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4 Steps to Proofread & Polish Your Writing: Welcome

Once you’ve revised the substance of your work and you’re satisfied that your writing content is where you want it to be, there’s one final thing you should always do before submitting or publishing your work: proofreading and polishing.

It can be tempting to skip this last step and hope that the ideas stand well enough on their own, but this final step is actually much more important than it might seem. Surveys of employees and employers have shown that a majority do make judgements about the professionalism of work, or more specifically the lack of it when writing contains clear and obvious typos and errors. And it’s easy to understand why. Your writing does stand as a representation of your thinking. Writing is one of the key ways you present yourself to others in professional and academic contexts. So it stands to benefit you to clean up your writing as best you can in the same way you’d make sure that you’re appropriately dressed for a job interview.

The good news is that there are excellent tools to help you with this crucial last step built right into the most popular word processing tools you’re already using, so there’s really no excuse here.

We recommend reviewing four key parts of your writing before you’ve completed your work.

  1. Performing a Spelling and Grammar Check

  2. Listening to your Document Aloud

  3. Checking for Visual Appeal and Formatting

  4. Reviewing Citations & Reference Pages for Consistency

Let’s take a quick look at each step.

1. Spelling and Grammar Check

The first tool you’re probably well familiar with. The spelling and grammar check. If you haven’t made a habit of spell checking everything you write, start now. We talk to quite a few instructors and professors about teaching writing, and when students turn in work with obvious spelling and grammar errors that a quick once-over with the spell checker would correct, it frustrates them to no end. And it gives them the impression that you don’t care, and that’s not really true. After all, if students didn’t care, they wouldn’t turn in anything to begin with. When I’ve asked students about this, the answer I usually get is that they just forget, so don’t forget. Use spell check every time. If you care enough to write the paper, why not take a few extra minutes to let your reader know that you care about the details?

And a fringe benefit of using the spelling and grammar tool every time is that you get better at spelling and grammar. Most of the time, this tool identifies only the areas you get wrong or need to double-check, and after a few times using it, if you pay attention, you’ll begin to catch the differences between you’re and your, its and it’s, and maybe even begin to get a sense for where you absolutely must put your commas.

2. Listen: Use the “Read Aloud” Feature

This next tool I can’t recommend highly enough. MS Word has this feature built into it under the review tab. Toward the left-hand side, there’s an icon that prompts the document to read your writing aloud to you. And the automated voice is actually pretty good. The great benefit here is that humans are innately good speakers and listeners. We’re evolved to process language via conversation, whereas it takes years and years of education and practice to become proficient readers and writers. Our ears are much more attuned to catching mistakes that our eyes will easily miss and some that the spelling and grammar check miss too. Things like: missing or incorrect words, the wrong word or a singular instead of a plural—your ears will catch these things. I used to tell students to read their work aloud, and truth be told, probably most of them didn’t. But this feature actually works even better because the computer will read exactly what you’ve written as written, and you don’t even need to find an isolated room like you might if you were reading it aloud to yourself. Just pop in your earbuds and listen to your work.

Also, if you’re using google docs and not Word, there’s a link below for how to set up docs for this feature which is pretty simple. It’s well worth it.

3. Look: Formatting and Visuals

Lost, quite often, in the importance of the content and words on the page, is the appearance of your document. The look of your document, just like obvious spelling and grammar errors, speaks to the appearance of seriousness and quality of your work. There are any number of ways you can make your document look high-quality—different styles, fonts, layouts, with images, without; but one main detracting element that often plagues unappealing documents is inconsistency. So we recommend taking a quick look for visual inconsistencies that can detract from the look of your document, things like:

  • Inconsistent fonts or font sizes (this can be an issue if you’re copying and pasting from other documents into your own) unless you have a clear plan and purpose for multiple fonts or sizes, it’s almost always appropriate to use one and stick with it.

  • Make sure your headings are all the same size and typeface—usually headings are slightly bigger than your normal font and sometimes use bold, underline, or italic texts. Unless you have a particular style guide you’re following, all are okay, but pick one and stick to it. And when polishing your document, always have a quick look to make sure they’re consistent.

  • Widows and orphans—terms that refer to lines of text that end a section at the start of a page or start a section at the bottom of a page. If you can help it, try to edit so that your sections start in the middle or at the top a page, and if you’ve got a single line hanging over, see if you can edit out a short line or phrase somewhere above so that your document looks more professional.

  • Avoid awkward text wrapping. Similar to having widows and orphans in your document, if you have images, you should have a clean block of text either above, below, or beside your images. It’s generally best to avoid wrapping text around an image or having a single line above or below your image. Do what you can to resize your images so that they fit nicely onto the page with consistent, easily readable blocks of text. You definitely don’t want your reader to have to spend any effort figuring out what lines they should be reading.

4. Citations: Check for Completeness and Punctuation

In academic and some professional writing, citations are extremely important. Often the number and quality of your citations speak to the quality of the work you’re doing. Similarly, to other visual elements of your document, consistency is key. Have a quick look through your document to make sure you’ve been consistent with the citation style you’re using and that you’re formatting each citation consistently.

Similarly, your references page should be clean, consistent, and use a single font of a single size. It should be easy to read and easy to locate each source you reference in your work, no matter the citation scheme you’re using.

And that’s it. If you’ve gone through these four steps to proof:

  1. Spelling and Grammar Check

  2. Listen to your Document

  3. Check for Visual Appeal and Formatting

  4. Citation & Reference Consistency

and you’ve polished to the best of your ability, at the very least you’ll have a document that looks, sounds, and appears high-quality.

Just like you can dress yourself for success on a job interview or present yourself in a professional manner in important meetings or events, you can do the same for your writing by taking a little bit of time at the end of your writing process. And those final few steps can make all the difference.

4 Steps to Proofread & Polish Your Writing: Text
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