Editing tips for teens: Proofreading for mechanics
When is the last time you thought about your big toe?
I’m guessing it’s probably been a while. But drop a can of tomatoes on that puppy, and ouch! Your toe will remind you of its presence all day long.
It’s like that with grammar and spelling errors, too. When we’re reading, we don’t really notice good spelling, properly placed apostrophes, or complete sentences—nor should we. No, it’s the glaring errors that stand out. That’s why an apostrophe in the wrong spot or a simple misspelling can turn a story, menu, or advertisement into a throbbing toe.
You’re entering the last lap of editing. Now it’s time to search for the little things you can fix. Though small, grammar, spelling, and punctuation make a huge impact on your final story. As you did with content and style, read through the paper several times proofreading for mechanics errors. As you do, watch for something specific each time.
Tips: Proofreading for Mechanics
1. Use proofreading symbols. Did you know editors use standard symbols editors to identify errors? Here is a Proofreading Marks chart from WriteShop to help you as you edit your story or report for mechanics.
2. Use colored pencils. They will help you identify errors. Circle or underline anything you need to correct or double-check. Try using a different color for each kind of error, such as blue for spelling errors or green for punctuation.
Get Ready to Edit!
Grammar, punctuation, spelling, and sentence completeness fall under the heading of mechanics. There are many kinds of mechanics errors. When proofreading for mechanics, these are some of the most common things to check:
- Consistent tense. Avoid describing one time period in two different tenses. Make sure you are consistent, keeping the same tense throughout. (Most stories are written in past tense.)
- Consistent subject-verb agreement. You can find examples here.
- Consistent noun-pronoun agreement. If a noun is singular, its pronoun must be singular. If the noun is plural, the pronoun must also be plural.
Incorrect: The timid girl told the king their name.
Correct: The timid girl told the king her name.
Check Punctuation and Capitalization
- Did you begin each sentence with a capital letter?
- Did you capitalize proper nouns such as Thomas, Chicago, Friday, and Dr. Faraday?
- Did you place a period or other ending punctuation at the end of each sentence?
- Exclamation marks. Good writers almost always avoid exclamation marks, so use them with care. Also, place only one exclamation point at the end of a sentence, just as you use one period.
Incorrect: “Help,” cried Jared!
Incorrect: “Help!!!” cried Jared.
Correct: “Help!” cried Jared.
OK: Father raced toward the burning barn!
Better: Father raced toward the burning barn.
- Apostrophes. Watch those apostrophes! For example, don’t put an apostrophe in a word that is meant to be plural, such as “five book’s.” Here is a helpful article about using apostrophes correctly when writing names.
- Quotation marks. In dialogue, punctuation marks almost always go inside the quotation marks, like this:
“Are you coming?” she asked.
“I barely escaped with my life,” John panted.
President Roosevelt called the attack on Pearl Harbor “a date which will live in infamy.”
Here is a helpful article about using quotation marks correctly.
- Circle any words whose spelling you need to check. Look these up in a dictionary and write each word correctly on your paper.
- Know your homophones. Homophones are words that are spelled differently but pronounced the same, such as except/accept, its/it’s, and here/hear. Spell-check won’t catch tricky errors because it’s about meaning, not spelling. Always double-check.
Check Sentence Structure
- Indentation. Make sure you indented the first line of each paragraph.
- Comma splice. When you stick a comma instead of a period between independent clauses, it’s called a comma splice. Fix a comma splice by (1) replacing the comma with a period, (2) placing a conjunction such as “and,” “but,” or “or” after the comma, or (3) replacing the comma with a semicolon.
Comma splice: I’m tired of all this rain, I wish the sun would come out again.
Correction #1: I’m tired of all this rain. I wish the sun would come out again.
Correction #2: I’m tired of all this rain, so I wish the sun would come out again.
Correction #3: I’m tired of all this rain; I wish the sun would come out again.
- Run-on Sentence. Run-ons (also called fused sentences) are basically comma splices without the commas. They occur when two complete sentences run together with no punctuation separating them. They can often be corrected the same way as a comma splice.
Run-on: Lydia made bread and homemade jam they were both delicious.
Comma splice: Lydia made bread and homemade jam, they were both delicious.
Correction #1: Lydia made bread and homemade jam. They were both delicious.
Correction #2: Lydia made bread and homemade jam, and they were both delicious.
Correction #3: Lydia made bread and homemade jam; they were both delicious.
- Sentence fragments. Known also as incomplete sentences, fragments are missing a verb, a subject, or both.
Fragment: In stark contrast to life in the Amazon.
Correction: In stark contrast, life in the Amazon is primitive.
Fragment: And gifts, such as toys and candy.
Correction: They gave each child shoes and gifts, such as toys and candy.
After proofreading for mechanics, your very last task is to write the final draft. Then voilà—you’re done. Congratulations!
Additional Articles in This Series
WriteShop I and II set your teens on a course for success. Assignments give them a chance to practice various kinds of writing, including creative, expository, narrative, and persuasive. With each lesson, they’ll learn new skills, apply them to their current writing project, and edit and revise the composition several times. By the end of the lesson—after brainstorming, writing, editing, andrevising—they’ll have a polished paper to be proud of!