It’s 3 am.
Twelve hours and seven Red Bulls later, you finally did it. Your paper is complete. You
sigh with relief and click to close your document. That’s it—you’ll never have to think
about this topic ever again in your life.
We’re all excited to enjoy life again once we’re done with a dreaded college assignment.
But here is the truth:
Your work on your paper did not end when you typed the last word. In fact, now you have to concentrate on the final giant leap forward. Give yourself a moment to enjoy the happiness of having completed the writing stage, take some time to rest, and then come back and look at your paper again.
It may surprise you, but you will definitely notice some awkward mistakes and spots that are not as perfect as you thought they were—sometimes, your mean to right one word but you spell it Ron and don’t even notice! This final part of the writing process is called essay editing, proofreading, or revising.
Why do you need essay revision?
You want to make sure that your paper is clear, coherent, and consistent, as well as free of any grammar, spelling, punctuation, or other mistakes.
But I’m a good writer!
You probably are! And it’s great to feel confident in your writing. But even the greatest writers have to revise their work. Ernest Hemingway rewrote the last page of A Farewell to Arms 39 times because he was trying to “get the words right.” You know what that ultimately got him? The Nobel Prize for Literature.
Even if you aren’t aiming to leave your mark on history as a great writer, you still want to get the highest grade possible on that paper. By revising, you don’t just free your paper from mistakes; you also show your professor that you did not neglect his or her assignment. If you’re pursuing graduate-level studies, revising and editing is an absolute necessity. In fact, a document as crucial as your Master’s thesis deserves several rounds of dissertation editing.
Essay revisions are usually boring and discouraging, but they can make a real difference in your final essay result—and your grade.
Still not convinced to revise your paper? Watch teacher and comedian Taylor Mali give a hilarious explanation of the importance of proofreading.
Now that we’ve established why you should proofread, let’s figure out how to do it effectively.
What’s the difference between proofreading, revising, and editing?
You’ve probably heard other students, and even your professors, use these three words interchangeably. While they are related, they are actually three distinct processes that examine three different aspects of writing: ideas, form, and specific details.
Revising comes first, and it means taking a deeper look at the content of your essay. Re-read your essay and ask yourself which ideas can be changed or even eliminated. Make sure that you do not deviate from your main idea and that every paragraph supports and explains that main idea. Also check that every paragraph has a clear thesis statement.
Once you have looked at the ideas presented in your essay, it’s time to move into the smaller details. When you edit, consider your paper as an artist: How do your voice and tone sound throughout the essay? Are there any awkward or incoherent parts? Is your title attention-grabbing and relevant? In other words, concentrate on the aesthetics of your work.
Proofreading is the last stage of the revision process, and it involves checking the text for any semantic, lexical, grammatical, or stylistic inconsistencies. Now that you’ve already settled all the major issues in your paper—that is, its ideas and the logical connections between them—you turn to each individual word and comma.
Revising, editing, and proofreading your paper is pretty straightforward and definitely doable. To make it even easier for you, we’ve developed a comprehensive checklist to walk you through all the steps of essay revision and editing.
This first section of the checklist covers different revision strategies that will make your proofreading process quick and efficient. While you don’t have to follow all of them, try to cross off at least half of them when checking your work.
- When you were writing your paper, did you pay attention to the comments made by your built-in spell checker?
- Did you put your paper aside for a little bit before returning to it?
- Did you print your paper out?
- Did you read your paper out loud?
- Did you read your paper backward starting from the last sentence?
- Did you use different proofreading symbols to facilitate your revision process?
- Did you proofread your paper several times—or at the very least, twice?
- Did you take a break between different rounds of proofreading?
- Has someone else read your paper and provided you with a peer review?
- If your professor has already given you feedback, did you take it into consideration?
This section mainly deals with revising your ideas and editing their form. These questions break down the principles of efficient and concise writing so you can make sure that you’ve presented your ideas in the most effective manner.
- Is the topic covered fully and clearly in your essay?
- Do you answer all of the questions in the essay instructions?
- Does your paper adhere to the appropriate genre (e.g., memo, short story, analysis)?
- Does the paper contain all the sections of your outline?
- Does your paper consist of three parts (introduction, main body, and conclusion)?
- Does your opening paragraph contain the necessary background information or introduction?
- Depending on the assignment, does your introduction end with a thesis statement that is clear and concise?
- Is each paragraph sufficiently developed and coherent?
- Do you use appropriate paragraph breaks?
- Do body paragraphs discuss ideas that are linked to and support your thesis?
- Does each body paragraph contain a topic sentence and a conclusion?
- Is each topic sentence supported with sufficient examples or details?
- Are there clear, logical, and sequential connections between your paragraphs?
- Do you use linking words and sentences to make easy transitions between your paragraphs?
- Does your conclusion match and restate your thesis statement?
- Is your title interesting and related to the main idea of your paper?
- Do you write from a consistent point of view (that is, first, second, or third person)?
- Do you use the appropriate tense (past, present, or future)?
- Are your language and tone appropriate for your target audience?
This section of the checklist ensures that you employ correct and sophisticated sentence structures in your paper.
- Do all of your sentences contain a subject and a verb? Eliminate any sentence fragments.
- Have you eliminated all run-on sentences (complex sentences that do not contain a conjunction)?
- Do you use diverse grammatical structures?
- Do you write sentences of different lengths and types?
- Have you simplified or removed any unnecessarily long and confusing sentences?
- Are your sentences concise? Have you deleted all unnecessary words?
- Do you include transition words to ensure a smooth flow of sentences? Do you avoid awkward and abrupt shifts?
- Have you eliminated all contractions?
- Does your essay contain faulty parallelisms (constructions that are used alongside each other although they should not be)? If so, eliminate them.
- Do you use passive voice only minimally? If not, replace passive voice with stronger verbs.
- Are there any split infinitives in your sentences? If so, eliminate them.
- Are there any comma splices in your paper? If so, eliminate them.
- Do your verbs always agree with their respective subjects?
- Do you use clear antecedents for your pronouns?
- Do you use commas appropriately?
- Does every sentence end with appropriate punctuation?
- Do you follow the rules for quotations?
This section examines your vocabulary and spelling and identifies the most common pitfalls in student writing.
- Do you use any unnecessarily complex words to sound more sophisticated? If so, eliminate them.
- If you use special terms or foreign words, do you give their explanations?
- Is your diction professional? Eliminate colloquialisms such as “basically,” “totally,” or “absolutely.”
- Do you use specific nouns?
- Do you avoid using abstract and unnecessarily general words and images?
- Are you aware of the connotations of all the words you use?
- Do you avoid unnecessary abbreviations?
- Have you accidentally omitted any words?
- Do you avoid using clichés, buzz words, and overused expressions?
- Do you use correct capitalization for titles, proper names, and beginnings of sentences?
- Do you avoid common misspellings, such as you’re – your, there – their – they’re, then – than, and to – too – two?
- Do you use “that” and “which” appropriately and accurately?
- Is your paper free of any incorrect homophones and typos?
- Have you checked your paper for commonly confused words?
Finally, this section of the checklist helps you analyze your use of references and ensures that you have followed the mechanics of paper formatting.
- Do you include a works cited or reference page?
- Are the sources on the reference page ordered alphabetically?
- Does every source mentioned in the text appear on the reference page?
- Is every source from the reference page cited in the text at least once?
- Do you include a sufficient but not overwhelming number of citations and paraphrases throughout your paper?
- Do you support all specific data (such as figures and statistics) with a quote from a reputable source?
- Do you adhere to the formatting style requested by your instructor (e.g. MLA or APA)?
- Do you follow all formatting requirements? Check your title page, margins, page numbers, paragraph indentation, running heads, and footnotes and endnotes.
- Is your paper double spaced with no additional lines between paragraphs?
- Do you use a consistent and easy-to-read font such as Times New Roman or Arial?
If you’ve followed each of the items on this checklist, your finished paper is sure to be polished and easy to read.
- Use your proofreading time as an opportunity to learn and grow as a writer. Keep track of errors that frequently appear in your papers, and you will literally be able to learn from your mistakes so you can self-edit even more effectively in the future.
- Always allow sufficient time for revising and proofreading your paper. If your paper is due at midnight, you should finish it by 11:30 am, not 11:30 pm. That gives you sufficient time to turn your first draft into a finished product.
Did you find this checklist useful? Download a free printable PDF version so you can consult it next time you are revising a paper.
If you still feel that you lack the necessary editing skills, you do have two more potential solutions: hire a professional essay proofreader or rely on editing software.
But should you?
Hiring an essay proofreader makes perfect sense if you want to ace your paper. Having a second pair of eyes always helps, especially if you find it difficult to spot your own mistakes.
Most likely, your university also has a writing center that will help you revise your essay. Such centers usually employ qualified peer tutors who understand both the requirements of the professors and the needs of the students.
If you do not have a writing center on your campus—or it is inconvenient for you to use their help for some reason—you can also turn to paid essay revision services. However, you should first check your university’s policy; in some cases, such practice may be considered plagiarism.
When it comes to hiring an essay editor, you have two options. You can hire a freelance editor from platforms such as Upwork, or you can seek help from professional agencies such as Custom-Writing.org that also provide editing and proofreading services.
If you do decide to hire an essay editor, there are certain things you should consider to get the best return on your investment:
- Be sure to ask applicants about their editing experience, which includes both professional engagements and any previous education or training. Preferably, you’ll want to find someone who understands your field of study. This is especially important if your field requires extensive knowledge of certain phenomena or processes and uses a lot of complex terms, concepts, or formulas. You can check an applicant’s qualifications by requesting a sample of past work.
- Secondly, you need to inquire about the range of their services. Essay editing is a broad service, so you want to make sure your contractor does the work you need, whether it’s editing grammar, style, or even structure. Also make sure that your editor works with the dialect of English that you write in: British, American, or Australian.
- Set clear expectations regarding deadlines and costs. Make sure that your essay editor is available when you need his or her services. Find out the standard fees that your editor charges to help you estimate your budget for future orders.
- Agree on the means of communication. Make sure that both of you can reach each other in case questions arise.
- Ask your editor about the software he or she will be using. You want an editor who edits your paper manually, with or without additional software. You can also ask your editor to use track changes mode so that you can easily spot all the changes made to your paper.
Alternatively, you can also use editing software, although you should use it with caution and not rely on it completely.
The simplest software solution is the spell checker that is built into your word processor. Though these spell checkers are good at detecting mechanical mistakes, they usually do not pick up on incorrect homophones and commonly confused words.
The leading provider of online proofreading services is the website Grammarly. Depending on the type of your subscription, you can receive suggestions regarding grammar, spelling, style, and even plagiarism.
A similar proofreading website is Ginger, which also provides other related services such as a sentence rephrasing tool.
As far as references go, you can use automated generators such as EasyBib.com. Alternatively, take a look at the Griffith University’s referencing tool or OWL Purdue Writing Lab resources to guide your formatting.
Essay editing is not such a daunting task when you know what to look for. Remember to download a free printable PDF version of our checklist to use as your revision worksheet!