Smoothing out the Creases

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Rebekah Lisciandro
Bachelor of Social Science and completing BA Honours | Archive

Strategies for better proofreading

One thing that I’ve experienced during my degree is people who don’t like to proofread their work, and who’ll submit it as soon as it’s done. This was always a little perplexing to me as someone who never wanted to lose marks on minor things and used to proofread three billion times. It was also perplexing because these were smart students who still got credits and distinctions, when they very easily could have gotten distinctions and high distinctions if they’d just double checked some things. I think there has to be some kind of happy medium between the two – of not obsessively proofreading or never proofreading at all – that’s effective for everyone.

Why even bother?

A lot of people I’ve known don’t feel like they have the time or energy to edit or proofread their work. By the time they’ve finished the writing process, it’s taken so much time and effort to get everything down that it’s near enough or sometimes past due date and it needs to be submitted, or they have other life things to attend to, like work or family. Sometimes people just want to take a break after all that work. That’s pretty understandable, and it’s up to individuals where they want to or can put their effort.

But proofreading is the very final step and a helpful one. Not only does it help you pick up on areas that may lose you marks, re-reading your assignment can remind you of what you wrote and your final opinion on what you’ve learned.

Proofreading is not inherently editing

I use the terms interchangeably a lot, but proofreading is not the same as editing. Editing is often more in-depth and can sometimes be more time consuming. Editing is the process through which you go back through your work with a critical eye for content and communication. Did you use appropriate language? Can you communicate something more simply? If you’ve ever gone over word limit and had to cut words, you are engaging in these processes. So, editing can lead to a revision process if you have to write or re-write paragraphs. Proofreading is a less intensive process that concerns itself with consistency of grammar, spelling and referencing and ensuring everything looks professional.

As a matter of principle, you should edit and revise your work. It’s how you will get your best work. But maybe you didn’t plan for that, so let’s focus on proofreading.

What takes priority?

In editing, there is a distinction between Higher Order Concerns (HOC) which covers the bigger picture of structure, message, purpose and audience, and Lower Order Concerns (LOC) which involve sentence structure and grammar. Of course, it’s a little naïve to imply that they always sit in this order, because LOC can quickly interrupt HOC if they are significant enough. Still, this order can help us distinguish things in our proofreading.

Assuming that you’re skipping editing, you’re probably going to skip HOC (which you do at your own risk). Print out a hard copy or change the way you’re looking at it. Seeing it in a new way will help wake your brain up and think its somehow new text. Pick what you’re proofreading for. Is it grammar? Punctuation? Sentence structure? You can check for all at once or you can check individually. You can create a checklist to help you mark off what you’ve done. Keep something to double check against, such as a referencing libguide or a list of punctuation rules.

Read your work out loud to yourself. Anything you have trouble reading, the reader will also have trouble with. This is a favourite technique if you have done major revisions and changed sentences around, as it will help pick up on typos and lost words.

Proofreading can help pick up on things like long sentences, contractions (like don’t, won’t, etc. that we don’t use in academic writing), repetitiveness (using the same word twice in the same sentence or repeated ideas) and spelling, especially for homonyms that spell checkers may miss.

Sometimes people worry that doing this process will take them significantly below word count, but being significantly below word count is often a sign that you haven’t written about the content enough, or that there is an area you can expand. It’s probably better to know that before you submit.

Can anyone help me?

Both the Peer Advisers and Learning Advisers can read part of your assignment to give you feedback on your writing and give you tips for editing or proofreading, but don’t proofread entire drafts. Studiosity allows you to submit drafts for feedback, but this can only be used eight times a semester.

You can also ask a friend or family member to read your draft and give you feedback on what they did and didn’t understand. It can be even more helpful if they’re not in your discipline, because if the writing is clear enough that they grasp the concept, then that’s a good sign.

While it might be tricky, learning to proofread on your own is better in the long run. You get faster every time and less and less dependent on anyone else who might slow the process down. So proofreading is a final step in a long battle that you often wish was over, but it can ultimately help upgrade your work into something you can be really proud of.

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