How to improve at proofreading and editing

Why proofreading and editing matter

when you've finished this page you will be able to...


Paying attention to detail means spending time proofreading and editing. These things are often neglected by students, but they are vital parts of the writing process. The ability to evaluate and improve your work is a university-level skill, and you'll be expected to demonstrate it.

University lecturers love nothing more than complaining bitterly about the standard of students' spelling and grammar, and failure to write in paragraphs. Make yourself stand out from the crowd, and confound their expectations by paying attention to these things. Perhaps unsurprisingly, you'll always get a better mark for carefully proofread and edited work than for handing in a rambling, unstructured, poorly-punctuated piece of writing that's riddle with spelling mistakes and grammatical errors - it's what Americans call a 'no-brainer'!

Just in case you need some extra motivation to pay attention to the details, here's an extract from a report commissioned by the Confederation of British Industries:

A functionally literate employee should be able to observe the basic rules of grammar, be able to spell everyday words correctly,[and] use capital letters and basic punctuation.

Note, this applies to all employees, and they will expect a higher standard from their graduate employees. So, if you struggle with spelling, punctuation, grammar and paragraphs, do yourself a favour, and make the effort to sort it out before you try to get a graduate job.

Thorough proofreading requires you to check your work on two levels:

Recommended Further Reading

The 'macro' level:

This involves looking at the big picture...

The 'micro' level:

This involves looking at the details...

Thinking point...

Careful proofreading and editing is a relatively easy, straightforward way of getting better marks. Have you ever been penalised for handing in a piece of writing that's riddled with errors?

Think about written assignments that you have completed. Does the feedback you receive often mention issues that could have been avoided with careful proofreading such as poor spelling and punctuation, problems with grammar, lack of structure?

Do you (honestly!) think you'd have received a better mark if you'd paid more attention to things like structure, paragraphs, spelling, grammar and punctuation?

If you are losing marks for 'careless' mistakes, plan to improve your proofreading and editing skills; the more you do it, the easier it becomes!

We begin by looking at 'macro' editing...

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