Learning Objectives

  • Describe techniques for reading for editing

Once you have completed your revision and feel confident in your content, it’s time to begin the editing stage of your revision process. The following questions will guide you through your editing:

  • Are there any grammar errors, i.e. have you been consistent in your use of tense, do your pronouns agree?
  • Have you accurately and effectively used punctuation?
  • Do you rely on strong verbs and nouns and maintain a good balance with adjectives and adverbs, using them to enhance descriptions but ensuring clear sentences?
  • Are your words as accurate as possible?
  • Do you define any technical or unusual terms you use?
  • Are there extra words or clichés in your sentences that you can delete?
  • Do you vary your sentence structure?
  • Have you accurately presented facts; have you copied quotations precisely?
  • If you’re writing an academic essay, have you tried to be objective in your evidence and tone?
  • If writing a personal essay, is the narrative voice lively and interesting?
  • Have you spellchecked your paper?
  • If you used sources, have you consistently documented all of the sources’ ideas and information using a standard documentation style?

Adopt a Listening Ear

The key to revising your work for grammar (both word choice and wording) and mechanics (small but important matters such as punctuation) is to listen to your work anew. The best writers adopt an objective “listening ear,” learning to detect their problems of grammar and mechanics both intuitively and methodically, pretending they’re encountering the work for the first time no matter how many times they’ve re-read it.

As you develop this practice, you can count on two things.

  1. We tend to repeat the same errors in our writing.
  2. Other writers make the same errors we do.

If we have one comma error in an essay, we are likely to have others; if we have a particular usage problem such as the distinction between “affect” and “effect,” we can be sure other writers have it too. By studying the most common errors and revising accordingly, we’re likely to improve our work substantially. And when we make particularly common errors in our writing (such as confusing “it’s” with “its”), our audience is justified in viewing us as lazy because such errors are relatively easy to correct.

If you know you often make certain errors, double-check for these in particular. Make a note of your errors each time you get work marked and look for patterns. For example, missppellingss, or keybording leters bcak ot frotn, missing words or adding words because your brain works far faster you can write type.

Did you spot all those six errors in the previous sentence?

Austin Powers meme: I noticed you print your assignments without proofreading them: I too like to live dangerously.

Figure 1. Reading your essay aloud will help you to catch possible mistakes that you may have missed when skimming it over in your head.

Reading for Editing

When you edit, you want to do a careful, slow, and detailed reading. Here are some tips:

  • Read aloud, word for word
    • Take advantage of the dual power of sight and hearing working together and you may hear a mistake that you cannot see, such as an omitted or repeated word. Also, note that wherever you pause, you often need some punctuation. You can even use a screen reader to have your essay read aloud to you.
  • Slow down to about 25% of your normal reading speed
    • This will help you to read what is actually on the page, not what you think is there. When you read what you wrote, because you already know what is there, it is harder to concentrate on each word. When you read at normal speed, you “fix your eyes” on the page only three or four times per line, or less. You unconsciously predict the words between these points and often pick out only as much of the words as you need to do this–perhaps only as much as the first and last letters.
  • Read from the end
    • Instead of starting at the beginning of your page, start with the very last sentence and read that on its own, then read each sentence individually, working back towards the beginning, a sentence at a time.
    • This will stop you sliding over the words and help you see if you have complete sentences or fragments and run-on sentences. It will also help you see if you have pronouns (like it or this) that do not have full meaning because they are too far from their corresponding noun.
  • Check for consistency and accuracy
    • Check through all the verbs to make sure tenses are consistent and that they all match in time sequence.
    • Ask who? or what? for each verb to make sure singular/plural subjects match with verbs. Check every sentence has a full stop.
    • Some bits of your writing need to be double-checked, such as the accuracy of statistics, dates, page references, or quotations you have copied, to make sure that the evidence you have selected is absolutely correct. This may mean re-reading sections of your sources.
  • Read for formality
    • Look through your writing for symptoms that your text is not formal enough. You can do this easily using the Find and Replace tool in Microsoft Word and searching for apostrophes in words like it’s, they’re, you’re, can’t. These contractions typically need to be replaced by the full words to be formal enough for an academic essay or report.
    • Similarly, search for the capital letter ‘I’ because first person may not be appropriate and might need to be replaced by the passive or third person (“Results from this experiment show that…” instead of “I did an experiment that shows…”).
  • Check your reference list
    • Check through your reference list systematically for alphabetical order and for all required commas, full stops, parentheses, and for missing details such as place or publisher or date that you accessed a website.
  • Use Grammar tools such as spell-check or Grammarly

The additional strategies below can also help you spot errors in your writing:

Printer Print a hard copy of your document. Reading on paper is different from reading electronically, so you’ll catch errors on paper you hadn’t noticed before.
Ruler Put a ruler under each line as you read through the document. This technique will isolate lines, making it easier to spot mistakes. Some writers also like to use a pencil to point at each word.
Road SIgn Read through the paper backwards sentence by sentence. This reverse reading technique puts the focus on the words, sentences, and punctuation marks rather than on the ideas.
Two sets of eyes; one red and one blue Ask a classmate or friend to read the document. Two sets of eyes are better than one.

Watch It

This video highlights some helpful techniques for spotting editorial concerns.

(Note: the video has an instrumental soundtrack but no dialogue, so it can be watched without sound.)

You can view the descriptive transcript for “Proof Reading” here (opens in new window).

Try It