6 ways to proofread an essay


University applications, an IB Extended Essay, coursework and even blogposts; sometimes I feel like I am really just an essay-generating machine. But thankfully, this has helped me improve my writing skills quite a bit. Even better, almost all of these were done digitally, which gave me more ways to double-check my essays before publication/submission. For those who’ve yet to discover some of these gems, here are 6 ways to proofread an essay:

1. Spell-check
This might sound obvious, but it really is a marvel of modern technology that you can do this. A simple way of making sure that everything is spelt correctly. It looks bad to anyone reading an essay, especially when it is submitted digitally, if there are spelling mistakes. What does it say about you when you can’t spell properly even when given spell check?

But beware, just because a word is spelt correctly doesn’t mean it’s the correct word. “I feel a lump in my throat” and “I felt a lump in my throat” aren’t quite the same sentence, even if they are spelt correctly.

2. Use different applications
Not only should you use the in-built spell-checker of the software you are using, even better, switch softwares. If you write the essay in Pages, copy and paste it into Word and see how the Word grammar/spell-checker rates your writing. I’ve done this a few times with different pieces and they seem to pick up different types of errors. Certainly, there’s little to be lost by a bit of copy and pasting, but a lot to be gained if you can pick-out those few extra errors.

3. Read it out aloud
You probably want to go somewhere quiet for this, save anyone over hearing you read your essay out. But in all seriousness, this is the most effective means of checking your essays. Sometimes your eyes just don’t catch all the little mistakes or simply glosses over phrases or words, that when you need your ears to help. Having to read it out forces you to look and register every single word. If something doesn’t sound right, or is difficult to say, that’s a good indication that you should probably re-write the sentence. For those of you who are scared of being overheard, or simply cannot find privacy (a common phenomena in UWCs), try reading it out silently to yourself.

4. Get the computer to read it out
Macs come with an inbuilt reader, just highlight the text, right-click and select ‘start speaking’. I think it’s a safe bet that Windows has a similar feature, or you can probably install an application with this function.

Although this might seem repetitive given that you’ve already read it out loud, it is not. Often I fill in words where they should be just because my brain knows it should be there. But when the monotone Macintosh voice reads it out, it doesn’t help you fill in the blanks, which means missing words or misspelt words are easily identifiable.

Trust me, if the monotone Macintosh can read out your essay and it still sounds semi-human, your essay is in good shape.

5. Get someone else to read it
Once it gets past your filters, let a fresh set of eyes look at it. There are two sides to this.

Firstly, different people have different focuses. You might be a stickler for commas but absolutely ignorant of the distinction between that and which. In that case (pun intended), having someone else to who sees essays differently to read your essay helps you cover all your bases.

Secondly, they are probably going to have their own opinions content-wise. This can vary from where the focus to be, choice of words and a whole host of other things. You might think the essay ought to reflect your writing style, and you’re right. But the reality is that you aren’t the one who will ultimately be deciding on how good your essay is. So it might be a good idea to get some different opinions on how the essay ought to flow.

6. Forget about it
No, this doesn’t mean you should forget you wrote an essay. Rather, it’s that you should put the essay away for at least a few days before coming back to it. Your brain will be less familiar with the essay and so you’ll be less likely to insert words that aren’t actually there, or gloss over spelling mistakes that seemed so normal to the eye. Preferably, you should have looked at your essays a few times before sending off to someone else.

So there you are, 6 easy ways of proof-reading your essays. Are there any other things you do to perfect your essays? Comment below and happy writing!

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2 comments

  1. Number 6 is a really good one.

    Interestingly, we could apply number 5 in this situation… here are a few errors I spotted:
    “quite” in point 3,
    and in point 6, “put the essay way”.

    … I don’t have a life.

    1. Thanks Anna, a lovely example of number 5.
      Using number 6, I also found another error, ironically also under number 6.
      Just goes to show we all need to proof read our writing more carefully!

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