Editing and Proofreading
Table of Contents
This manual provides some of the basic tips and most important strategies on how to properly revise your piece of writing. Having read this handout, hopefully, you will learn how to spot different types of mistakes, including punctuation, grammar, and stylistic mistakes, as well as typos.
What Is The Difference Between Editing And Proofreading?
Even though some people use the words interchangeably, there is actually a difference between them as editing and proofreading are two different steps of revising the paper. They demand application of different strategies and techniques, and focus on different aspects of writing. However, the similarity they have is that they demand careful and detailed reading.
Strategies Applicable To Both Editing And Proofreading
- Distance yourself from the text that you have just written. It is really hard to switch over to editing or proofreading stage right after you have finished writing. In such case, you will not be able to have a fresh look on the text and spot mistakes and typos. Therefore, it is strongly recommended to take a break between writing and revising. Put a paper aside at least for a few hours, preferable for a day or a few. Switch over to some other activities, have some rest, clear your mind. With such technique, you will be later able to have an eye for mistakes and spot even the minor flaws in writing. Another option apart from revising the paper on your own is to give your composition to a friend or a family member. These people are surely distanced from the text, so they will easily tell you whether there are some flaws or confusion (from the perspective of an objective reader).
- Choose the right medium for revising the paper. Some people are more likely to sport mistakes on computer screen, while others specifically need the text to be printed out.
- If it becomes hard to read the text, try changing the font size or color, spacing, style whatsoever. You need to feel comfortable while reading. Sometimes, such slight changes in format may help you get a whole new perspective of perceiving the text.
- It is highly recommendable to find a calm place for revising the paper. It is a really bad idea to proofread a paper while talking on a phone with a friend, watching your favorite TV series, listening to music, or cooking dinner. Just cut out specific time when you will be totally immersed into paper proofreading.
- If time allows, do editing and proofreading of your paper in separate stages (specific blocks of time). This is helpful for maintaining concentration on the topic and the text on the whole.
- If you do not have sufficient time, try to prioritize and make sure to fulfill revision of those parts that are most problematic in your viewpoint.
Editing is what you actually do as soon as you complete your first draft. It involves continuous re-reading of the text to spot flaws in paper organization, structure, logical transitions, as well as smooth and coherent flow of ideas. Besides, here you should also look for whether there is sufficient supporting evidence in the text and whether all the arguments you put forward are properly backed up.
As a rule, paper editing involves several levels:
- Content editing.
Double-check on whether you have addressed all questions in the paper assignment. Have you provided a comprehensive discussion of the central essay question? Are the claims reliable and credible? Is the argument well developed and supported? Are your ideas consistently developed? Do you have logical transitions between paragraphs and ideas? Does your paper probably contain some off-topic statements or parts?
- Overall paper structure.
Check on whether the introductive and conclusive paragraphs are properly written. The former should contain enough background information on the topic to make your readers aware of what you are writing about, while the latter should succinctly sum up the discussion and pinpoint to the most significant aspects of the paper. Check on the correspondence of the written text (the body of the paper) to the thesis statement. How is each body paragraph related to the thesis statement? Are there clear logical transitions throughout paragraphs?
- Paragraph structure.
Do you have proper development of paragraphs (with topic sentences, supporting evidence and examples, and closing sentences)? Is the information you have provided relevant to the assignment? Does the information you provide correspond to the central idea of the paper?
Check on whether there are terms or notions that might be not clear or confusing to your target readers. Make sure to provide brief definition of such aspects. Is the meaning of each sentence clear? Imagine that you are not a professional in your research field. How would you feel when reading the paper?
Check on appropriate words and structure usage. Also make sure you adhere to corresponding tone of writing (formal, semi-formal, informal, convincing, etc.). The tone actually depends on the paper assignment. Check on the use of gendered language (are all of the pronouns and denominations you use are appropriate?). Make sure you avoid passive voice in structures where it can be avoided. Also pay attention to unnecessary phrases (especially wordy ones) that you tend to use at times.
Check on appropriate citations of direct quotations, paraphrased quotes, and other information you got from outside sources. Editing on all of the aforementioned levels allows revising the paper comprehensively (in terms of wording, grammar, and content). Pay attention to some frequently repeating errors. Maybe you have a specific pattern of mistakes. Therefore, as soon as you spot it, you will know which your weak point in writing is and will be able to avoid similar mistakes in the future. If you spot a recurring error, highlight these words (or structures) in text and then you will be able to pay careful attention to it and improve grammar in order not to repeat this mistake again.
Proofreading belongs to the final stage of revision process and is also the concluding stage of proofreading. When you proofread, you focus on surface mistakes, such as wrongly misspelled words, mistakes in punctuation and grammar. Still, move on to proofreading only after you have finished with editing content.
Why Proofreading Is So Necessary If Content Is What Really Matters?
Content is undoubtedly a significant aspect when you write an academic paper. Still, the way a papers looks like also determines what impression it has on the reader. Just agree: if your professor or any other person reading your paper will spot grammar and punctuation mistakes in the very first paragraph, he/ she will not be impressed with your paper. Actually, your reader will be distracted and annoyed with the numerous mistakes you got. Therefore, as you see, it is really worth paying attention to the overall outlook of the paper.
Some students are prone to devoting insufficient time to proofreading, hoping only to focus on mistakes that jump out on the page. Nonetheless, such skim reading is not effective, especially if you are tired or have been working on writing before. When you do not pay enough time to proofreading, you will simply miss a lot of flaws in your paper. Therefore, it is advisable to work with a defined plan than helps you trace different types of mistakes. It might take more time than originally expected, but this practice of proofreading is definitely rewarding at the end. If you have chosen a productive and effective way to spot errors, then you will have your own strategy for paper proofreading. As such, with time, it will not be time-consuming.
An important thing to remember is that it is advisable to separate the processes of editing and proofreading. When you edit the paper, try to focus merely on the content and organization - do not distract your attention on grammar and punctuation. You should be concentrated and focused on specifics.
The Proofreading Process
Probably you are already familiar with some of the strategies that are covered below. If you are looking for your best strategy or tactics in proofreading, you should be ready that before you find it, you will need to experiment with a variety of them and apply them into practice. However, the criteria that you should take into consideration are that the chosen technique(s) should be effective and not time-consuming.
- Do not merely rely on software that tracks mistakes. They are useful tools to get a general picture of mistakes in your paper, but many of them remain unrevealed. Spell checkers have limited dictionary and grammar memory, so not all mistakes can be spotted. Regarding stylistics, the matters are even worse - even the best spell checker cannot properly evaluate sentence structures. Moreover, spell checkers will not probably highlight as mistakes commonly misspelled words. Therefore, make sure you proofread the paper on your own even if you use a spell checker.
- Grammar checkers can be tricky as well: they can spot proper words as mistakes while overlook actual mistakes. There are number of rules that are programmed in grammar checkers, so they can be prone to making even more mistakes in the paper than before. Besides, a grammar checker will not provide you with an explanation of why a specific structure or word is not correct. You might use a grammar checker to eliminate some general structure mistakes such as run-ons, excessive use of passive voice, and the presence of dangling modifiers or misplaced modifiers, but when it comes to something more detailed they are no good.
- While proofreading, focus on one type of error at a time. When you simultaneously focus both on grammar and punctuation, you just disperse your attention. When you concentrate on many things at a time, you get more tired and, as a result, lose your focus. So, first spot grammar mistakes, then punctuation, and then typos (as one of proofreading options).
- Try to read slowly and pay attention to every separate word. A great technique is to read out loud - it will help you spot awkward wording and confusing sentence structures. Besides, you will know how the words and whole sentences sound together. When you just skim read, you will be more prone to skip errors.
- While proofreading, separate your body of the paper into blocks or separate sentences. It will also help you retain your focus.
- Focus on each punctuation mark. In order not to overlook any of them, try to circle them. Then check the usage of each one and ask yourself whether the selected punctuation mark is correct.
- Read your essay backwards. This technique, which may seem strange at first sight, is great for checking spelling. Usually when you read coherent text, you are overwhelmed with meaning of separate words that it is hard to spot mistakes in spelling. When you read words out of logical context, it becomes easier to look for typos and mistakes.
- Proofreading as well as writing is a learning process wherein you do not just look for mistakes but try to get deep and comprehensive understanding of why those specific mistakes occurred. As such, you apply your analytical skills to evaluate each mistake, find its roots and further eliminate them in future writing. Therefore, in the proofreading process, you are encouraged to use dictionaries, manuals, and grammar handbooks.
- Ignorance will not definitely help you spot mistakes and become a good proofreader. If you doubt what word sounds better in a specific context or what a correct spelling is, do not just contemplate but look it up in the textbook or a dictionary. Make sure you have everything checked.
All in all, the process of proofreading is more effective and efficient when you develop your skills on a regular basis and come up with a proofreading strategy that works out for you in the best way. With sufficient time and practice, you will improve your proofreading skills and be able to spot your weak areas in writing.