10 Hacks to Remember When Proofreading Your Essays

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I hate proofreading my own work, especially academic papers. I want to wanting to gag every time I read a paragraph I wrote in a sleep-deprived anxiety in the middle of the night. Beyond stomaching my own work, then I have to figure out how to proofread it without getting fed up and starting over entirely, or switching to Netflix. Sometimes I’m even hesitant to pass my work to my friends for proofreading.

But we have the 10 best tips to proofreading so you don’t get distracted by the fact that it’s your own work.

1.Remember Your Thesis

Make sure you actually have and prove your argument. For the majority of papers use a closed thesis, which summarizes each point you’ll make throughout the body of your essay. “A good thesis statement has two components: the ‘what’ of a paper and the ‘how.’ What can be claimed about a topic–and then how does the topic do (or reinforce, challenge, exemplify, etc) this claim?” University of  Florida writing program lecturer Kyle Boggs said. “A thesis statement is doing its job if, after reading it, one can predict exactly what will follow in the paper and the order in which it appears.” As you’re proofreading, you should read your thesis between each paragraph. Do you actually prove you point? Or did you go off on a pre-Chihuahua video viewing tangent?

2.Write for your Audience

While proofing, think about your reader.  Take special care to separate the professors who encourage you to quote lecture and those who want you to cut the B.S. Avoid unnecessary summary of term definitions or source material if you don’t want to bore your professor with things they taught you. A sure sign of a weak paper includes class fluff to hit a word or page requirement. For example, if you’re writing an about The Raven, don’t tell your professor all about how the speaker goes into hysterics over the loss of his lover after a bird keeps screeching “Nevermore” at him. Instead, pick a few key words or phrases that you want to analyze. Go beyond the original text here and draw your own conclusions about a work, the author or topic.

3.Use Your Voice

An academic essay should sound professional, but it should still sound like you. “Sometimes students decide on the angle that their essay is directed at their professor, and then they start talking down to them,” UF literature PhD candidate Alyssa Dewees said. “Then you end up with some 18-year-old student lecturing his 40-year-old professor on love or something.” Other ways to make sure your voice is strong and powerful, but not repetitive: vary your sentence structure and do a “control+f” find-search for words you use too often. An inconsistent voice with randomly inserted words makes for a clunky paper that might end up being irritating to read through. Proofreading for a recognizable voice makes your paper smooth as silk.

4.Cut the Crap

Speaking of fluff, avoid it. You might think that one slightly unrelated thought you stuck in the middle of a paragraph to eat up space will go unnoticed, but when your professor returns your paper with the note, “I wish you would’ve expanded on that idea,” you’re in trouble. “The best kind of writing is concise, in the truest sense of the word,” Boggs said. ” Especially in shorter essays, the writer should think of every word that appears in each sentence has serving a purpose.” If you find yourself running out of content, don’t just say the same sentence twice. “A paragraph that’s repeating an unnecessary summary of your argument is obvious fluff,” Dewees said. Always remember that your information should be new and exciting the first time someone reads your paper (or the fifth time when you’re proofreading it again).

5.Trick Your Brain

Change fonts, font color, font size or spacing before you start looking over your draft. You won’t fall asleep with bright blue comic sans staring back at you. Then print your work and start proofreading with your pen. This part is all mental and works the best when proofreading your paper for the first time after a break. Take a red pen to your paper and don’t be afraid to bloody it up. Take on your prof’s persona, too. What would they be looking for? What errors would they catch right off the bat? What kind of content errors would they mark me down for? Maybe you’ll get a little giggle out of pretending to be your professor for a few minutes and trying to guess the things that get under their skin. Just don’t forget to change your paper back to standard 12-point, Times New Roman before you submit.

6.Read yuor paeprr out loud

When proofreading your paper in your head, you read faster than you would if you were forced to read out loud. (Go read that first sentence again!) Your brain is prone to skip over shorter words, and since you (the author) know exactly what words you wrote, you’re more likely to gloss over grammatical and spelling errors. “I suggest–and this may sound odd–sing the paper to yourself,” Boggs said. “Pick an easy melody like ‘Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star’ and sing your paper. When there is a bump in the melody where the words don’t fit, this suggests a moment where a sentence might benefit from some re-working.” Just make sure your roommates aren’t home to get a show.

7.Take a break…sometimes

In order take breaks while proofreading, you can’t wait until the last minute to write your paper. The more time you spend staring at your paper proofreading it, the more likely you are to hate it. Don’t let this happen. Give yourself the opportunity to finally get your grocery shopping done and come back to your paper with fresh eyes. You might realize some mistakes you thought were awful weren’t so bad after all, and you’ll definitely catch some simple errors that you missed the first time you were proofreading. Basically, use this time to go watch that one Parks and Rec episode you’ve been eyeing, but return to your paper one last time before bed.

8.Proofreading takes time

Before you start, acknowledge you’re going to have to read through your paper a few times. Don’t try to catch everything at once. You won’t. (Trust me, I’ve tried.) In college, you’ve got to weave your writing into a schedule full of chemistry problems and late-night online lecture watching. Give yourself more than enough time and you’ll be able to take those proofreading breaks I just mentioned. The process won’t be as taxing as writing in a time crunch.

9. Quote me on This

The “easiest” way to hit that page requirement? Add a quote from your readings (that you obviously read on time with the syllabus, right?) that proves your claim or add information that your readers need to understand your work. But quote carefully. “Misattributing a quote will get you laughed at,” Dewees said. “I once heard a story where a student misattributed a quote from Barney to Aristotle.” Not only should you be proofreading to see if you have enough info from expert sources, but you have to make sure the quotes really are in your favor.

10. Use Your Resources

Writing is tough for everybody. Proofreading can also be a lonely process–sitting there trying to translate your thoughts and ideas into words. But don’t feel like you only have yourself to rely on while you’re writing and proofreading. Most schools have writing labs and professors who are more than willing to help you (assuming you didn’t wait until the last possible second to write your essay) during office hours. Turn off OJ Simpson v. the People and hunker down to have those five pages drafted and proofread that weekend. You can watch OJ the night before your due date, since you’ll already be done.

Common Errors when proofreading:

  • Than v. Then: Then is used in reference to the order of things. Ex. “I went to the store. Then, I went home.” Than is used to denote preference of one thing over another. Ex. “I would rather go to the store than go home.”
  • Their v. There v. They’re: Their is the possessive form of “they.” There designates location. They’re is a contraction that can be expanded to they are. Ex. “Their school closed for the day.” “The school is over there.” “They’re going home early.”
  • Affect v. Effect: This one definitely still confuses me sometimes. Affect is used as a verb. Ex. “I wonder how this assignment will affect my overall grade.” On the other hand, effect is almost always used as a noun. “The effect of not studying is a lower class average.”
  • To v. Too: This may be a no-brainer, but you can easily miss this one when proofreading late at night. To is used when you’re coming “from” something else, whether it be a concrete place or an abstract thought. “He went from Germany to Italy.” Too is a synonym for “as well.” “I went to the library and the student union, too.”
  • Subject-Verb Agreement: This grammar rule is often forgotten when you proofreading and wanting to get your thoughts down as quickly as possible. Especially with longer sentences, people often use a plural verb with a singular subject or the other way around.
  • Run-on sentences: Make sure your sentences only have one independent clause, uUnless two are separated by a semicolon or colon, of course. And avoid separating two independent clauses by just a comma–that’s called a comma splice.
  • Ending a Sentence with a Preposition: Prepositions are words like on, for, with and through. Don’t end a sentence with one.
  • “He and I” v. “He and me”: Whenever I find myself having to use either one of these phrases, the easiest way I’ve found to choose whether to use “I” or “me” is to get rid of “he and” in the sentence and choose which word sounds grammatically correct. Ex. “Ryan and I went to the store,” or “Ryan and me went to the store?” Now are out “Ryan and” from the sentence. “I went to the store,” or “Me went to the store.” Well, I went to the store!

 

Florida native and freshman at the University of Florida. English major and lover of all things Beatnik and Jimmy Buffett.

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