’ should be ‘He is a good boy’.
Many non-native English language users make the mistake of using redundant articles in their sentences. You should also look out for them. For example, it is ‘to get hold of’ not ‘to get the hold of’. Similarly, we use ‘lose sight of’, not ‘lose the sight of’.
13. Wrong Use of Exclamation Marks
When proofreading, you must also check if the writer has used exclamation marks correctly. Exclamation marks are used to express astonishment, surprise or any other strong emotion. For example, ‘I’m excited!’ conveys a stronger emotion than ‘I’m excited.’
Multiple question marks are also used to emphasize excitement. It is used in informal writing and it is okay to use it as long as it is not overdone. For example, ‘No!!! This isn’t how it’s done.’
Exclamation marks should also be inside quotation marks when used in a quote. For example, ‘I love pizza!’ Jane said.
14. Missing Question Marks
Is the writer asking a question in the text?
If yes, then it must end with a question mark. Rhetorical questions, on the other hand, can end with a question mark, a period or an exclamation mark.
‘How can you possibly think that!’
‘Can you believe it?’
‘Why don’t you stop asking me this question.’
You must understand the context of the rhetorical question before deciding how it should end.
15. Appropriate Use of Quantifiers
Quantifiers are used to give information about the number of something. For example, how many or how much, some or any, each or every. You must use the right quantifier with the right nouns. If you see any errors related to quantifiers, correct them there and then.
16. Use of Comparatives and Superlatives
Comparative adjectives are used to make comparisons or to show change. For example, ‘Our garden is better than theirs’ or ‘We need a bigger garden’.
Superlatives are used to describe the degree of something. For example, ‘It is the happiest day of my life’ or ‘This couldn’t get any worse’.
You must check for the appropriate use of superlatives and comparatives. Common mistakes like ‘badder’ instead of ‘worse’ shouldn’t get past the proofreading phase.
17. Using Commas with Adjectives
Here are some guidelines to follow when it comes to using commas with adjectives:
- Adjectives of different types don’t require a comma between them. For example, ‘the vast concrete river’.
- A comma is needed when you are using two or more qualitative adjectives. For example, ‘The long, dark time’.
Look for mistakes in the use of commas with adjectives when proofreading.
18. Use of Correct Prepositions
When proofreading, you should also check if the writer has used the correct preposition in their sentences. Preposition mistakes are pretty common in writing and often go unnoticed. For example, it should be ‘I danced at a party’ and not ‘I danced on a party’.
19. Using the Correct Order of Adjectives
Adjectives that denote attributes are generally used in a specific order. If these adjectives are used in writing, then they should also follow this order.
- Proper adjectives
For example, ‘I am thinking of purchasing a big old blue antique car’.
20. Correct Subject-Verb Agreement
When proofreading, you must use the correct subject-verb agreement. It simply means that the subject and the verb should agree in number. Both should be singular or plural. You must not use the singular form of one and the plural form of the other.
For example: ‘Mary doesn’t like chicken’ or ‘This shirt is too big for me’.
21. Using Diacritics Where Needed
If a word needs a diacritic, then you must add it, like umlauts and accents. They change the pronunciation of the word and must never be missed. So, when you are proofreading, you must check for these small errors. For example, é denotes rising voice and è denotes lowering voice.
22. Use of Apostrophes
Many people make the mistake of using the wrong apostrophe rules in writing. You must check for these mistakes when proofreading. Here are some simple rules to follow.
- Use ‘s if you want to show that one person is the owner of something. For example, Clarke’s dog, Amy’s class, Ross’s cup. You can use ‘s or simply an apostrophe for the nouns ending in s. For example, it is okay to write Ross’s or Ross’.
- For plural nouns that end with an s, you can use just use an apostrophe after the plural noun. For example, parents’ room or Smiths’ lives.
- For plural nouns that don’t end in s, add ‘s to the noun. For example, children’s books.
- Apostrophes are also used to make contractions. For this, you will have to eliminate some of the letters and use an apostrophe in their place. For example, they+will becomes they’ll, is+not will become isn’t.
23. Comma Use
Commas must be used correctly in the text. There are many things to consider when putting a comma in a sentence. Business Insider has created a complete guide on comma usage. Give it a read to understand how it’s done.
24. Sentences Ending in a Preposition
If you are proofreading a formal piece of writing, then you must ensure that none of the sentences end in a preposition. However, exceptions can be made when it comes to informal writing.
25. Correct Plural Forms
There should not be any incorrect plural forms in the text. For example, it’s ‘pieces of furniture’ and not ‘furnitures’. Similarly, the plural of ‘equipment’ is not ‘equipments’ but ‘equipment’. News is both used as a singular and a plural form. The correct plural form of ‘sheep’ is not ‘sheeps’ but ‘sheep’, etc.
26. Usage of Pronouns
Many writers make the mistake of incorrectly using ‘me’ and ‘I’ in sentences. When proofreading, you must check for these mistakes. It becomes a little confusing even for native speakers when there is more than one subject or object in the sentence.
For example, ‘Susan and me went to the movies’. Here the correct pronoun should be ‘I’ and not ‘me’. A simple trick to get it right is to eliminate all other subjects from the sentence and then read it to see if it sounds right.
In this example, if you remove Susan, you are left with ‘Me went to the movies’, which sounds completely wrong. You can always find the right pronoun by using this trick.
27. Conjugation of Verbs
Verbs conjugate depending on the person, number, tense or mood. It is important to use the right verb conjugation relative to the tense or number you are using. It is an important thing to look out for when proofreading any document.
28. Extra or Missing Letters
When you are proofreading, it is important to check for any missing letters or extra letters. Many times, MS Word is not able to catch these errors and they even pass the human eye. Therefore, one must be extra careful to see if all the words have been spelled correctly.
29. Using Colon and Semicolon
Colon and semicolons are also commonly misused. Check out this guide to see if you are using them correctly. When proofreading, it is important to use the right punctuation to ensure that you get your message across correctly.
30. Modal Forms of Verb
Verb forms like may/might, can/could, must, shall/ought/should, will/would, etc. are known as modal forms of verbs. They are also commonly misused in writing. It is one of the things to look out for when proofreading text for errors and mistakes.
31. Full Stops After Abbreviations
There are some abbreviations that must end in full stops. For example, e.g. and i.e. Check the text thoroughly to see if these abbreviations end in full stops or not. These may look like minor errors, but they make a difference between professional and unprofessional writing.
32. Complete Sentences
All sentences must be complete. We often tend to leave sentences incomplete when we are writing in a flow. It is important to check the text for any such instances where the sentences may be left incomplete. Check them and correct them to ensure that the text reads smoothly and there are no missing thoughts.
33. Usage of Double Negatives
Simply put, double negatives mean the use of two negative words in the same sentence. It is important to keep in mind that using two negatives in a sentence makes it a positive. The use of double negatives is not considered great in English.
In fact, it is considered poor grammar and is not encouraged. It can make thoughts and sentences confusing. Thus, double negatives should never be used in formal writing at least.
For example, ‘This won’t do you no good’ and ‘I can’t find my keys nowhere’.
34. Correct Capitalization of Headings
It is also important to check if the headings are correctly capitalized. Each writing and formatting style has a different way of capitalizing headings. Headline Capitalization is an easy way to correctly capitalize your headings.
35. Omitted Words
We also accidentally omit words when we are writing in a flow. As a proofreader, it is important to check the text for any such omitted words and add them where necessary. Omitted words may change the meaning of a sentence. Therefore, keep an eye out for any instances of omitted words.
36. Irregular Verbs
Irregular verbs are the ones where the past form of the verb is not simply made by the addition of -ed. For example, the past tense of sing is sang and not singed. Similarly, the past tense of feel is felt and the past tense of go is went.
Check the text thoroughly to ensure that no such irregular verb mistakes are made in your writing.
37. Placement of Negative Adverbs
Negative adverbs are used in writing to make a negative statement. These include not, no, nowhere, never, etc. There is a specific way to place them in your text. When proofreading, you must check if the positioning of these negative adverbs is right.
38. Conditional Sentences
Conditional sentences are ones that contain a conditional clause and consequence. For example, ‘If you eat your lunch, I will take you to the park’. When proofreading for conditional sentences, make sure that the conditional clause is followed by a consequence.
39. Usage of Phrasal Verbs
Phrasal verbs are formed by the combination of a verb with a preposition or an adverb or both. For example, blow up, give away, call off, bring up, look over, turn off, etc.
You must check if the phrasal verbs are used correctly in the text.
40. Usage of Gender Neutral Pronouns for Objects
Objects can’t be referred to as he or she. Only gender-neutral pronouns must be used when talking about an object. For example, ‘The glass fell on the floor. It was on the table.’
41. Correct Spellings
Spellcheck is the most important part of proofreading. You must check each word for spelling errors and correct them. While there are many spellchecking software out there, manual checking is always better. You can run the text through software after you have manually checked the text to be sure that you haven’t missed any spelling error.
Stylistic errors are also very common in writing. When proofreading, you must take note of the following common style errors that writers make in their writing.
42. Point of View
Is the writer using first person or second person point of view?
Whichever they use, it should be consistent. If they use the first person point of view, they should complete their thought in the same.
43. Right Adverbs and Adjectives
An adjective modifies a noun, while an adverb modifies a verb. Adverbs and adjectives are commonly confused in writing. Therefore, when proofreading, you must check if the writer has used the two correctly.
44. Use of Auxiliary Verbs
Auxiliary verbs, also commonly known as helping verbs, give meaning to a clause or a sentence. A sentence without them doesn’t make any sense. It is important to check if the writer has used the right helping verbs in their sentences.
45. Commas After Introductory Clauses
A comma comes after an introductory phrase. Many writers forget to add it or don’t know about it. It is important to check the text for this small error that can make a lot of difference when someone reads the text.
46. Audience Appropriate Vocabulary
When writing, one should always use words and vocabulary that are appropriate for their audience. The vocabulary you use for children cannot be used for adults. Therefore, when proofreading, one should check if the writer has used appropriate vocabulary as per their audience or not.
47. Structure of the Document
It is very important to take note of the structure of the document. Does the document need an introduction? Has the writer given a proper conclusion? A proofreader must check the text for these things to make the document cohesive and complete.
48. Explanation of Abbreviations
If you are using some uncommon abbreviations in the text, then they must be explained the first time they are used. You can then use abbreviations whenever you want to in the text. This will make it easy for the readers to understand what you mean.
49. Unnecessary Repetition
Are you repeating sentences in your work? If yes, then they must be deleted. Unnecessary repetition makes the text boring and the readers will lose their interest in the text. Therefore, there shouldn’t be any unnecessary repetition.
50. Sentence Length
The sentences should not be too long. Long sentences are boring and difficult to understand. Use short sentences wherever possible. This will keep the readers interested in the text.
51. Consistent Dialect
Whatever dialect the writer uses, British or American, it should be consistent throughout the work. Some American and British spellings and words differ. Therefore, when proofreading, one should make sure that the same dialect is used throughout.
For example, if you are opting for American English, you will write organization. However,if you are using British English, you will write organisation.
52. Quotation Marks
If you are quoting someone in the text, then it must be enclosed in quotation marks. This separates it from the rest of the text and makes it easy for the readers to identify it as a quote. Also, you must use the exact words of the person if you are using quotation marks.
53. Consistent Approach to Writing Numbers
There should be a consistent approach to writing numbers, and it should be the same throughout the text. For example, if you write five, then seven should also be written in the same way. Do not use numeric digits in one place and words in another.
54. Sentence Complexity
There is no need to complicate sentences. When it comes to writing, just remember to keep it simple.
55. Ambiguous Vocabulary
Try to avoid ambiguous vocabulary. Words that mean two things can confuse the readers. For example, biannual means every other year, as well a twice a year. It is better to use an alternative word in this case to make it clear to the reader what you mean.
56. Contractions in Formal Writing
One should avoid using contractions in formal writing. For example, if you are writing a report for your boss, you shouldn’t use contractions. For example, use ‘do not’ instead of ‘don’t’.
57. Consistent Writing Style
The writing style must be consistent throughout. Change of writing style is pretty evident to the reader and it puts them off. Therefore, when proofreading, make sure that you have a consistent writing style.
58. Flow of Ideas
It is important to create a flow of ideas and synchronize it with the text. An idea linked to the previous idea should come after it. Giving away too many ideas can also make the text confusing for the reader.
59. Flow and Length of Paragraphs
Your paragraphs shouldn’t be too long. Also, ideally, it is best to dedicate one paragraph to one idea. Start a new paragraph for a new idea.
60. Correct Use of Idioms
If you are using idioms in your text, then make sure that you are using them right. Double check their meaning and see if they fit into your context. Use of wrong idioms at the wrong places is common among non-native speakers.
If you are not sure, just leave out the idiom and keep things simple for yourself and your readers.
61. Varied Sentence Structure
It is important to use a variety of sentences in your text. If you keep using the same sentence structure over and over again, the writing will come off as boring. Therefore, it is always best to mix and match things up to keep things interesting for the readers.
62. Clarity of Theme
The writer should be clear about their central argument if they want the readers to understand it. While proofreading, it is important to check if the writing has a clear message that the readers can take from the writing. Also, it should be kept as simple as possible. Readers don’t like things that are too complicated.
63. Respond to Original Brief
If you are following a specific brief, set of instructions or questions, then you must follow it. This is especially important in formal writing. For example, if you are writing a report for your college assignment, then you must respond to the instructions that are provided to you by your instructor.
64. Using Commas in Lists
When you are making a list of something, then you must use commas to separate one item from the other.
65. Consistent Use of Words
Your words should be consistent throughout the text. If you use ‘among’ once, don’t use ‘amongst’ later. The same rule applies to other words like while or whilst, amid or amidst, etc. Whatever you use, make sure you are consistent throughout the text.
66. A Title for the Document
The document must have an appropriate title. Whether it is a blog or a book, fiction or any other genre of writing, an interesting title is the first thing that catches the attention of the reader. Therefore, when proofreading, you must check if the title of the document needs any improvements or has any mistakes in it.
67. Right Use of Deixis
It is important to use deixis comprehensibly in the text. For example, ‘that’ and ‘it’ are commonly used wrong by many writers. Sometimes, they are put unnecessarily in sentences that don’t need them. Thus, when proofreading, you must check for these small errors.
Avoid tautologies. Tautologies mean saying the same thing twice using different words. You have said it once and that’s enough. There is no need to say the same thing over and over again.
Formatting errors should also not be ignored when you are proofreading content. Here are some things to look for when proofreading for format.
69. Font Size
Use consistent font size to ensure that the text doesn’t look off in any section. Use the same font size for all headings and text to ensure uniformity.
70. Font Type
Again, you should use the same font type for all the text. All the headings should use the same font type and all the text should use the same font type too.
71. Font Color
If you are using a black font color, keep it consistent throughout.
72. Using Italics
If you are using any non-English terms, then italicize them.
73. Page Numbering
Number the pages. This makes it easy for the readers to keep track of where they left off. It also makes the writing organized. Also, keep the page numbering consistent. Use the same font size and type throughout the numbers.
Similarly, the position of the numbers should also be consistent. If you started off with numbering in the top right corner, continue with the same style until the end.
74. Table and Figure Numbering
All the figures and tables in the text must be numbered. This makes it easy for the reader to find them and refer back to them as and when needed.
75. Image Captions
If there are any images added to the text, then they should be accompanied by a caption.
76. Consistent Formatting
The formatting should be consistent in all headings and sub-headings. Use the same font, font color and font size for each heading. Similarly, all sub-headings should also be formatted in the same way.
77. Alignment of Text
Check for how the text is aligned. You can left align all the text or justify it. Headings are usually centered.
78. Formatting of Quotations
There should be consistent formatting of quotations. If you italicize or bold one quotation, do the same for the rest of them.
79. Paragraph Spacing
Keep the spaces between paragraphs consistent.
80. Double Spaces
Accidental double spaces are common when you are using programs like MS Word for typing the content. When proofreading, you must check for any extra spaces between words and remove them.
81. Headers & Footers
Are you inserting something in the headers and footers? If yes, then make sure that the formatting is consistent. Content in the header and footer should have the same font, size and color and should also be uniformly aligned.
82. List Numbering
Check if the lists in the content are numbered correctly.
83. Formatting of Bullet Points
Check for the formatting of bullet points. All the bullet points in the text should be formatted the same way.
Leave enough margin on each side of the page to prevent the text from looking cluttered. Similarly, each page should also have a uniform top and bottom and left and right margin.
The first line of each paragraph is usually indented. However, this is not a fixed rule. Whatever indentation you are following, just make sure that you keep it uniform throughout.
86. Uniform Image Formatting
If you are adding any images in the content, then make sure that they are formatted in the same way. You can center or left or right align them, as per your needs and preference.
87. Follow Formatting Conventions
If the document you are writing has to follow a particular formatting guideline, make sure that it is followed to a t. Refer back to the instructions to ensure that you have not missed anything in the formatting.
88. Correct In-Text Referencing
If you are referencing something from your writing only, then you should give proper in-text referencing for pages and figures. For example, ‘see figure 5’ or ‘as mentioned on page 1’, etc.
89. Superscript and Subscript Text
The formatting of all the superscript and subscript text should be consistent.
Here are some things to look for when proofreading the referencing in your document.
90. Reference Validity
The references one puts in the content must be valid. They should be real references and should be accepted as valid. One cannot just cite any reference without checking its validity. Therefore, you must check for the validity of references before adding them to your content.
91. Reference Style
Use a consistent referencing style. For example, APA, Harvard, Chicago, etc. Don’t mix and match things. Refer back to the instructions if you are writing something formal.
92. In-Text Citations
It is always recommended to include in-text citations especially when you are writing scientific papers or something formal. Make sure you use the same reference style for in-text citations and references.
93. Valid Hyperlinks
If you are quoting some work that is available online, then you must also hyperlink it. This is especially important when you are writing something that will be published online. The hyperlinks must be valid and they should link to working websites. There shouldn’t be any broken links.
94. Accurate Data and Facts
If you are adding some facts or data in your content, then you must double-check it for accuracy. This is especially important when you are quoting facts and figures. If possible, you may also hyperlink the facts and figures to its source.
Plagiarism, as mentioned before, is one of the biggest sins when it comes to writing. One must not copy someone else’s work. In addition to written plagiarism, writers must also avoid conceptual plagiarism. They shouldn’t use someone else’s words and ideas to create their own piece.
The work you produce must be original. As mentioned in the previous point, you should not copy anything from anyone else.
97. Reference All Tables
If you are adding tables from someone else’s work, you must reference them in your text.
98. Reference All Images
All images that you add in your work must be referenced properly. You must also give credit to the owner of the images. Don’t use any copyrighted images unless you are authorized to do so. If you don’t have any account for paid images, you can use free images.
99. Reference All Figures
Are you adding some figures or stats in your work? Reference them and also hyperlink them back to their source.
100. Author’s Name
Author’s name should be included in the document. You can add it in your MS Word settings.
101. Contact Details
Do you have any contact details through which the readers can contact you? If yes, then add them in the content as well.
These were 100+ things to look for when proofreading. Check a document for all these errors when proofreading to make it error-free.