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When Mom Isn’t Home: A Checklist to Ensure You’re Proofreading Like a Pro

Written by Rebecca Tunney

Oh, proofreading. You’re either an about-to-take-an-editorial-job-at-Penguin- or an I-can’t-properly-use-a-semicolon-to-save-my-life-type of proofreader.

In that case, here are some solid tips. Brush up on your proofreading before you submit that year-end 15-pager you’ve been labouring over.

Consistently Consistent 

Take note of the point of view (either first or third, never second) most appropriate for the essay, and make sure you use it throughout. Also check for consistent tense (past, present, and future), because randomly changing tenses not only looks sloppy, but is wildly disorienting. Present tense is proper in most cases.

Is That Right?

Be sure to use actual words and phrases. Don’t get caught saying “funner” when you mean “more fun.” And remember, most adverbs end in –ly; you would say, “He was wounded badly,” not “He was wounded bad.”

What Does This Mean?

Don’t blindly use a thesaurus just to make yourself sound smarter. Most of the time it actually makes you sound ignorant. Besides, nobody wants to be a malaprop. Only use a word if you’re 110% sure that it means what you think it means. Otherwise, stick with your vocabulary.

Does That Make Sense?

Read your sentences aloud and fix any awkwardly-worded or run-on sentences. If you’re stumbling over words, chances are the person reading it will as well. Clarify any concepts that sound too vague. You want to make sure your professor can understand the message you’re trying to convey.

Explain Yourself!

Don’t use acronyms or initialisms until you’ve explained what they stand for. In addition, make sure your arguments are convincing with strong, relatable examples that support your claims.

Those Damn Red and Green Squiggly Lines

Leave the texting lingo in your texts. Keep slang and jargon at bay. Use proper spelling and grammar so your professor will take your essay seriously. Make sure you’ve clarified possessive nouns, that your sentences aren’t fragmented, and that you haven’t used “on the other hand” at the beginning of a sentence. Keep in mind the differences between:

(Heads up: sometimes the squiggles underlining your words are incorrect, especially with scientific words and Canadian versus American spellings. Do a little extra research to find out the correct answer.)

Say No to Contractions

Contractions are a no-no when writing a formal essay (though cool for writing SLN articles).

Take out the Trash

Remove unnecessary sentences. Delete gratuitous words. What constitutes unnecessary? If the information does not improve a person’s understanding of the topic at hand, it’s unnecessary. If it’s redundant (i.e. repetition of what has been stated), then odds are there’s no need for it. The content of your essay should be informative, not tiresome.

You Like THING-amabobs?

There is always, always, a better word than “thing.” While it’s used all the time on the Internet and TV (think Varrick from The Legend of Korra), it’s too casual and vague for essays and professional writing. You’re better off using more specific terms like “object” or “article”, or even just naming it The Thing.

K.O. Punctuation

Make sure you’ve used all your punctuation marks correctly, especially apostrophes, commas, colons, dashes, semicolons, and hyphens. Placed correctly, they’ll give your sentences a nice flow. Or proper emphasis. Used incorrectly; and it could seem like you’re yelling at the reader!!

Spell. It. Out.

Symbols should be saved for note-taking, math class, and lab reports. In essays, don’t use an ampersand (&) or plus sign (+) when you mean “and.” As for numbers, the general rule is that you should spell out numbers under 10 (zero to nine) and use numeric characters for 10 and above.

What a Beautiful Citation

Plagiarism, whether intentional or unintentional, is not taken lightly in post-secondary school. Play it safe and cite works using the reference style your professor has asked for. Whatever style it may be, try out the RefME app. It’s a life- and time-saver.

Give the Prof What They’re Asking For

Re-read the assignment outline and make sure you’ve followed your prof’s detailed instructions. This could include specific font size and style, paragraph indentations, page numbers, and word count. In some cases, your teacher may dock you for any of these oversights (I once wrote 50% more than I needed to… oops).

Go Out With a Bang

If you wouldn’t drop the microphone after reading the last sentence of your essay, then you need to rewrite it. You want your final statement to be powerful, to wrap up your essay so well that it’ll leave a “Holy shit!” impression with your professor. Always go for the mic drop.

Whew, that was a doozy. Have you got anything else to add to this mile-long list? Speak up in the comments and share your knowledge with your peers!

*Opinions expressed are those of the author, and not necessarily those of Student Life Network or their partners.