How to edit and proofread an assignment

It’s the last stage before handing in: proofreading. Perhaps you’re one of those who struggles to spot the mistakes in their own work, or simply can’t bring yourself to reread something you’ve written at all. The litter of cranky spelling corrections and added punctuation scrawled in the margins of your returned assignment is familiar sight to you. But fear not, your plight is avoidable…

Many students find rereading their own work mind-numbing, and consequentially avoid doing it. But the easily fixed mistakes that are left behind when you don’t can be (and often are) responsible for tipping you over into one grade boundary or another. This is especially true if you’re a repeat offender, and your marker starts recognising your slip-ups better than you do.

Here are some techniques you can do to avoid losing valuable marks, and it’s definitely worth trying them out.

  1. Start with style

Identifying and using your department’s referencing style can be difficult, especially in your first year. Make sure you know exactly what is expected of you before you start writing, so that you aren’t stuck laboriously going through a 5,000 word essay correcting your citations. Or worse, leaving them alone and being penalised for it.

  1. Finish before the deadline

Try to finish your assignment at least a few hours before the deadline, so that you can take a break from it before editing. If you try to go over your work immediately after finishing it, especially when you know the cut off for submissions is in ten minutes and you desperately want the whole thing to be over, it’s difficult to objectively read what you’ve written. Leaving a gap can help you distinguish between what you meant to write or thought you wrote, and what you actually produced.

  1. Don’t correct as you go

Stop yourself from revisiting every sentence as you write it; if it’s a fairly short piece, try to wait until you’re completely finished with your work. If it’s a longer assignment, split it into sections based on topic and wait until you’ve done each one. If you make changes as you go, you’re more likely to make an adjustment that causes another error, for example for instance I’m personally apt to leave behind extra conjunctives.

  1. Fact check

Make sure that what is objectively right or wrong in your work—details such as spellings, names, dates and quotations—are all accurate and correct.

  1. Know yourself

If you know that you’re likely to make certain mistakes (maybe there’s a homonym that you frequently mix up, or a writing quirk which means you find your keyboard adverse to full stops), then look for them specifically in your rereads. If you’re liable to make a number of different kinds of mistakes (in spelling, punctuation, grammar or formatting), then comb through your work more than once and look for each type of error separately.

  1. Read it aloud

If your mind starts to wander, try to refocus it by reading your work out loud. This can help you to identify places in your assignment where your argument doesn’t make sense, is awkwardly phrased, or uses incorrect grammar.

  1. Shake it up

Instead of continuing to stare into the depths of your computer screen, try printing out your work and going through it with a pen as your marker likely will.  Changing the medium by which you’re reading the work can help you trick your brain into thinking it’s looking at new information, rather than sub-consciously ignoring any mistakes because you know what should be there. If you don’t have a printer (and can’t get into the library to use one of ours) then try changing the font or background colour of the document, to change what you’re looking at for the same effect.

  1. Phone a friend

If you still think there are mistakes in your work that you can’t see, ask a friend to read through your essay for you. Revisiting yourself first is only polite, and saves them from spotting something embarrassingly obvious, but a fresh pair of eyes is more likely to find the mistakes you miss.  Be ready and willing to read through their next assignment in trade!

Image: photosteve101, Styleful. CC 2.0

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