Edit or Proofread an Essay or Paper

Editing and proofreading papers and essays may seem like a daunting task. Read on for information and tips on perfecting your paper.


  1. Review your writing from the past to identify frequent error types; note these common mistake areas.
  2. Visit the Chicago Manual of Style (site may require free registration) and Strunk and White's Elements of Style. Both websites include a search feature, allowing you to search for and view results of your common error types.
  3. Start composing your essay and paper, applying the tips and ideas gleaned from the style guides.
  4. Distance yourself from your work before beginning the revision process by taking a break, whether it is just for a few minutes or even several weeks.
  5. Edit your paper, rereading to ensure your paper is well organized with smooth paragraph transitions and that your thesis is backed by solid evidence. Take your time during this process to ensure that you are as thorough as possible. The editing process includes reviewing several different areas:
    • Content: review your essay for content completeness, making sure that you have fulfilled the assignment and that all of the information provided is accurate. Identify any areas that could benefit from additional details or examples. Try letting someone read the paper, focusing on any areas that are unclear or require more explanation or support.
    • Structure:
      • Try creating a brief outline of your paper to ensure the organization is logical.
      • Review your writing to ensure that your introduction contains a clear thesis that makes clear your purpose for writing. Try asking someone to read the first paragraph or two and tell you what he or she thinks the paper will discuss. Make sure that subsequent paragraphs relate to your thesis and are presented in a logical order.
      • Make sure each individual paragraph contains a topic sentence, and that each subsequent sentence in the paragraph relates to that topic.
    • Style: review your paper to ensure that your tone is appropriate for your audience and consistent throughout your paper. Edit any awkward or wordy sentences to maximize the clarity and effectiveness of your writing and to ensure that your language is clear and smooth. Try reading the paper aloud, listening for anything that sounds incorrect, unclear or awkward. You can also use text-to-speech software for this purpose.
    • Citations: make sure to appropriately cite any quotes or ideas obtained from external sources. Visit the Chicago Manual of Style (site may require free registration) and Strunk and White's Elements of Style for complete information on correctly citing your sources.
  6. Proofread your paper. Like editing, it is important to take your time during the proofreading process. Watch for misspellings, grammatical errors and typos. In proofreading, also pay close attention to sentence structure, punctuation and word choice. Check for each error type one by one to catch more errors. Read on for additional details regarding proofreading.
    • Spelling: don't rely on your word processor's spell check feature, as it will miss any misspellings that form another word. If you typed to instead of two, for example, spell check will not catch the error.
    • Grammar: don't rely too heavily on your word processor's grammar checker. This feature is most useful for identifying run-on sentences and use of the passive voice.
    • Punctuation: Know why punctuation marks were placed in certain places. Check any punctuation rules you are unsure of.
  7. If you are reviewing a hard copy of your paper, try sliding a ruler or blank piece of paper down the page as you read, enabling a thorough, line-by-line analysis. If you are proofreading directly in your word processing program, analyze each sentence separately. Simply pressing return after each sentence will allow you to review every sentence carefully.
  8. Allow someone else to edit and proofread your paper. Another pair of eyes is bound to catch any errors that you may have overlooked. Also try reading your paper backwards, word by word. This forces your brain to comprehend each individual word, allowing you to catch more typos and grammatical errors.

Editing and Proofreading Help

Doc:Editing Tips,Proofreading Symbols,Editing Exercises


  • Use Microsoft Word's Track Changes functionality to allow yourself and others to naturally revise a paper without destroying the original.
  • Most modern word processors have a highlight feature. Use it! If you think you have identified an error or are unsure about something, highlight the text so you won't forget to come back to it.
  • Use an online auto-summarising tool to experiment with the length of your prose if you feel like your argument isn't flowing properly. By cutting it down to 70%, the tool can give you some ideas of what's important and how to rearrange your work.

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Sources and Citations