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#7 Editing and proofreading your essay

The editing and proofreading stages are often rushed or ignored entirely when writing essays, yet they are crucial elements of the process and will almost always lead to better marks. In this Bite we’ll explain the distinction between editing and proofreading, as well as offering some useful tips for both.

One thing that can result in significantly improved essay marks is ensuring you build sufficient editing and proofreading into the process. Although the terms are often used interchangeably, editing and proofreading actually refer to two different stages in the writing process. At the editing stage, your focus should be on the overall structure and coherence of the piece, as well as accuracy of arguments, clarity of expression, sentence structure and so on. Some people have a tendency to edit as they go along, for example writing then rewriting a sentence several times before it sounds ‘right’. This can, however, slow the writing process down, so many people find it more productive to get the piece written before going back to edit. Either way, a well-written essay may well have gone through several edits before being submitted.

The proofreading stage, by contrast, is a final run-through the essay, looking out for errors in things like spelling, grammar and punctuation. It’s here that you might also check that you’ve adhered to the ‘house style’ in terms of referencing system, layout, font, line spacing and so on. Unlike in the editing stage, at the proofreading stage you will not be making substantial changes to the content of your document. Rather you’re adding a final polish, ironing out any cosmetic errors and making sure the essay is in the best possible shape for submission.

Of course, this all takes time, and for some students necessitates a change in mind-set. Finishing up an essay a few minutes before the deadline may be a time-honoured tradition, but it’s not the route to consistently good marks. Build in plenty of time to draft, edit and proofread your work, and watch your marks improve.

Editing tips:

Remember, at the editing stage you’re concerned with the overall coherence of the document. It might help to consider the following:

  • Does your essay have a logical flow (if you’ve followed the advice in Essay Bites on planning and structuring your essay then there’s a good chance that you can answer ‘yes’ to this question)?
  • Have you answered the question?
  • Does the introduction accurately reflect and signpost what follows?
  • Are your paragraphs effective? Do you include appropriate evidence and analysis? Does the paragraph order make sense?
  • Does the conclusion effectively summarise the line of argument your essay has taken?
  • Does the writing make sense? Are there any places where you could write more clearly or more concisely?
  • Where do you stand in relation to the word count/word limit?

Proofreading tips:

At this stage we’re concerned with the fine details. The following tips should help you get it right:

  • Use spellcheck – but don’t rely on it entirely. Most word processing packages come with a spell checking programme and you should, of course, use this as your first line of defence. Make sure your default language is set to UK English (rather than US English). Be aware though that there are some things that spellcheck won’t cover, so use it as a first step, then check your script manually.
  • Edit from hard copy – evidence suggests that we read differently on-screen from on paper, and that we may miss more errors and inaccuracies when we do the former. So print your essay out, and proofread from the hard copy.
  • Read your work out loud – this one is key. Read your work aloud and you will experience it in a different way. You’ll stumble over misspelled words, you’ll lose your breath if the sentences are too long or poorly punctuated, frequently repeated words will jump out at you. Better still, ask someone else to read the essay back to you – hearing it in another person’s voice truly changes how you engage with the essay.

Many students skip or rush the editing and proofreading stages, or else simply don’t leave themselves enough time to go through the process. Hopefully we’ve persuaded you that it’s a hugely important and beneficial part of the essay writing process. Taking the time to properly edit and proofread your work will almost always lead to better marks

Updated on 30/08/2021

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