We suggest the following tips to help you edit and proofread your work:
1. Search for the occurrence of similar errors.
Ask yourself these questions:
- What problems appear repeatedly in my writing?
- What generalizations can I draw about my writing from these errors?
- Do my ideas frequently appear disorganized in the text?
- Do my paragraphs lack a topic sentence?
- Do I tend to repeat the same idea throughout the text, unnecessarily?
- Do I always write the same kind of sentence structure, e.g., subject-verb-object?
- Multilingual students: in what grammar areas do I make most of my errors? E.g., are my errors related to the use of prepositions, verb tenses, articles, connectors, etc.?
2. Build up a personalized editing checklist.
Once you've identified your patterns of errors, then you should create a checklist for yourself. The next time you edit a paper, you may want to focus exclusively on those errors, or pay more attention to them, and perhaps tackle them first.
3. Make time for the editing phase.
Remember writing is not over when you have finished your first draft, but after you have revised and edited it. Setting aside time for editing is essential for all of your writing, including in-class exams.
4. Work on a hard copy.
This creates some distance between you and the final product and allows you to manipulate the paper copy in a more controlled way (you can go back or move forward to previous portions of the text as many times as you want). It also allows you to take down notes directly on the text in an easy way.
5. Make focused passes through a text to look at a specific issue.
For example, search the text for errors in subject/verb agreement (-s missing from a 3rd person singular verb). Don't try to look at everything at the same time, because you will miss a lot!
Self-editing looks impossible when you think of it in general. However, when you break down the task in pieces and prioritize types of errors, then self-editing becomes more manageable. If you have difficulties with the use of prepositions, but do not have much problem with verb tenses, then, focus on prepositions exclusively. One or two errors in verbs in your paper will not be as problematic as multiple errors in preposition usage. Then use the same procedure with different editing categories, one pass through for each one.
6. Ask somebody to read your paper aloud to you.
Listening to another voice creates distance from your own writing and allows you to move from the position of the writer to the position of the listener/reader. If this is not possible, then just read the paper aloud to yourself: listening to your own voice gives you some distance from the text itself. You may even record yourself while reading your text: listening to a voice, even when it is yours, creates some distance from your own work.
7. Ask a friend (maybe another student from your class?) to proofread your paper.
However, avoid asking your friend to correct it (if this is the case, you'll never learn how to proofread!). Just ask your reader to mark the potential problems in your paper, and then discuss those problems with him/her.
8. When proofreading, read the paper from back to front.
Breaking the flow of ideas sometimes helps to focus on language issues rather than on the content itself.
9. Use the dictionary (a lexicon or a thesaurus) in order to make an accurate and varied choice of words.
This way you will have access not only to meanings but also to synonyms, antonyms, shades of meaning, etc. A dictionary is a useful tool both for multilingual students and native speakers.