How to Proofread a Paper

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There are five steps to the writing process— prewriting, writing, revising, editing, and publishing. After writing your paper, there are two whole steps you need to do before turning it in. That’s right—revising your essay takes just as many steps as writing it in the first place.

keyboard - revising a paperStep 1: Revising—The Big Picture

As you can see, revising is step 3, or the first thing you should do after writing your essay. Revising does not mean looking at spelling or grammar; that comes with the next step, editing. Rather, revising means looking at the paper as a whole and identifying (and correcting) to make the essay flow better.

  1. Organization

Read your essay with an eye for how it’s organized. For example, does it makes sense to talk about gathering ingredients for a ham sandwich in the last paragraph before the conclusion? Not really.

To identify bad organization, you have to know how you’ve organized your paper. You can organize your essay in many different ways, some of which include:

  • Chronology (progression through time)
  • Logic (what makes the most sense to talk about first, second, and so on)
  • Topic (group body paragraphs so that the topic stays the same until you’re ready to move on)

The decision about how to organize the paper should be made in step 1 of the writing process, during prewriting. Outlines are helpful for ensuring that you write the essay in an organized way. You may find when you revise the essay that the organization on the outline had some gaps in logic or chronology. That’s ok—this is the time to move paragraphs around!

  1. Making Sentences Flow

A step below organization is checking for flow. Look at each individual paragraph and ensure that the sentences string together in a rhythm that can easily be followed. In other words, you want the reader to be able to move easily through the writing without having to pause to figure out what you were trying to say.

An easy way to fix this problem is transition words. There are many, many words that help sentences connect to one another. Use words such as:

  • And
  • Also
  • Afterward
  • Of course
  • Then
  • Therefore
  • Ultimately
  • In other words

There are tons more, but the idea is that you use these terms when you want to connect the idea of one sentence to the preceding sentence, whether it agrees or not.

Example: Transition Word of Agreement

I jogged to the store to catch up with my friend, who I’d spied driving down the road. Strangely enough, she didn’t turn the car off when she went inside.

Example: Transition Word of Disagreement

My dog sat languishing in the sun to warm up after being in the cold air conditioning. Be that as it may, I don’t like him to get too hot, so I brought him back inside.

  1. Making Quotes and Examples Flow

Another way to make sure your essay flows well is to ensure that every quote, paraphrase, summary, or example is well introduced and explained. When you fail to do this, it makes the reader pause.

If you tell your reader who says it, then follow the quote with an analysis of the quote and why you used it, the reader is able to keep up a good rhythm. That’s your goal.

Some people call this strategy a “quotation sandwich.” You want to sandwich your quotes and paraphrases like this: 


  • Introduction of quote/paraphrase (top bread)
  • The quote/paraphrase itself (meat or sandwich filling)
  • Analysis/explanation (bottom bread)

This strategy will ensure that your readers are clued in to each quote and can read at a steady pace.

Example: Quotation Sandwich

In his article on salads, Sam Sifton of the New York Times says, “[Julia’s] recipe for simple vinaigrette may anyway change your life for the better, forever.” Vinaigrettes may be known for lacking the creaminess that traditional salad dressing has, but Sifton pushes us to give them another look.

*Referenced article is linked here.

edit paperStep 2: Editing—The Details

When you get to the fourth step of the writing process, editing, you’re in for some fine tuning. This step ensures that your writing is correct and easier to read.

  1. Basic Paper Formatting

With any essay that you’re turning in for a grade, there should be some sort of format you follow. The most common formats for students are MLA format and APA format, but teachers can add their own rules. Pay attention to what is required and check for this formatting once your revising is done. Look at example pages to make sure you’ve got it right. Do you have one-inch margins? Size 12 font? Is your heading in the correct place? And so on.

  1. Checking for Slang

Although some slang might be ok in essay in order for your voice to shine through, most of the time, formal writing is required. Unless your teacher tells you that slang is ok, avoid using words like “ain’t” or “man” or whatever is popular online or at school these days.

Read through your essay and look for these words. You may find it helpful to have someone else read through it, or to read it out loud yourself. When you find slang words, replace them with formal terms.

  1. Grammar

One of the most important things to look for when you’re editing your paper is proper grammar. While there are many grammar rules, here are a few major ones to make sure you’ve got it right:

  • Subject-verb agreement
  • Verb tense consistency
  • Plural agreement
  • Pronoun agreement

It might be helpful to review grammar rules from previous years of study to ensure that you’re getting it right. You can also submit your essay to a tutor for their help in identifying incorrect grammar.

  1. Punctuation

Finally, one of the most basic and important parts of an essay is ensuring punctuation is correct. This means you’re looking at commas, periods, semicolons, colons, apostrophes, dashes, quotation marks, and so on. You’re looking both for missing and incorrectly placed punctuation. Commas can be quite complex, but here’s a quick snapshot of some of the most pertinent comma rules:

  • Comma before a coordinating conjunction
  • Comma after an introductory phrase
  • Comma before a quote or after it, depending on its location in the sentence
  • Comma in a series of items

Again, it might be helpful to look at basic punctuation rules before reviewing your essay. It’s also helpful to have someone else, like a tutor, look over the essay to catch mistakes you missed.

During the revising and editing steps of the writing process, there certainly is a lot to do. But don’t let that overwhelm you. Take it one step at a time. Ignore comma errors while revising; then forget about organization when you’re hunting for missing periods. In the end, your polished essay will likely be well rewarded.

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