Editing and proofreading
Advice and guidance to help you with editing and proofreading your work.
The writing process includes reviewing and re-drafting. It is more than simply checking spelling, grammar and punctuation. Proper proofreading and editing your work can really refine and hone your argument, elevating and adding value to it. For any writing you do, you should expect to have to edit and rewrite some sections.
You may find you need to review your initial planned structure, move or remove some text and edit your document to maintain its flow. In order to hand in your best possible work, you will also need to look out for presentation (including formatting), grammar and punctuation errors. To avoid less effective multi-tasking, edit and proofread your work in separate stages. It can be difficult to spot spelling, grammar and punctuation errors when you are checking the overall sense and structure of your writing.
You should also check any guidance given to you as part of your course or assignment. Conventions vary between subject areas.
Editing your work
Take a few moments to think about when and where you review your work. A lot of effective writing is about reflecting and reviewing, and it is a good idea to make time to do this. You may prefer to do this in a different environment from where you normally like to write. It helps to leave a time gap between writing and reviewing.
Set aside regular times in the day or week to stand back from the overall project and make judgements.
- Is each piece of text in the right part of the document?
- Is something too long or short?
- Does it contribute to the line of reasoning?
Once you have completed a draft of an assignment, or a section of it, you can make an outline or skeleton to help revise and restructure the text. The reverse outline technique helps you to stand back and think about how parts of a text are related.
To check the flow of your argument or line of reasoning you can test pieces of your text by evaluating them against set criteria or asking yourself a set of questions. Testing can be done for a sentence or two, a paragraph or longer sections.
Check any presentation guidelines you have including information about formatting, referencing, using tables, graphs and illustrations, and how these are to be captioned. You can make a document template to use and a presentation checklist.
Check how many words you are allowed. Are some sections just too long and others a little short? It can help to devise a word budget and allocate a number of words to each section of writing. When seeking to cut words it is useful to limit the amount of description included and put greater emphasis on your critical analysis. Description is background material and need not be detailed, so seek to summarise it and, if necessary, provide tables, illustrations, diagrams or graphs as appropriate. Show that you are being questioning by offering explanations. Concentrate on saying why something is significant and discuss the importance overall.
Checking for errors
Producing your best work involves proofreading it to eliminate basic errors. Yet under pressure of time this can become rushed and embarrassing mistakes get through. A way to resolve this is to eliminate making some mistakes in the first place and to read parts of your writing for errors regularly rather than leaving it as a big task at the end.
At an early stage, make a list of your own mistakes and find out what would improve your writing. It can be useful to go back through previously submitted work and make a note of errors you find and any mentioned in your feedback. What do you do well? Are there particular spelling, grammar or punctuation errors you make often?
When we are very familiar with our own writing it can be difficult to spot mistakes. A time gap allows for some forgetting. Your feedback may highlight some preferences applicable to writing in your field of study. Try our proofreading tips.
Being able to effectively proofread your own work is a valuable skill. However, some students may wish to use a third party proofreader. You must ensure that any work you submit for assessment is your own and you need to follow the principles of good academic practice to avoid academic misconduct. Academic Services have advice on ‘Can I use a proofreader?’ on the ‘What is academic misconduct page?’
Listening to your work being read in a synthetic voice can sometimes highlight mistakes more clearly in your sentence structure and punctuation. This usually works best when you highlight and check chunks of text rather than whole pages of an assignment.
Most operating systems have software built-in which will turn your document’s text into synthetic speech (such as Immersive Reader, Speak or Read Aloud depending on the version of MS Word you have). Specialist assistive software may access more natural sounding voices and offer other useful features. There are also free basic tools you can try on your own equipment.
Texthelp (Read & Write) is assistive software which can read aloud, magnify, highlight and colour overlay text. It comes with an advanced spell checker which highlights confusable words. It is available on all public access PCs on campus (e.g. in the Main Library).
My Study Bar is a set of free portable Windows assistive apps in one package. It can be run from a USB drive or from your desktop. It includes the AT Bar tool you can use to select text and copy it into a clipboard to hear it read aloud. You can download My Study Bar from the University of Edinburgh’s Communication, Access, Literacy and Learning (CALL) centre.
Academic Phrasebank is a collection of general phrases taken from academic sources created by John Morley at the University of Manchester. The phrases are sorted into writing and assignment themes such as being critical and writing conclusions. This can be a helpful resource for suggestions when seeking to rephrase parts of your writing.
Major publishers of English dictionaries have websites which can help you with word meanings, conventions in written English and basic grammar. Some contain advertising.
Lexico is a collaboration between Dictionary.com and Oxford University Press (OUP).