Many editing and proofreading guides will tell you that you should focus on the big stuff in your paper—content, organization, and clarity—before you focus on small things, such as spelling, punctuation, and grammar. They will be correct, of course. But when editing and proofreading, remember that although you are in the revision phase of your writing process, you are always in the process of writing.
When proofreading and editing, don’t just look for mechanical errors, such as spelling, punctuation, and grammar. Similarly, don’t just look for oversights in content and organization (although these are supremely important). If you see something missing in any department, fix it! Here are a few different strategies you can use to scan through your paper effectively.
Make sure you do, in fact, have time to fix everything you need to.
- If you do, you can choose from a number of proofreading and editing strategies and find the one that works for you. Personally, I like to read the whole paper beginning to end as many times as possible.
If you do not have time to fix everything you need to…
- then it may be a good idea to isolate one problem at a time. Make sure to prioritize these problems based on how important they are to your paper and on how frequently the error appears. For example, it is probably more important to make sure you cited your sources properly than it is for you to avoid comma splices.
- Some other examples of patterns of error you may focus on include: run-on sentences; sentence fragments; verb tense; transitions; proper use of quotes; comma usage; and proper diction/tone. If you have questions about what any of these terms mean or how to identify them, please visit the “Writing Resources” link on our website, writingcenter.gmu.edu. We have many helpful guides for these!
Read your essay. Over and over and over again.
- Slowly read out loud to catch errors in grammar and flow. Read every word and every punctuation mark. Be sure to also ask someone else to read your paper to see if your ideas are coming across clearly.
- Give the paper a few days to rest before you read it again. This makes it feel fresh and you will catch mistakes you did not catch previously.
- As you read your document (or as someone else reads it to you), mark errors using a code. For example, underlining a word could mean you want to use a new word there, circling a word could mean the verb tense is off, and squiggly-lining a word could mean the word is spelled wrong. If you want to be fancy about it, there is a standardized set of markings that proofreaders use (and which you may have seen your professors use on your papers): Here it is!
Know what makes you comfortable.
- If you prefer to read hardcopies rather than electronic copies, then print your paper out! Many people work better in print. Less strain on the eyes.
- If you concentrate better in a quiet environment, work in a quiet environment. If you prefer to listen to music or have a television show on in the background while you edit, more power to you!
- Sometimes you can get too comfortable with your paper. In this case, make yourself uncomfortable! Change the font, the size, your setting, how much you’re zoomed in or out, whatever! Give it a fresh look.
Cut up your essay.
- You can do this on the computer or using paper. Separate your sentences individually (either by cutting them up with scissors or by hitting the return key and leaving a bunch of white space). This will let you see each individual sentence separately, and you can make sure each makes sense. If you want to look at your paper on a larger scale, you can also do this for each individual paragraph. This strategy can help for both grammar and for content.
- In terms of grammar, you can spend some time with individual sentences. Why is this comma where it is? Can I reword the sentence so I don’t have to use a comma? Is the sentence clearer if I do? That sort of thing.
- In terms of content, you can move paragraphs around to see if they fit better elsewhere (I do this a lot). You can also see if individual sentences would fit better in another paragraph.
As always, come to the GMU Writing Center if you need help!
December 16, 2014