- Ask yourself, “What mistakes do I make most often?” If you are not sure, start to keep an error log. An error log is a written record that helps you keep track of the errors you repeatedly make in your essays.
- Errors that interfere with meaning include: Incorrect use or formation of a verb, a modal, a conditional sentence, or passive voice; incorrect or awkward sentence structure or word order; and incorrect or missing connector.
- Errors that do not interfere with meaning include: Subject-verb agreement; incorrect or missing article; incorrect singular or plural form of a noun; incorrect word choice or word form; and non-idiomatic usage.
- List the three most frequent errors you make. Pay closest attention to any errors that interfere with meaning.
- Read through your paper looking only for the most common error that interferes with meaning. Using a ruler or piece of paper to cover everything but one line at a time can help focus your attention. Circle all suspected errors of that type. By only focusing on one type of error at a time, the editing process will seem less overwhelming.
- Next, repeat step three looking only for your second most common error that interferes with meaning. Using a different color ink for each error type can help you visually distinguish between the error types.
- Repeat step three once again for your third most common error that interferes with meaning, if necessary.
- If you have not already looked for verb problems, highlight or underline all the verbs in your paper. Check all your verbs for:
- Subject-verb agreement: Is the subject singular or plural? Does the verb form agree?
- Modals (can, should, would, must, may): Did you use the base form of the main verb after the modal?
- “Be” verbs: Check the tense. Have you changed the tense? If so, why? Is the tense appropriate for the meaning? Is the verb in passive voice? If so, should it be?
- After you have followed these steps, you may ask a knowledgeable friend (or tutor in the Writing Center) to read over your paper to look for problem areas.
Note: ESL students may find it helpful to use the Longman Dictionary of American English during the self-editing process. This dictionary is designed specifically for non-native English speakers and provides valuable grammatical and syntactical information which dictionaries for native speakers lack.
Adapted from: Cogie, Jane, Kim Strain, and Sharon Lorinskas. “Avoiding the Proofreading Trap: The Value of the Error Correction Process.” The Writing Center Journal 19.2 (1999): 7-31.