Editing and Proofreading
It can be difficult for writers to see problems in their own work. However, writers can be effective at editing and proofreading by using some simple techniques. It is best if you can take a break from your writing before you start this part of the process, so you can create some distance from your work.
How are editing and proofreading different?
Writers sometimes use editing and proofreading interchangeably; however, each is a different step in the writing process. Editing, sometimes called revising, typically involves a more in-depth examination of the document and can sometimes result in substantial changes in order to improve the overall quality of the work. On the other hand, proofreading comes later in the writing process, once bigger edits have been made, and is usually more concerned with surface level corrections, such as checking grammatical accuracy and fixing any typing errors. Whether you’re editing or proofreading, each is valuable to improving the overall quality of your document.
According to Merriam-Webster's Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary, edit means,
- Prepare (as literary material) for publication or public presentation,
- To assemble (as moving picture or tape recording) by cutting and rearranging,
- To alter, adapt or refine especially to bring about conformity to a standard or to suit a particular purpose.
When you edit, become a critical reader of your document. You can do that by placing time between yourself and the document. When you return to it, you will bring the eyes of a reader rather than of a writer. In addition to using your eyes differently in order to re-see your document, listen to it. Sometimes what may look fine on the page sounds awkward to the ear. Read your paper out loud. This practice is especially important if what you have written will later be presented aloud.
At this stage, look for clarity in your writing. Are your sentences clear and easy to follow? Does the wording get confusing? Is there any awkward phrasing?
You could also review the essay for tone. The tone you use will depend on the type of writing, so make sure your word choices coincide with the genre and assignment directions. For example, in an informative essay, you should avoid sounding angry about the topic or including opinionated word choices.
Lastly, vary your word choices and sentence structures to avoid sounding repetitive. For instance, you don’t want to use “also” ten times in one essay. Reading out loud can help identify where you use the same word multiple times. It can also sound monotonous when sentences all start the same, are the same length, or have the same structure. This choppy wording can be seen in the following sample: “She is hungry. She wants lunch. She likes the sandwich shop. She will go there.” To edit this sample, you could write: “Maria is hungry and wants lunch. Soon, she will go to her favorite restaurant, the sandwich shop.”
Once the ideas of your paper are set, it is time to add in transitions between those ideas. Transitions guide readers through your essay, showing them how one idea connects to the next. When adding transitions, consider the following:
Choose transitions based on the situation. Are you adding information, contradicting your previous point, providing an example, or concluding a point? All of these would require different transition phrases. See Transitional Devices (Purdue OWL) for some common transition words and phrases.
Use transitions when moving from one body paragraph to the next. These transitions could be words or phrases (however, in addition, as a result) or full sentences connecting the main points of the two paragraphs. For example: Beyond expanding children’s imaginations, reading increases their vocabulary.
Include transitions between some of the sentences within a paragraph as well. They are particularly useful when starting a specific example (for instance), moving to a new supporting idea (additionally), or concluding the paragraph (overall).
Vary your transitions throughout the paper so you do not use the same ones repeatedly.
While transitions are very useful, you do not need a transition at the start of every sentence. Use them moderately.
Take a careful look at the formatting of your work. Does your paper follow the prescribed guidelines? Are your in-text citations formatted properly? We have guides on the three most popular citation styles: APA Format, Chicago Format, and MLA Format.
Unless you are instructed otherwise by your professor, arrange your paper in this order:
- title page
- abstract (if requested)
- outline (if requested)
- appendix (if any)
- explanatory endnotes (if any)
- endnotes (if required by the citation system you use)
- works cited, reference, or bibliography
"Proofread" means to read for errors. Now that you have edited your writing, it is time to look for errors and correct them. During the revising and editing process you may have corrected some. It can be very helpful to take another break from your writing before you start to proofread. Check out the Finding Common Errors (Purdue OWL) resource.
Now check for punctuation. Pay special attention to quotation marks, commas and semi-colons, spelling, and grammar. Carelessness here undercuts your credibility and casts doubt on the quality of your work. Review some punctuation rules under the Grammar Essentials at Excelsior OWL.
Read your writing out loud, slowly and carefully. Doing so will help you catch errors that you might otherwise not see. Watch for places where you pause, stumble or re-read because those might be trouble spots. If something sounds strange as you read it, there is probably a reason why. Look for any of the following:
Are you being consistent with the tense you are using?
Are there sentences that seem way too long or too short?
Do the subjects and the verbs agree?
Are the pronouns clear to the reader?
Is the voice appropriate for the audience?
Also watch for misspellings and homophones - your spell check function will not catch 'by' when you meant 'buy'. Don't depend on the word processor; the spell checker is not a proofreader.
Check your citations again. Make certain that all directly quoted information or ideas that are not your own are cited appropriately for the assignment.
It can also be helpful to read your writing out loud, sentence by sentence, from the end of your paper backwards to the beginning.
Finally, if you can, ask someone else to read your paper to you out loud so you can hear for yourself how it sounds. Today many computer programs, including Microsoft Word, also have Read Aloud functions so you can even have the computer read your paper to you. Remember, even professional writers have someone else's help with this part of the writing process.