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Proofreading your work means checking it closely for errors in spelling, grammar, and punctuation. You'll need to inspect your papers closely to make sure that you have seen what is actually on the page rather than what you expect or assume is there. To do this effectively, you might shake up your usual way of reading by trying the following techniques:

  • read your paper one sentence at time, starting with the last sentence;

  • put a ruler under each line as you read it to keep your eyes from rushing ahead;

  • inspect your paper one time for each of the problems you know you might have. For example, if you know you have problems with subject-verb agreement, carefully check your essay only for subject-verb problems before you look through additional times for other kinds of errors.
The Universtity of Wisconsin's Writing Center offers additional tips on How to Proofread.

Common proofreading problems include unacceptable errors (those basic enough that they should not appear in college-level writing), and other errors (those more complicated sentence-level problems that sometimes trouble college writing).

If you need more information or help with any questions about correct usage, please check out Grammar Handouts and Help, Grammar Explanations and Quizzes, ESL Handouts and Exercises, or you can ask me. You'll also find helpful information here: Common Errors. And you might consider taking one of De Anza's short classes in the Skills Center or attending drop-in tutoring or a workshop in the NEW Writing and Reading Center.


HOMONYMS are words that sound alike but are spelled differently and mean different things. Know the difference between the following commonly misused homonyms:

your/you're Your/You're Exercises
accept/except    Accept and Except Practice
already/all ready
affect/effect  Affect and Effect Practice
a lot/allot (there's no such word as alot)

If you are unsure about any of the above words, please look them up now: Dictionary or List of Homonyms. If you're still confused, try Homonym Exercises or  Self-Study Homonyms Quizzes, Words that Sound Alike: Exercise 1, or see me. You might also want to review Spelling: Common Words that Sound Alike.

SUBJECT-VERB AGREEMENT:  Verbs  must agree with their Subjects in both person and number.

I walk
you walk
he/she/it walks

we walk
you walk
they walk

Remember that regular verbs in the past tense take -ed endings whether singular or plural:

I walked
you walked
he/she/it walked

we walked
you walked
they walked

If subject-verb agreement is a problem area for you, try these exercises:

And be sure to proof your essays one time through looking only for subject-verb agreement, focusing on other issues in a second or third read through.

If you are having problems with tenses, try these exercises: Past Tense

Please print out any of these exercises to complete and then review with a tutor or instructor in the Writing and Reading Center or see me if you need more help with this.


In general, capitalize the names of particular people, places, things:


  • particular historical events and documents (the Renaissance, the Constitution)

  • names of governmental or educational institutions (the Internal Revenue Service, De Anza College)

  • names of languages, nationalities, ethnic groups


  • seasons (spring, fall, winter, summer)

  • academic subject areas (political science, biology), unless they're also names of languages (English, Spanish)

  • names of family relationships unless used specifically as a name ("I love my mother. I love Mom.")

For more information, please see Capitalization.


Here are the two main uses of the apostrophe:

  1. To show possession (ownership or belonging).

  2. To form contractions (the apostrophe stands for one or more missing letter).

Rules and examples are available here: Apostrophes.


SENTENCE BOUNDARIES: If you find you are having trouble with sentence Fragments or Run-together Sentences you may want to review Independent and dependent clauses. This will help you determine where sentences begin and end and how to best punctuate them.  If you need more help with this, please see me.

SPELLING: Not everyone call spell well, and there's nothing wrong with making spelling errors. There's little excuse, though, for failing to find and correct such errors in your finished work. Do use spellcheck, but don't rely on it. You will still need to look over your papers very carefully for homonyms and for words spellcheck recognizes but you may have misused. Allow yourself plenty of time to track down the correct spelling of any words you have the slightest doubts about.

Making mistakes is not a problem: everyone makes mistakes. But the time to worry about them is not while you are drafting your essay. The time to concern yourself with errors is during proofreading, at the very end of the writing process. That's the time to focus all of your attention on finding and correcting your errors.

If you haven't already visited Grammar Quizzes and Explanations, you will find it a great site for help with any lingering confusions, and you can use the many quizzes as a way to test your knowledge and brush-up your skills.

Help learning to find and correct your own errors, as well as with all aspects of reading and writing, is available in De Anza's new
Writing and Reading Center.

Many thanks to Judy Hubbard for several of the grammar exercises linked to this page.

Updated Tuesday, October 25, 2005 at 8:34:12 AM by Suzanne Helfman -

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 Updated Wednesday, January 4, 2006 at 12:00:59 PM by Suzanne Helfman -
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