How to proofread your essay like a pro

As we approach exam season and assignment deadlines, it’s likely you’ll be starting to write some top-mark essays. And proofreading those essays is (some might say) just as important as writing them in the first place!
How to proofread your essay like a pro
Published on: 22 Oct 2023
Take a break

This might sound counter-productive on the surface, but it’ll be much easier to proofread your work when you’ve spent some time away from the screen. Try to take a break between writing your essay and proofreading it, if you can, so you can look again with fresh eyes – and hopefully read it from a fresh perspective too.

Time it wisely

Try to proofread when you’re most awake and alert. For a lot of people, this is likely to be in the morning after a good night’s sleep. Although if you’re a night owl, you might find it easier to focus in the evenings. It might also help to have a change of scenery, so visit your library (or a different floor if you’re already there) to both mentally and physically refresh.

Read aloud

Reading your work aloud is a great way to make sure it actually makes sense. When you’re in an essay-writing flow, it’s easier than you’d think to get all your words and ideas on the page – but not necessarily in the best order. And if you’d rather not read aloud yourself, Microsoft Word has a ‘Read Aloud’ function. Hearing your work spoken out loud will help you judge how well it flows, the sentence structure and length, and if there are any (too) frequently used words.

Print it out

Head to the library and print out your essay if you can. Reading a physical copy may make it easier to stay focused and is a refreshing change from staring at a digital screen. It also means you can mark up the paper with pens and highlighters so you can clearly see any mistakes you need to fix or amends to make when you go back in and edit. You can also use a ruler as you’re reading through to make it easier to focus on one line at a time.

Read backwards

Try reading your essay backwards one paragraph or sentence at a time. Reading it in this segmented way offers a brand-new way for your brain to assess the readability of your essay. It’ll help you to figure out whether the text really makes the most sense or whether you should make some changes. Check for things like repetition and varied sentence length.

Use online tools (carefully)

Some digital tools can really come in handy for students, especially when writing essays. You can use online spelling, punctuation and grammar checkers, like Grammarly, which will pick up on basic mistakes for free. Or if you’re using Microsoft Word to spell check, double check your language is set to English (United Kingdom) to avoid Americanisms and misspellings. And remember, while these tools are useful, they are not always 100% accurate.

Ask a friend to read it

Don’t think it’s only you that can do the essay proofreading! Ask a friend to read your essay – even better if it’s a course mate who knows the topic as well as you. They’ll have a completely new perspective having never read it before and can suggest their own amends, maybe even giving you new ideas to think about or questions to answer in your essay.

Read it again

And just when you think you’re done…read it one more time. It’s a good idea to do one last full re-read to make sure your edits were correctly made and there’s still a good flow. But remember, there must be a point where you stop – otherwise you could be there forever! It’s easier than you’d think to drive yourself crazy making sure your work is perfect, so learn to recognise when it’s been

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