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Thursday, May 31, 2012

Proofreading In-Class Writing

Many ESL students fail in-class writing exams because they don't proofread and correct careless errors before they hand in their paragraphs or essays. Several months ago, I wrote a post with some advice on strategies to use when proofreading at the end of an in-class writing exam. Since many of you are currently approaching final writing tests or exams, I'd like to review a few of these strategies.  Tomorrow, I will  discuss  how to look for, find and correct 5 common errors ESL that students make. well as how to look for, find and correct  In a third post, I will discuss how to proofread for 5 more common ESL errors.

Proofreading Is a Learned Skill 

All writers, including professional writers, make mistakes when they write. This is usually because they are writing their ideas as fast as they can so that they don't lose their train of thought rather than concentrating on structure or grammar mistakes. If they stop to correct errors, they will often lose the flow of the ideas. Therefore, even the best of writers have to go back and proofread to find their mistakes AFTER they have finished writing.  

Unfortunately no one, including native speakers, is born knowing how to proofread. Finding errors in your writing takes a lot of practice, but you can and will improve if you use effective strategies instead of just reading your paper once at the end of an exam. 

Leave yourself time to proofread 

Make sure that you leave yourself enough time to proofread at the end of your writing test. This means you MUST make a conscious effort to reserve 15 minutes at the end of the test just to look for and correct mistakes. Frequently check how much time you have left, and make sure you are sticking to a schedule. Do NOT write up until the last minute and expect to be given time just because "you're not finished."  If you are at the advanced level, and write until the teacher tells you to stop,  you can be sure that you stand a good chance of failing, no matter how good your content is because you are indirectly saying you don't think it is important to proofread or correct errors. 

Leaving time for proofreading requires discipline and practice. Start by practicing writing timed paragraphs under pressure and reserving time for proofreading. The more you do it, the better you will get at it.    

Proofread for the errors YOU make most often 

Turn the errors in your previous writing efforts into a learning opportunity. Carefully reread previous compositions that teachers have marked and count up the type of errors you make most often. Determine whether these are careless errors, or due to lack of knowledge. If you don't understand  the error, ask for help and find out how to fix the problem, or learn the rule. Always rewrite your previous in class compositions with the corrections included. This will help you to "internalize" the corrections. Then, each time you write, proofread for these specific types of errors.  

Of course, there are some errors that all ESL writers consistently make, but  all students  makes their own individual errors - often based on their own culture or language transfer problems. For example , Chinese students often forget to add the pronoun WHO in a subject adjective clause, a mistake other language groups do not usually make. Spanish students often use double subjects. Russian students frequently forget to use an "it" subject, or have serious word order problems with adverbs and prepositional phrases. Farsi writers often use for + ING incorrectly.

Proofread for ONE type of error at a time 

Focus on ONE SPECIFIC type of error at a time when you proofread. Start with the most serious one - the one that interferes with meaning. For example, if you have a serious problem with verb tenses, proofread all the way through only for possible verb tense mistakes. This means that you need to proofread all the way through your writing several times, maybe up to five or six times, depending on the type and frequency of your common mistakes. Remember, even the best proofreader will not find all his or her errors in one read through, and you are not the best writer, or proofreader

Read your paper out loud as S L O W L Y as you can 

If you are in class whisper or mumble each sentence out loud, and read as slowly as you can to make sure you hear every word. We all have a tendency to fill in missing words when we simply read with our eyes because we expect them to be there. We also do the same thing when we read from the beginning because we are reading for meaning.  Often your ear will catch many mistakes that your eye doesn't, or that it compensates for.  For example, your ear is more likely to catch a missing verb than your eye. Your ear will also notice that you are using an infinitive when you should be using a gerund "inf". Why? This is not about rules, but simply about knowing that the infinitive sounds wrong. Who cares why?  Reading out loud can also help you catch verb tense errors, word form, singular plural errors and Sentence Fragments.   

Proofread from the end rather than the beginning

Instead of starting with your first sentence, go to your last sentence and begin proofreading from the bottom. This way, you will be focusing on grammar and sentence structure rather than on content.  When you proofread from the beginning, you are so familiar with the content that you can often skip over errors because your mind adds words that are missing, or compensates for the mistakes. You simply don't see them because you are looking at meaning rather than grammar and sentence structure. When you work from the end,. you are much less likely to be distracted b y meaning, and will therefore catch many more mistakes than the other way around.

For more information on this topic go to my previous post  Proofreading Under Pressure 


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