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Extended Essay Guide: Proofreading Your Paper

Definition

Proofreading is the act of searching for errors before you hand in the your final research paper. Errors can be both grammatical and typographical in nature, but also include identifying problems with the narrative flow of your paper [i.e., the logical sequence of thoughts and ideas], issues with concise writing, and finding any word processing errors [e.g., different font types, indented paragraphs, line spacing, uneven margins, etc.].

Here's a few tips when getting close to finishing your paper or project:

• read your paper out loud to yourself, remembering to pause at commas and periods, does it sound right? is your grammar correct? does it flow?

• have someone else proof your paper for you, better yet have 2 people read it!

• reread it after some time away, it will give you a fresh perspective

Strategies for Proofreading your Paper

Before You Proofread

  • Be sure you've revised the larger aspects of the text. Don't make corrections at the sentence and word level [the act of editing] if you still need to work on the overall focus, development, and organization of the paper or you need to re-arrange or change specific sections [the act of revising].
  • Set your text aside for a while between writing and proofreading. Give yourself some time between the writing of your paper and proofreading it. This will help you identify mistakes more easily.
  • Eliminate unnecessary words before looking for mistakes. Throughout your paper, you should try to avoid using inflated diction if a simpler phrase works equally well. Simple, precise language is easier to proofread than overly complex sentence constructions and vocabulary.
  • Know what to look for. Make a mental note of the mistakes you need to watch for based on comments from your professor on previous drafts of the paper or that you have received about papers written in other classes. This will help you to identify repeated patterns of mistakes more readily.

NOTE:  Do not confuse the act of revising your paper with the act of editing it. Editing is intended to tighten up language so that your paper is easier to read and understand. This should be the focus when you proofread. If your professor asks you to revise your paper, the implication is that there is something within the text that needs to be changed, improved, or re-organized in some significant way. If the reason for a revision is not specified, always ask for clarification.


Strategies to Help Identify Errors

  1. Work from a printout, not a computer screen. Besides sparing your eyes the strain of glaring at the computer, proofreading from a printout allows you to easily skip around to where errors might have been repeated throughout the paper [e.g., misspelled name of a person].
  2. Read out loud. This is especially helpful for spotting run-on sentences, but you'll also hear other problems that you may not have identified while reading the text out loud. This will also helps you play the role of the reader, thereby, encouraging you to understand the paper as your audience might.
  3. Use a ruler or blank sheet of paper to cover up the lines below the one you're reading. This technique keeps you from skipping over possible mistakes. This also helps you deliberately pace yourself as you read through your paper.
  4. Circle or highlight every punctuation mark in your paper. This forces you to pay attention to each mark you used and to question its purpose in each sentence or paragraph. This is a particularly helpful strategy if you tend to misuse or overuse a punctuation mark, such as a comma or semi-colon.
  5. Use the search function of the computer to find mistakes. Using the search [find] feature of your word processor can help you identify common errors faster. For example, if you overuse a phrase or use the same qualifier over and over again, you can do a search for those words or phrases and in each instance make a decision about whether to remove it or use a synonym.
  6. If you tend to make many mistakes, check separately for each kind of error, moving from the most to the least important, and following whatever technique works best for you to identify that kind of mistake. For instance, read through once [backwards, sentence by sentence] to check for fragments; read through again [forward] to be sure subjects and verbs agree, and again [perhaps using a computer search for "this," "it," and "they"] to trace pronouns to antecedents.
  7. End with using a computer spell checker or reading backwards word by word. Remember that a spell checker won't catch mistakes with homonyms [e.g., "they're," "their," "there"] or certain typos [like "he" when you meant to write "the"]. The spell-checker function is not a substitute for carefully reviewing the text for spelling errors.
  8. Leave yourself enough time. Since many errors are made and overlooked by speeding through writing and proofreading, setting aside the time to carefully review your writing will help you catch errors you might otherwise miss. Always read through your writing slowly. If you read through the paper at a normal speed, you won't give your eyes sufficient time to spot errors.
  9. Ask a friend to read your paper. Offer to proofread a friend's paper if they will review yours. Having another set of eyes look over your writing will often spot errors that you would have otherwise missed.

Editing and Proofreading. The Writing Center. University of North Carolina; Proofreading. The Writer’s Handbook. Writing Center. University of Wisconsin, Madison; Proofreading. Department of English Writing Guide. George Mason University; Proofreading and Revising. Online Writing Center, Walden University; Proofreading a College Paper: Guidelines and Checklist. Troy University Library Tutorial; Revision: Cultivating a Critical Eye. Institute for Writing Rhetoric. Dartmouth College; Revision Guidelines.