Proofreading tips for ESL Students

Proofreading is an important component of successful writing. It is a slow process that needs to be done with care, patience and attention to detail. Even more so in a second language. In order to identify your language mistakes, it is essential to take a systematic approach to proofreading. This means having a proofreading method that will help you to reduce mistakes in the long run.

A method for proofreading

Any method needs to allow for proofreading at the different stages of writing. Consider the main stages below:

a) Proofreading at the draft stages: Don't leave proofreading to the end. You should not only be concerned with the content at your draft stage, but also try to pick up on any errors that might crop up in your work.

b) Proofreading in sections on the final product: Each part of your written work generally has sections. If you are writing an assignment, there will be an introduction, discussion of the question from different perspectives and then a conclusion. As you finish each section, it is a good idea to proofread it before moving on.

c) Proofreading the whole text: This needs to be done once you have had a break from the text you have been writing. A day later is an ideal time to proofread.

Areas to consider when proofreading

Generally people advise that you proofread for grammar, spelling and punctuation, but for ESL learners you need to cover more than this, because you are working in a different language in which you do not have fluency. Therefore, you need to check for the following:

a) Grammar: This includes word level grammar and sentence level grammar. By reading each sentence from the end of your work to the beginning, this will help you to focus on the grammar and block out the organizational content.

b) Spelling: It is important not to rely on the spell checker alone. When in doubt look up a word, even if the computer has not highlighted it.

c) Punctuation: A useful hint for checking your punctuation is to circle or underline every punctuation mark used, and check that it is being employed correctly. When in doubt check punctuation conventions, and decide which one is the most appropriate.

d) Vocabulary use: This is where it is essential to use an English-English dictionary to check that the word you have chosen is appropriate for the style of writing you are using. Using a bilingual dictionary will only give you limited information about where the word can be used. Looking at example sentences will also help you use the word correctly in the sentence.

e) Style: Checking that your work matches the genre that you are writing for is extremely important. A good way to go about this is to find other work from this genre and see if your writing style is a good fit.

f) Organization: Many languages have their own organizational style. You will need to check that your whole text and the individual paragraphs follow the correct organizational conventions. Again, comparing your text and individual paragraphs to a model can help you identify where there are mistakes.

g) References: You will need to check that you have used the correct referencing system and that you have used it consistently. Having one model in-text citation in large print and having example bibliographical references with which to cross reference your work will be essential.

Despite careful proofreading, sometimes as an ESL writer there are mistakes you cannot see, because you are still learning the language. Therefore, it is important to ask another person to also proofread your work for you, before submitting it.

You could also try a professional proofreading service such as:

Or search a directory or professional organisation, such as:

There is no excuse not to either proofread your work yourself, have a friend do it or seek professional assistance. Not only will it minimize the presence of mistakes in a text, it will actually help you learn how to write better.