We all know the feeling of relief that comes after finishing the last sentence of a paper. There is no better feeling of completion than actually printing the paper, stacking the pages so they lie perfectly on top of each other, and stapling the entire collection of sheets that contain your thoughts and hard work. However, just before you eagerly hand in your assignment, at least let the heat from the printer cool off and give your assignment another read. As tempting as it may be to hand in an essay the minute it’s done, actually writing a paper is only half of the whole writing process! Editing and proofreading are two very important steps in writing that are often skipped or rushed through at the last minute.
To make your writing the best that it can be, it is crucial that you take time to edit and proofread. The first step in this process is actually being able to understand the difference between editing and proofreading! Typically, the editing process takes place after you have finished writing the paper and are confident with its overall content (Brown, Bruyn, Messenger, & Montagnes, 2005). Editing focuses on the structure, clarity, citations, and organization of the paper (The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, 2018). Proofreading on the other hand is the final step in your writing process. It focuses on surface errors such as spelling, punctuation, grammar, and spacing (Wyrick & Bose, 2010). Here are some tips on how to effectively proofread and edit your papers.
Editing the structure of your paper includes ensuring that you have followed the assignment requirements that detail the structure of your paper (for instance, the margins, page numbers, headings, title page). Looking at the structure of your paper could also include making sure that your paragraphs are in a logical order. Sometimes after you have finished writing you may realize that two paragraphs are quite similar and should maybe be amalgamated into one, or that one paragraph just doesn’t quite fit with your argument anymore.
After looking at the overall structure of your paper, you should narrow in on your individual paragraphs. The structure of your paper and layout of your paragraphs will be dependent upon the type of assignment you are writing. For example, when writing a research essay you should ensure that each paragraph has a topic sentence and an argument that connects to your thesis. For tips on organizing your paragraphs for different types of papers (for example, research reports, reflections, book reviews), you can make an appointment with a peer mentor or check out our online resources. You should also consider your transitions from one paragraph to the next by ensuring that they flow nicely and do not end or start abruptly. Make sure that your paragraphs are an appropriate length; not two sentences but not an entire page.
This is the time to ensure that everything that you have said in your paper makes sense. Do you explain all terms that may need to be defined? Is it clear who or what you are referring to? Although it may be tempting to use long and fancy words in a paper, try not to use terms that you are not familiar with as this may disrupt the flow of the paper and confuse the reader. As an expert of the topic you are writing on, it is great to present your specialized knowledge of the subject matter; however, ensure that you do so in a clear and presentable way that will allow for your readers to understand what you are writing.
Try to ensure that the style of your writing fits with the style of paper you are writing. For example, if you are completing a formal research paper, it may not be appropriate to include ‘you’ or ‘I’. However, that might be more appropriate for an opinion or reflection paper. When reading through your paper, ensure that you have not included any jargon or common phrases that may take away from the content of your paper.
Checking over your citations is a crucial step in the editing process! Ensure that you have cited all information that is summarized, paraphrased, or directly quoted from a source. Find out what style the assignment requires you to cite in and ensure that your citations match that format. If you need assistance with citations you can make an appointment with a peer mentor who will help you through the process.
Proofreading is the final stage of the writing process that should be completed after you have thoroughly edited your paper. Here are some tips that you can consider when proofreading your paper (Wyrick & Bose, 2010):
- Don’t rely on your computer’s spellcheck for spelling and grammar mistakes
- Try proofreading for one error at a time – read your paper over and only look for spelling, then again for grammar, and again for punctuation
- Read your paper completely and slowly – don’t skim!
- Try reading your paper out loud – actually hearing the words may make you notice spelling or grammar mistakes, or it may encourage you to change the wording of a sentence
- Print off a copy of your paper and circle or highlight every punctuation mark, which will force you to pay attention to them and see if they make sense
Tips for Editing and Proofreading
Editing and proofreading your paper can be a daunting task, especially after you have put so much time and effort into writing it. Sometimes it is beneficial to take a break from the paper before you edit it; spend a few days away from the writing and this may make you aware of things that you didn’t notice before. It may also be helpful to print out a copy of your paper and move away from your normal workspace; this could also make you see problems or errors that you didn’t notice before. If you are stuck and can’t seem to figure out how to improve your paper, use your resources! Re-read your syllabus for any tips, use a thesaurus or dictionary to help you with spelling and grammar, or make an appointment with a peer mentor who will read through your paper with you and help you develop valuable editing and proofreading skills (Wyrick & Bose, 2010). As you continue to write and edit more, you will begin to notice trends in your writing, and editing and proofreading will become easier as you continue to improve your writing style!
Brown, J., Bruyn, J., Messenger, W., & Montagnes, R. (2005). The Canadian Writer’s Handbook (4th ed.). Canada: Oxford University Press.
The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. (2018). Editing and proofreading. Retrieved from http://writingcenter.unc.edu/tips-and-tools/editing-and-proofreading/
Wyrick, J., & Bose, S. (2010). Steps to Writing Well with Additional Readings (1st ed.). Canada: Nelson Education Ltd.