Proofreading may seem like a ‘nice to have’ rather than a ‘must have’ when you’re writing an essay. I know you’re tired and want to just submit your first draft, maybe after a superficial read through. But I want you to know that making time to proofread your essay will pay off if you want high grades.
A well edited essay could gain you another 10-15% more marks – a whole grade boundary.
If you don’t edit, or if you know your writing style is less than professional, you could be hiding the great stuff you’ve worked so hard to write.
A well-written, proofread essay will take the reader (your tutor) on a journey, clearly demonstrating your knowledge and understanding of the theory and the essay question.
Make time to proofread your essay and your tutor will find it easier to award you marks.
I’ve created a brilliant (if I do say so myself) printable proofreading checklist to help you with each and every essay. Download it before and take action for higher grades.
My 5 top tips to proofread your essay
1. Don’t proofread your essay while you’re writing it
Author Steven Pressfield talks about the writing process consisting of two stages: action and reflection. In other words, writing and proofreading. He explains that the process should be – write, proofread. Write, proofread. These activities should never be bundled together.
It can really cripple your creativity and flow to start worrying about how you’re going to proofread your essay. If you notice glaring, super-quick-to-fix issues then, yes, go ahead and correct them. But, ultimately, you want to write without fear. You’ll find your thoughts form faster if you let them flow uninterrupted by your inner critic.
This method means you must leave sufficient time to proofread your essay. Finishing the first draft 30 minutes before the submission deadline is not going to cut it. Try to plan your time far enough in advance to allow for editing time.
2. Take a break between writing and proofreading your essay
Straight after you’ve finished your first draft it’s normal to feel like your brain is fried. Now it’s not going to be easy to proofread your essay with a sautéed noggin' so step away from your work for a few hours or a few days so you can come at it with fresh eyes and a fresh perspective.
3. Always print your essay to proofread
By the time I’ve finished proofreading my essay I’ve normally printed it out 3-4 times. Printing out your work makes it easier to edit in a few ways. Firstly, a lot of people (me included) find it easier to spot mistakes on paper than by staring at a screen. Secondly, it’s easier to mark up your essays on paper. You can cross parts out, add bits and draw arrows to highlight where points should move.
You can then take this printed edit and make the changes back in your Word doc. Once you’ve made significant changes you can print out and go through the process again.
4. Proofread with your essay question and guidance in mind
This is a larger topic in itself, but make sure you never just simply glance at your essay guidance. You want to cling to this like a lifeline and use it as your roadmap to meeting all the criteria for high marks.
So when you’re proofreading your essay, keep a printed copy of your essay question and guidance nearby so you can check that your work is actually answering the question and ticking off the important parts.
5. Proofread your essay one element at a time
Now it’s going to be overwhelming if you try and scan your essay for poor sentence structure, grammatical errors, repeated words, incorrect references, inconsistent capitalisation…etc. all at the same time.
Instead, proofread your essay with one element in mind. Yes, this does mean editing is not a one-and-done activity. But you’re reading this blog post because you give a crap right? You want the highest grades you can get.
I promise you proper proofreading is worth it. Choose an element to review and go through your essay proofreading for that. Make the changes then move onto the next section.
Download my proofreading checklist to make sure you don’t forget anything and miss out on marks.
7 simple strategies to proofread your essay
1. Always, always, always spellcheck
You should never submit an essay without reviewing the errors your word processor’s spellcheck has noticed. This may sound basic but I’ve had essays sent to me without this basic check being done.
So first of all make sure you’ve set the correct proofing language. My version of Word refuses to stay set to English (U.K) so I have to keep switching it from (U.S) if I want to keep my ‘s’ and ‘ou’.
Then go through your spellchecker and review every red, green or blue squiggly line. If you’re using a specific term or name, add it to the dictionary so the red line doesn’t keep appearing.
2. Double check the small stuff
Go through your essay and check that any figures you’ve used are correct.
Then check for any acronyms. The first time you use an acronym you need to write it out in full with the acronym in brackets. Then each other time you mention it you can just use the acronym. For example, National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) becomes just NASA the next times you use it.
Next, you want to check that all names of people and names of specific terms are spelled correctly. And finally, check that you’ve capitalised words that should be capitalised, and left others lowercase that should be. Use your course materials to identify how they appear and use that as a guide.
3. Check the flow and punctuation
Read through your essay specifically looking for the flow of ideas: how the words flow within a sentence and how the sentences flow within a paragraph. Use this to check your punctuation. Punctuation should be included where you naturally pause. If you can’t get a sentence out without pausing, consider splitting it or adding in commas to separate clauses.
4. Become best friends with a thesaurus
When you proofread your essay you’ll probably notice that you repeat a few words often. This is where you should make friends with a thesaurus to stop your writing from becoming monotonous.
I do have a word of caution though, make sure you reverse it and check the new word in the dictionary because though a word seems similar it can often have a different meaning. Ultimately, you want your essay to be clear not clever so make sure you use the right words.
For example, instead of saying, “Richardson says” you could use, states, opines, expresses, declares, asserts, argues…etc.
Instead of saying, “The evidence shows” you could use, demonstrates, illustrates, reveals, explains, establishes, suggests…etc.
Check out my other post on academic writing to get more ideas.
5. Spruce up your sentence structure
Writing with great sentence structure takes practice, so let’s start now shall we? I’ve written a more comprehensive post about this you can check out here but let me explain the key ideas you want to consider when you proofread your essay.
Each sentence should contain one idea. Don’t try to cram two separate points into one sentence. Go through your essay and correct any instances of this.
Next, try to mix up your sentence length to engage and inform the reader (your tutor). Shorter sentences can add impact but they can also sound monotonous and come across as clunky. Longer sentences can include necessary details and build arguments to key conclusions. But used too often and these become tricky to understand and important points become lost.
Also, include each main point early on in the sentence rather than including it at the end after starting with a detail. You may have spent ages finding the perfect point to make, but if you bury the key idea in your writing then it will be harder for your tutor to award you marks.
6. Read aloud – or get Google Translate to help
It is so important to proofread your essay by reading aloud. You will be able to spot errors more easily that a simple spellchecker won’t pick up. Also, reading aloud means you’ll review your essay more slowly than if you read it in your head. This may sound silly but try it.
If you really don’t want to read it yourself then I have a little hack for you. Open up Google Translate and set both languages to English (or whatever language you’re writing in). Paste in part of your essay then hit the speaker icon and Google will read your essay to you. It does sound a little stilted, yes. But you’ll be able to pick up on errors.
7. Check your referencing
First you must make sure that every point you’ve made using someone else’ work is backed up with a reference (citation). Scan your essay and check you haven’t accidentally plagiarised by leaving out a reference.
Next, I want you to make sure that you’re using the correct format set out by your university for your in-text and full references e.g. Harvard system, APA…etc.
Finally, check that every in-text reference has a corresponding full reference and vice versa.
Now this is a long blog post, and I want you to be able to implement everything here, so make sure you download your free proofreading checklist below.
If you’ve found this blog post useful I would be so grateful if you could share it with a study buddy.