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Proof-reading your work

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Proof-reading your work

This guide looks at some advice on how to proofread your work. Don’t rush this important final step of your essay as silly mistakes undermine the quality of your writing and lose you marks unnecessarily.

General advice

  1. When you finish writing, leave it for a day and then read it again. You’ll see new things.
  2. Read your work aloud. This will help you spot repeated words, odd phrases, missing words and half-sentences.
  3. Don’t rely on the automatic spelling/grammar checkers in programs like Microsoft Word. They do not know what you want to say and often don’t pick up mistakes such as their/there, its/it’s, a/an etc.
  4. Ask someone else you can trust to read your work and ask them to point out anything that doesn’t make sense.
Checking your formatting

Spend some time formatting your work to make it look good. Some suggestions are:
  • Use Times New Roman font, size 12 (unless your module booklet says something different)
  • Ask your lecturer if the sort of work you’re doing needs headings, a table of contents and/or a table of figures. Normally a report or dissertation has these, but an essay doesn’t.
  • Double space your writing (or 1.5 space)
  • Insert captions below diagrams, graphs and tables.
For help using simple formatting options in Word see How to use Microsoft Word.


Checking your punctuation

Bad punctuation gives a terrible impression to the person marking and reduces the power and clarity of your writing. It’s also something you can get better at pretty quickly.

There are more than 15 problems with punctuation in the text below. Try and identify all of them.

Turning first To the economic benefits of tourism we can see that in the case of the cook Islands There is a variety of sources of income from tourist receipts according to a 1991 visitor survey (Tourism Council of the South pacific, 1991) after beach activities and natural scenery (62%) visitors to the cook islands are looking for entertainment and folklore and cultural experiences (37%). tourists contribute to the local economy by spending money on travel to and around the country, as well as on accommodation, food, entertainment and souvenirs. Myle’s (2004), for example found that close to 70% of total tourist expenditure was on accommodation restaurants and bars with a further 16% on transport, tours and entertainment tourists are thus helping to create jobs which are based on making them feel welcome and at the same time they put cash into the economy directly by paying for services.

Hint: Common mistakes are usually connected to one or more of these:

apostrophes (‘) commas (,) semi-colons (;) capital letters

Check how many mistakes you spotted in this corrected version of the text

(1)Turning first (2)to the economic benefits of tourism (3), we can see that in the case of the (4)Cook Islands (5), (6)there is a variety of sources of income from tourist receipts (7)(8)According to a 1991 visitor survey (Tourism Council of the South (9)Pacific, 1991)(10), after beach activities and natural scenery (62%)(11), visitors to the (12)Cook (13)Islands are looking for entertainment and folklore and cultural experiences (37%). (14)Tourists contribute to the local economy by spending money on travel to and around the country, as well as on accommodation, food, entertainment and souvenirs. Myles(15) (2004), for example,(16) found that close to 70% of total tourist expenditure was on accommodation(17), restaurants and bars, with a further 16% on transport, tours and entertainment. (18)Tourists are thus helping to create jobs which are based on making them feel welcome and at the same time they put cash into the economy directly by paying for services.


The errors fall into these categories:

Capital letter needed at the start of new sentences (1) (8) (14) (18)
Full stop needed at the end of a sentence (7)
Incorrect use of capital letter in the middle of a sentence (2) (6)
Comma needed for a clause (3) (5) (10) (11)
Comma needed in a list (17)
Comma needed round a signposting phrase (for example) (16)
Capital letters needed for names (4) (9) (12) (13)
Incorrect use of apostrophe in a word (15)

If you have a problem with these, or couldn’t find the mistakes in the paragraph above, you can find more punctuation advice and exercises at:

Improve your Writing: Punctuation Marks

Note: For advice on the punctuation of references, only use UEL resources such as Info skills or Cite them right. For more information see Checking your referencing.

Checking common mistakes

Many commonly confused words are not picked up by computer spelling and grammar checkers so it’s down to you to spot them at the proofreading stage.

Try to identify 10 mistakes where the wrong words are used in the text below:

The recent Leveson enquiry has renewed debate on the freedoms of the British Press, with some advocates suggesting that a 'fundamental shift' (Judd 2011, p56) in the rights of the Press is needed. While this fundamental shift often takes the shape of a more robust regulating committee, their are suggestions that laws should be past that will seriously reduce the freedom of the Press and make it more dependant on government control. Critics argue that a legislative response is to extreme and would have a negative affect on democracy in the UK. While all agree that the abuses of privacy sited during Leveson can not be aloud to continue, many question weather tighter laws would lead to the British system loosing the checks and balances that investigative journalism performs and bring bias too the political system.
Check how you did with this corrected version of the text.

The recent Leveson enquiry has renewed debate on the freedoms of the British Press, with some advocates suggesting that a 'fundamental shift' (Judd 2011, p56) in the rights of the Press is needed. While this fundamental shift often takes the shape of a more robust regulating committee, (1) there are suggestions that laws should be (2) passed that will seriously reduce the freedom of the Press and make it more (3) dependent on government control. Critics argue that a legislative response is (4) too extreme and would have a negative (5) effect on democracy in the UK. While all agree that the abuses of privacy(6) cited during Leveson can not be (7) allowed to continue, many question (8) whether tighter laws would lead to the British system (9) losing the checks and balances that investigative journalism performs and bring bias (10) to the political system.
Checking your spelling

Spelling mistakes create a very poor impression of you as a writer, both in the academic context and in the world of work. Here are some strategies that may help:

  • Don’t rely on computer spellcheckers. They don’t pick up all mistakes.
  • Reading a lot will help to improve your spelling, especially quality sources such as academic texts, broadsheet newspapers, good novels, professional magazines, scholarly articles, the blogs of respected thinkers and commentators etc.
  • Keep your own lists of words that are new to you, particularly specialist vocabulary for your subject. Add words you have misspelt in previous assignments to the list and use it for reference when you’re proofreading.
  • Use dictionaries to help you check. They are especially helpful for differentiating between US and UK spelling.There are many online ones available for easy reference (e.g. www.oxforddictionaries.com, www.merriam-webster.com).
  • Check lists of commonly confused words. Some mistakes are accidental use of the wrong word rather than a spelling issue.
  • Be proactive, don’t ignore it. Spelling mistakes can easily be corrected if you allocate time for proofreading and raise your general awareness with the kinds of lists and exercises suggested here.
For more information on spelling rules and further practice exercises, see BBC Skillswise.


Checking your spelling

Spelling mistakes create a very poor impression of you as a writer, both in the academic context and in the world of work. Here are some strategies that may help:

  • Don’t rely on computer spellcheckers. They don’t pick up all mistakes.
  • Reading a lot will help to improve your spelling, especially quality sources such as academic texts, broadsheet newspapers, good novels, professional magazines, scholarly articles, the blogs of respected thinkers and commentators etc.
  • Keep your own lists of words that are new to you, particularly specialist vocabulary for your subject. Add words you have misspelt in previous assignments to the list and use it for reference when you’re proofreading.
  • Use dictionaries to help you check. They are especially helpful for differentiating between US and UK spelling. There are many online ones available for easy reference (e.g. www.oxforddictionaries.com, www.merriam-webster.com).
  • Check lists of commonly confused words. Some mistakes are accidental use of the wrong word rather than a spelling issue.
  • Be proactive, don’t ignore it. Spelling mistakes can easily be corrected if you allocate time for proofreading and raise your general awareness with the kinds of lists and exercises suggested here.
For more information on spelling rules and further practice exercises, see BBC Skillswise.

Top tips summary:

1. Allocate specific time for proofreading

Leave your work for a day or so and come back with a fresh eye.
Read it carefully, aloud if you prefer.
Ask a friend to do a double check if you are proofreading for the first time.

2. Don’t rely on your computer to correct mistakes

Use your spellchecker and grammar checker as an initial indicator only.
Always do your own proofread for errors not picked up automatically.

3. Check the formatting

Make sure you have followed any specific instructions in the module booklet.
Ask if you need advice on what is needed, e.g. contents page, headings etc.
Add captions to any images, tables or graphics.

4. Raise your awareness

Keep lists of new vocabulary relating to your studies and words you’ve misspelt in the past.
Check lists of commonly confused words and look out for them.
Check feedback on marked work - note any mistakes picked up and look out for them next time.
Identify if you have particular weak areas, e.g. use of commas or particular spelling patterns.

5. Work on any weak areas

Most people get better at proofreading by doing it regularly and taking care over it.
If you struggle with spelling, use online dictionaries to help you check.
If you are missing lots of mistakes in your final drafts then spend some time doing more practice exercises. The links in this guide will help.

Other useful resources

For help with correcting general style faults, see Checking your academic style.

For resources on general English language skills, see Improving your English.