How to Proofread in English

When writing essays or reports in English, it is important to go back over your work and ensure it is error free.

Automatic tools

Proofing tools like spellcheck are a useful first step in proofreading, and can usually weed out errors in spelling and some grammar mistakes.

Spellcheck is great for highlighting words that are not actually words. If you write opporttunty instead of opportunity, spellcheck with be your loyal friend. But let’s say you write sated instead of stated. Both of these are real words, and spellcheck has no idea what you meant to say, so it won’t tell you that you’ve actually made a mistake.

Grammar checks can be helpful, but be careful when taking their advice. They might, for instance, be guilty of suggesting “its” when it should actually be “it’s” or replacing “your” for “you’re” when not needed. For this reason, it is important to check your work yourself.


proofread - Group of people
It is extremely easy to make small, simple mistakes which is why proofreading is a vital part of any piece of writing.


Common Errors to look out for

As well as general spelling mistakes, there are some common errors that even native English speakers regularly get wrong. A good place to start is to keep an eye out for misuse of:

There, their, they’re

“There” indicates a place; “their” indicates a belonging; “they’re” is short for “they are.”

Your, you’re

“Your” indicates a belonging; “you’re” is short for “you are.”

Its, it’s

This is one of the most common errors, simply because an apostrophe before an “s” usually indicates a possession. However, with “it’s” the apostrophe is there to show that the word is short for “it is.” “Its” is used for possession. Check out this blog post about its/it's for more tips

To, two, too

Another easy mistake to make, these three words sound the same but have very different meanings. “To” is used in the infinitive form of a verb and also to indicate direction; “two” is a number; “too” is used in place of “also” or “as well”.

Affect, effect

“Affect” is a verb, and means to have an impact or influence on something; “effect” is a noun which refers to the result of being affected. Effect can also be used in very specific cases as a verb to indicate a change, i.e. “to effect a change,” but the general rule is to choose “affect” if you want a verb. These two words really confuse a lot of people, so consider checking out our blog post on affect v. effect.

Fewer, less

In casual uses, the wrong usage of these words probably won’t cause too much of an issue. However, in formal text and essays, you need to get this right. “Fewer” is used for items you can count individually, while “less” is used for items you can’t, like sand or water. Check out our blog post on fewer v. less.

Then, than

Despite having completely different meanings, the similar spelling of these words confuses many native English people. “Then” indicates something following something else, for example in step-by-step instructions or when making a plan (we’ll go to town, then for dinner). “Than” is only used comparatively (he was bigger than her).


proofread - reading
Make sure to learn these common errors in English to ensure your work makes sense.


Handpicked related content: STUDY ENGLISH ABROAD 


English can seem like one of the most confusing languages to learn because we often have two or three ways to say the exact same thing. Choosing which one to use might not be an issue, but ensuring your text remains constant throughout can be a struggle.

For example, the word “okay” can also be written as “OK”, “ok,” or “O.K.” These are all correct, and you would not be incorrect using any of them. But, once you have chosen your preferred spelling in a document, you need to use it throughout. Otherwise, it comes across as sloppy. Similarly, if you decide to abbreviate United States as US (with no punctuation), make sure that you don’t write “U.S.” elsewhere.

For non-native speakers, consistency is particularly important when deciding which English to write in. Spellcheck can be especially useful in these cases. Under the Tools menu in your word processor, select which English you prefer, and it will generally label the spellings that don’t belong. You’ll have the option of English (AUS), English (CAN), English (UK), and English (USA). When learning English, you can pick whether you want to speak like an American, a Brit, or any other variety of English, but within one piece you have to stick to one style. You can’t write “center” in one sentence and “centre” in the next!


On the other hand, repetition in a text can be just as awkward as inconsistency. With a rich and varied language like English, there is no need to use the same word twice in a sentence. For example;

  • They were having a good time in a good venue, with good friends and good food.

This overuse of the word “good” makes the sentence boring to read. You can enliven your writing by replacing “good” with any number of synonyms. A much more exciting sentence would read;

  • They were having an amazing time in a great venue, with fantastic friends and excellent food.

Sentences like this really prove you have got a good grasp on English and make your writing a pleasure to read.


proofread - Party
There is no need to repeat a word in a sentence in English as there is such a large variety of vocabulary.


Other tips

Now that you know a few things to look out for, here are a few tips to help with the actual proofreading process:

  • If you know your due date and you have enough time, write your piece early and then give yourself a few days to get away from it before coming back. Spending too much time looking at the same document makes it easy to read over mistakes, as you’re so focused on what you’re trying to say that your brain tricks you into not reading what you’ve actually written!
  • Read your work out loud to yourself. It might feel strange at first, but the easiest way to see how natural the language feels and to notice errors is to hear what it sounds like. Reading it in your head for whatever reason just doesn't work as well.
  • Copy and paste your work into text-to-speech tools such as Google Translate and listen. It will sound a bit robotic, but it’s a great way to hear the words from a different perspective and again help spot errors you might accidentally skip over.
  • For spelling, read your piece backwards. It sounds odd, but is a great way to look at individual words instead of getting lost in sentences.
  • Get someone else to read over your work – a fellow student or colleague who can help pick up any errors that you may not see.


proofread - Girl with mac
Getting a friend to read over your work will give a fresh outlook on your writing.


There you have it! Even the best writers make mistakes in their writing, which is why it is essential to always proofread your work.

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