If you want to top the class, you're going to have to know how to proofread an essay. Fortunately, we have some great tips that will get you off to the perfect start
What’s the secret to proofreading an essay like a pro?
That’s a very difficult question to answer.
Every proofreader is different. However, you probably know excellent essay editors who can quickly and easily spot mistakes in writing and publish error-free essays every single time.
How do they do it? Do they have some secret proofreading techniques that you’re not aware of?
Actually, chances are, they do!
Whether they know it or not, many of the students you know who are turning in A-grade papers follow some form of proofreading process to work through all the kinks in their essays and ensure their essay formatting is perfect.
Today, we’re going to let you into some of their secrets by sharing some of the proven proofreading methods that actually work.
So, if you’re sick of your professor highlighting your shoddy grammar and careless mistakes, our guide to how to proofread an essay may be exactly what you need.
Download a free bonus essay editing checklist that will show exactly how you should edit an essay, step by step.
How to Proofread an Essay in Ten Simple Steps
1) Take a break
Yep, before you do anything at all, take a well-deserved break from whatever it is you have been working on.
To proofread an essay well, you need to have a clear head and be fully focused.
Go for a run, watch TV, listen to music… just do something other than stare at the paper.
Allow yourself at least 30 minutes break from your essay, ideally much longer.
When you return to your essay, you’ll find that you can see your work from a whole new perspective… warts and all!
Suddenly the mistakes will become much more apparent and proofreading your essay will be a lot easier.
2) Get rid of any distractions
Once you’ve taken a break and cleared some time to focus on the task at hand, cut out all distractions.
Turn off the stereo, put your phone on mute, and tell your flatmates your room is out of bounds for the next hour or so.
Give your essay your undivided attention and concentrate on finding those pesky errors.
3) Read the essay aloud
This is not something we’d recommend when you’re grafting away on your essay in a busy library. However, if you can get a room to yourself, sit down and read your essay out loud word for word.
As you vocalize the words you have written, you will have a chance to both hear and see the flaws. In addition to giving yourself an opportunity to focus on the sound of the words, you’ll also spot where there are missing commas and issues with the flow.
Read each page aloud and keep improving it until the words start to sound perfect.
If reading aloud isn’t an option, paste the text of your essay into a text-to-speech program like NaturalReader and listen through headphones as the robot reads it to you. If there’s a mistake, you’ll have more chance of catching it.
4) Create a checklist of the mistakes you make on a regular basis and check them off one by one
Everyone has their own respective Achilles’ heels when it comes to grammar and punctuation.
Perhaps you frequently confuse the words “that” and “which.” Or maybe your use of splice commas has got you in trouble with your professor on one or two occasions in the past.
Whatever it is you frequently mess up, keep track and check for those mistakes before you submit your paper.
As you are proofreading each essay, you can quickly and easily jot down the errors you encounter and then use this list as your proofreading checklist next time you’re proofreading an essay.
5) Use grammar and spell checkers, but don’t rely on them
Of course, one of the first things you should do when you have finished the first draft of your essay is run the text through a spelling and grammar checker. This will help you identify some of the more obvious spelling and punctuation mistakes.
However, you should not rely on automated software as your only proofreading approach.
Even the best, most expensive grammar checkers are prone to errors. They simply cannot truly understand the language within the context it is used. As such, they can frequently point you in the wrong direction or even completely confuse you.
A further issue with grammar checking software is that you need to have an exceptional command of English grammar to be able to decipher what are true grammatical errors; the software can only tell you that there might be a mistake.
Grammar checkers should never fully be trusted. They are computer tools and are fallible. Don’t let your trust in them be misguided.
Don’t believe us? Take a look at the following great articles:
6) Find a proofreading buddy
Everyone knows that it’s immensely difficult to proofread your own writing… so proofread someone else’s essay instead.
Make a pact with one of your classmates to swap papers and proofread each other’s essays. Of course, you should choose your proofreading buddy wisely and ensure you opt for someone you can trust with this important task.
Ideally, you should find a mate who isn’t responding to the same essay prompt as you; that way, there’s less chance of him or her nicking all your great ideas.
7) Perform several passes
It sucks, we know, but it’s highly unlikely that you’ll catch every grammar, punctuation, and spelling error on the first pass.
Most editors and proofreaders perform two, if not three, passes of every document they proofread.
8) Try the old-fashioned route
Print out your essay, grab a pen, and don’t be afraid to use it.
Things look different on paper than they do on the screen.
When you hold a physical copy of your essay, you’ll find that the mistakes become much more obvious. It’s amazing how many more typos and silly errors you’ll spot when you use this method.
Don’t forget to make sure your transitions are effective. Take a look at our guide to essay transitions for more help.
9) Check the format last
Don’t let yourself be distracted from the main content by minor formatting issues.
Finish all the proofreading passes and then format your essay immediately before publication. If you’re working to the APA style, you’ll find our guide to APA formatting incredibly useful (it’s free!).
10) Get a pro on the job
If your essay is important and you really can’t afford to make any mistakes, get a professional involved.
Do you know the difference between an n-dash and an m-dash? Do you know when to use a semi-colon?
You may very well have an excellent idea of what written English reads well; however, that doesn’t necessarily mean you have the know how to proofread an essay. If you don’t have an exceptional command of English grammar and punctuation conventions, proofreading will be nothing more than guesswork.
If your essay is important to you, ensure you make sure your writing is the best it can be by using a professional proofreading service.
If you need more help, our essay editors can refine the text for you, make sure you have responded to the prompt and grading scheme properly, and give you constructive feedback on exactly how you can improve your essay.
What are you waiting for?
Stop wondering how to proofread an essay and get on with it!