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Proofreading Like a Pro: How to Edit Your Own Work

Impatient as you might be to hit ‘publish’ or ‘submit’ as soon as you’ve typed your last full stop, good writers know that the first draft is merely a diamond in the rough.

Whether you’re writing a novel, essay, dissertation or document, the process does not finish with your final word. Reading through your work is a critical step intended to ensure your meaning will not be misinterpreted and you’ve not made any embarrassing mistakes.

The four tips below will help you approach the proofreading process like a pro and ensure your writing stands out for all the right reasons:

1. Be Consistent

When communicating with words, do not make the mistake of thinking only your argument/meaning/message matters. You can’t expect a reader to enjoy your thoughtful prose if the copy is littered with inconsistencies. One of the first things an editor will check for is uniformity of style: spelling, capitalisation, format. Sometimes this is pre-determined (by your university, by your publication), but other times it’s down to personal choice. If the latter, create your own ‘style sheet’ before you begin to write and then, when proofreading, scan through your work to check you’ve followed this throughout.

The sorts of elements you want to keep consistent include:

-          The ‘type’ of English: American ‘ize’ or English ‘ise’.

-           The words you capitalise (e.g. the Founder or the founder).

-          The terms you hyphenate (e.g. cooperate or co-operate).

-          The way you use punctuation in lists (e.g. whether you use a punctuation mark at the end of entries, and how).

-          How you write headings and subheadings (e.g. in normal case or with each first letter capitalised).

-          The way you write numbers (e.g. seven or 7 – NB a good rule to follow is to write numbers up to and including ten as words, with 11 onwards written as numerals).

2. Spellcheck Your Spellchecker

Even if you run a spellchecker over your document, you still need to read through your work with your SPG hat on, looking carefully for words that are missing, superfluous or spelled correctly but used erroneously. Look specifically for words which sound similar but have different meanings, and be sure you’ve used the correct one (e.g. there/their, casual/causal, right/write). Remember, too, that spellcheckers are unable to cope with many academic terms and real names, so double check your usage with a secondary source.

3. Vet Your Voice

When proofreading your work, remember to do so in the voice of your reader in order to ensure you have written for the intended audience. Check both content and tone according to this benchmark, asking yourself: Is the knowledge expected of the reader appropriate? Is my writing formal/informal enough?

4. Bust That Jargon

Some people think peppering their prose with long words makes them sound clever when, in fact, it does exactly the opposite. Good writing does not confuse readers. Unfamiliar words do. If your copy can only be read with a dictionary to hand, your writing has room for improvement. Remember: think readers first.

Oxbridge Editing, founded in 2006, is the leading proofreading and editing service in the country. For specialist support from our team of expert editors, visit www.oxbridgeediting.co.uk or call 0207 391 9035.


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