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Editing and Proofreading: Study Skills

Overview of editing and proofreading

The writing process entails many activities, from invention and planning, to research and drafting, and more. Perhaps none of these activities are as vital as editing and proofreading. Unfortunately, these two elements of the process are neglected by many writers, either because they leave too little time or because they simply aren't accustomed to viewing their own work through a critical lens.

Try to think of each piece of writing you do as a 'living text' that can be reimagined, restructured, overhauled, and polished. Picture a baker punching, kneading, and shaping a ball of dough – it's an involved and intense process, but ultimately, the baker's ruthless handling of that dough is what allows it to rise.


Guide contents

The tabs of this guide will support you in editing and proofreading. The sections are organised as follows:

  • The Difference – Learn about the differences between editing and proofreading. 
  • Editing – Guidance on editing your assignments.
  • Proofreading – Guidance on proofreading your assignments.

Video learning sequence

Our 'Refine Your Writing: Better Proofreading' video learning sequence demonstrates effective strategies you can use to proofread your writing, whether you are polishing up a cover letter or preparing to submit your thesis. Our proofreading tips playlist can be viewed here on YouTube.


Click here to view the accessible version of this interactive content

Difference between editing and proofreading

What is the difference between editing and proofreading? There is a distinct difference between the two.

  • Editing is the first task that should be undertaken after finishing the first draft of a piece of text. It involves checking the content of the text to ensure that the ideas are expressed clearly and logically. The piece of writing should form a clear and meaningful whole. Editing requires careful analysis and critical thinking.
  • Proofreading involves checking over the text in finer detail after the editing stage, to detect errors in spelling, punctuation, grammar and format. Proofreading requires a great deal of attention to detail.

Editing and proofreading both require close and careful reading, but they focus on different parts of your writing and use different techniques.

  • Careful editing and proofreading of your writing can improve your overall marks.
  • You should have edited and re-drafted your assignment several times before you proofread.
  • Once you have done all your editing, then you can proofread your work.

Editing

Once you have written your assignment, it is a good idea not to look at it for a few days. Some distance and a fresh mind helps you to view your work more objectively. When you begin editing, read your work a few times and focus on different elements of the assignment with each reading: the writing layers technique can help with this. You can also try building a reverse outline to assess structure, i.e., how your ideas progress and connect.

Here are some questions to ask yourself:

  • Does my essay have a clear introduction, body and conclusion?
  • Have I covered all the main points from my plan?
  • Is my argument convincing?
  • Do I contradict myself at all?
  • Is there a logical flow to my writing?
  • Have I answered the question?

Your Assignment 

For each section of the assignment consider the following:

Section of Assignment What to Consider
Introduction 
  • Have I presented or defined my topic clearly?
  • Is my line of argument clearly presented?
  • Have I briefly stated what I will write about in the assignment?
Body 
  • Have I developed my argument throughout the body?
  • Are my ideas and paragraphs ordered logically?
  • Are there transitional words/sentences between paragraphs?
  • Does each paragraph clearly state the main idea of the paragraph?
  • Is each paragraph supported with examples and explanations?
Conclusion
  • Does my conclusion summarise the key points in my essay?
  • Does it link back to the introduction?
  • Does it emphasise my argument?
  • Have I made sure I have not included any new ideas?

Check the Style

Academic writing style is subjective and different disciplines and academic units have different ideas about what makes a good writing style. However, remember that your goal in academic writing is to communicate your ideas in a clear and understandable manner.

Tips for improving your academic writing style:

Tip  What to Consider
Use a formal style of writing
  • Use the readings of your module to get an idea of appropriate language.
  • Do not use slang, jargon and pretentious language, as this can cloud what you are trying to communicate and confuse your reader.
  • Avoid using abbreviations and contractions, e.g. write is not rather than isn't.
Use impersonal language
  • In general avoid using personal language such as I think or I believe unless it is reflective writing.
  • Whatever is included in your assignment that is not attributed to someone else is assumed to be your voice.

Once you have done all your editing, then you can proofread your work.

Proofreading tips

The last part of editing your writing is proofreading. This involves checking things like spelling, punctuation, grammar and referencing.

Here are some useful proofreading tips:

  • Print your document if you prefer to proofread from a printout rather than on a screen.
  • Make sure you have no distractions - shut down your email and social media and turn off your phone.
  • Record yourself reading your work and listen back to hear the flow, comprehension and clarity of your writing.
  • Use Word's 'Read Aloud' feature to have your work read back to you. Alternately, you can download text to speech software on a University workstation; simply select the 'Additional Software' button on the Apps menu and download one of the following programs: Read and Write, ClaroRead Plus, or ClaroLingo.
  • Use a ruler or a blank sheet of paper to cover up the lines below the one you are reading. This technique keeps you from skipping ahead of possible mistakes.
  • Review comments on past assignments to identify errors that you make repeatedly. Prioritise addressing patterns of error to see the biggest improvements in your marks.
  • Read though looking for one type of error at a time.

Different types of errors

Remember, check for one type of error at a time.

Error Type  Tips
Formatting
  • Check for consistent use of heading styles, font, diagrams, tables, margins.
Punctuation 
  • Use the computer search function to find any mistakes you are likely to make. For example search for "it", if you confuse "its" and "it's.
  • Try reading out loud to hear any problems and spot any overly long sentences.

Spelling 

  • Use the spell check on your computer, but remember that a spell checker will not identify mistakes with homophones (e.g., "they're," "their," "there") or particular typing errors (like "he" for "the" or "form" for "from")
  • Are you consistently using the US or UK version of a word for example:
    • “Globalized” – US
    • “Globalised” - UK
Referencing 
  • Check you are using the recommended referencing style.
  • Are all references presented consistently in the required style?
  • Are all the sources used listed in the bibliography or reference list?
  • Do all in-text references correspond with the end references in the reference list?

Further help 


Proofreading and academic integrity

The University's Academic Integrity Guidance provides full details of what help is and isn't acceptable in terms of proofreading. A simplified version of the integrity guidance is available here, including information on using digital tools to check grammar/spelling, enlisting help from peers or family, and more.