A Quick Checklist for the Procrastination-Prone Student
It’s two o’clock in the morning.
For hours, you’ve been frantically writing a paper that is due tomorrow. By some sweet miracle, you’ve managed to stay away from Netflix long enough to finish writing the first draft of your paper.
You breathe a sigh of relief and prepare to crawl away from the perils of your desk toward the safety of your bed. But alas, you do not make it.
Instead, terror strikes your heart. You gasp and clutch your shaking hand to your sweaty chest, for you’ve just realized that the battle is not yet won. Though you’ve finished writing, you still face one more daunting task: you must proofread your paper.
How will you do it?
You open your web browser, and though it takes almost all the willpower you have left, you resist the urge to post a Facebook update about your progress (“Currently trading in my sanity for a degree in philosophy. On second thought, likely never had any sanity in the first place”). Instead, you go straight to Google and frantically start searching for proofreading tips that will allow you to get more than three hours of sleep tonight.
Search no more, my friend. Though they won’t replace a substantial edit by a pair of fresh eyes (nothing can), these proofreading tips should help you remove the most glaring errors from your paper. Finishing that home stretch while retaining your precious mental marbles just got a bit less stressful.
But first, a disclaimer: If you struggle with the rules of grammar and punctuation, even the handiest of proofreading tips may not help you polish your paper. Unfortunately, these tips will only be helpful if you’re familiar with the errors you seek. A short-turnaround proofreading service may be something to consider if you don’t have confidence in your own editing or proofreading abilities. With that in mind, here are some proofreading tips to try.
Consistency Proofreading Tips
Ask any editor, proofreader, or college professor what irks them most about student papers, and you’ll likely find that inconsistency takes the cake. No matter how you slice that chocolate torte, writing something five different ways in the same paper is just plain wrong. The best way to eliminate inconsistency, especially after a long night of writing, is to tackle each potential inconsistency error one by one.
1. Check Capitalization and Acronyms
Names, terms, titles, and headings should all be written the same way. To find inconsistencies, scan your document for every usage of a term, and make sure each instance is written the same way. Acronyms should also be used consistently. Each acronym should be defined the first time it is used, and it should replace the term it represents for every use thereafter.
2. Check Hyphens, En Dashes, and Em Dashes
It can be easy to mix up hyphens (-), en dashes (–), and em dashes (—). They look so similar! Check out this guide to using these pesky punctuation marks, then use Ctrl + F to search your document for each instance of hyphenation and dash usage. Pay special attention to hyphenated terms!
3. Check Spelling
Check the language setting of your word processor. Is it set to U.S., U.K., Canadian, or Australian English? To make sure the language is consistent throughout, select the entire body of text in your document (which you can easily do by pressing Ctrl + A), and choose the correct variety of English. Though this should help you find inconsistencies in spelling, be aware that Word will not catch all spelling inconsistencies. For example, realize and realise are both accepted spellings for the same word in Microsoft Word’s U.K., Canadian, and Australian English dictionaries. The same goes for words like labor/labour and labeling/labelling. To avoid inconsistencies, search your document for both versions of words that may be spelled inconsistently.
For specialized terms that Word doesn’t recognize, after checking the spelling using an online dictionary, add the terms to your Word dictionary so that every instance of the correctly spelled word is recognized. That way, only words that are actually being spelled wrong will be labeled as such.
4. Check Formatting and Headings
Read each of your headings individually, and make sure they are all formatted consistently. Then check that the indentation and spacing are the same across all paragraphs. Remember that most style guides recommend using only one space after a period, not two.
Other Proofreading Tips
Consistency obviously isn’t the only worry when it comes to proofreading. Grammar and punctuation errors are usually lurking in student papers—especially those written in a rush. If your grasp of grammar is decent, you should be able to solve most of your own problems. The trick, of course, is finding those problems. Here are three proofreading tips for detecting the errors that your eyes habitually overlook.
5. Print Your Paper
Though this will not be a feasible option for long papers, like dissertations, it can be a useful tip for shorter documents. (You’re definitely not trying to proofread your dissertation at the last minute anyway, right?) Giving your eyes a break from screen time can help make them more aware of errors that they missed before.
6. Change the Appearance of Your Paper
If printing isn’t an option, consider doing something else to change the appearance of your paper. Copying the content into a different document without formatting is one option, as is temporarily changing the font size or style.
7. Read Your Paper out Loud
There are two potential downfalls to this technique. The first is that reading a paper aloud actually takes much more time than most students allot for such a task, and the second is that it can be difficult to focus long enough to read the entire paper. These are the very reasons why reading your paper out loud is a handy proofreading technique: doing this forces you to slow down. It also helps stop your brain from automatically skipping words.
8. Find a Study Buddy
While not technically a last-minute tip, exchanging papers with a study buddy can be very useful when it comes to ironing the kinks out of your final draft. Make friends with a classmate at the beginning of the semester, and then send your papers to each other for a quick read before submission. One more disclaimer: make sure your study buddy is an adept proofreader!
9. Give Up . . .
. . . On doing it yourself, that is. If you’re running out of time and still not feeling confident about your final draft, for important assignments, enlisting the help of an expert editor may be the best proofreading tip of all.