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How to improve at proofreading and editing

Paying attention to detail

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

 

When you've looked at the big picture, you need to focus in on the details, and proofread and edit on a 'micro' level. Micro-editing involves looking at the details, including the grammar, punctuation, spelling and whether your sentences make sense.

Good grammar, punctuation and sentence structure may seem like small things, but they give your work a polished feel. It's also a courtesy to your marker to make the effort to hand in work that's properly punctuated with good grammar and spelling.

One of the best ways to proofread your work, is to read it aloud. Yes, really! When you read in your head, it's very easy to read what you think you've written, and not what you've actually written. Reading aloud helps you to read what is actually written.

Reading aloud also helps you check your punctuation too: long sentences become obvious, and it's easier to see where commas, semicolons and colons would help make meanings clearer.

This stage of the polishing process might seem like a lot of work and you may even feel faintly ridiculous, but it's really worth doing. The more you do it the more it will become 'second nature' and you'll soon get to the point where you are doing it almost sub-consciously.

Activity: check your sentences

1. In this task you'll read your assignment out loud to check it makes sense. Reading aloud is important because it makes you read what's actually there and not what you think is there.

2. Read your work aloud and for each sentence check the following:

  • Does the sentence make sense?
  • Does it really say what you want it to say?
  • Is it too long?
  • Are all the words necessary, or is there redundancy?
  • Do the subject and verb agree? (There are many questions, or There is one question. NOT there is many questions)
  • Are there any unclear pronouns (this is a very common problem)? Pronouns are words like this, them, they, him, her, and theirs. Look at the following example:

'Jones and Smith (2008) found that girls are more socially aware than boys. They use their maturity to gain an advantage in the classroom.'

Who does they refer to in that last sentence? Jones and Smith, boys or girls? It's not that obvious, is it? The sentence could be rewritten as 'Girls use their maturity...'.

To help avoid unclear pronouns, as you read ask yourself whether it's clear who, or what each pronoun is referring to.

  • How does each sentence relate to the previous and following sentence?
  • Have you linked your ideas clearly, and does your work 'flow'?
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