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6 Tips for proofreading your own academic writing

Academic writing is one of the main things you’ll be judged on as a graduate student. It shows how much you really learned when you were earning that degree. Now that you’re out into the world, things aren’t much different. Every piece of academic writing you do has to be just as good as the ones you wrote in college – if not better. You don’t have a professor to proofread for you anymore, and now the task rests solely in your hands. It’s sometimes difficult, but practice makes perfect.

1. Set Up Your Proofreading Environment

There’s simply no point to proofreading when your environment is full of distractions. You need to commit to the same level of focus you used to write in the first place. This could mean proofreading when others aren’t around to disturb you, or turning off the music. If you do prefer to work with music, opt for something with a steady tempo and no lyrics so that you won’t be pulled away from the task at hand.

2. Spellcheck Doesn’t Know More Than You Do

Spellcheck is helpful, but it doesn’t know everything. Don’t blindly accept that it knows what you meant. It may tell you to replace a misspelled word with a similar word that has an entirely different meaning. Things like names, or even complicated academic terms, may not be recognized by the checking system that you use. Don’t take things for granted. If you have any doubts, type the word or term into Google and see if the results are showing you a different answer.

3. Plan to Make Multiple Passes

Little things will slip past you if you’re trying to do everything at once. When you’re proofreading or editing, it helps to make multiple passes looking for separate issues. This means one for spelling, one for grammar, one for fact checking, and one for citations. If you’re only devoted to one thing at a time, you can give your complete focus to rectifying individual issues.

4. Work in Sections

You could be making new errors without realizing it. When you change a word or replace a sentence, you need to review the entirety of the context. You could inadvertently be changing the meaning of an entire paragraph, and making your sentiments less clear in the process.

5. Know Yourself

What are the errors you make every time without fail? Everyone has their pitfalls, and knowing what yours are can help you save a lot of time. If you already know you have a tendency to mix up “there” “they’re” and “their”, you need to be hyper vigilant. You should always try your hardest to break those habits, but be aware that old habits die hard. Even when you think you’ve mastered your ability to avoid your common mistakes, they can always creep back up on you when you’re unaware. Look for these things specifically.

6. Don’t Forget About Formatting

You’ll want to make sure your format is correct, but you need to save this aspect of proofreading for absolutely last. As you make changes, you’re bound to skew your format. After you’re content that the content of the piece you’ve written is ready to publish or send off, make finishing touches to the format to assure everything is exactly as it should be.

The ability to proofread quickly and efficiently is something you’ll have to learn. It gets easier every time. Once you know what to look for, you’re less prone to make those mistakes during the writing process. Proofreading is a discipline in and of itself, and you’ll acquire the skill with continued practice.

Tess PajaronWith a background in business administration and management, Tess Pajaron currently works at Open Colleges, Australia’s leading online educator. She likes to cover stories in careers and marketing.