Saturday, April 14, 2012

How can I proofread and edit my writing?

First, I encourage you to use this three-step proofreading method:
  1. SPELL CHECK for careless mistakes: First, please use the free spell and grammar check programs offered by MS Word and/or Google Docs.
  2. READ ALOUD to check your grammar and style: Next, read your essay draft aloud at full volume to catch awkward phrasings and words that you are using too frequently.
  3. READ BACKWARDS to check your logic: After taking a short break (get away from your computer!), read your essay "backwards". Start with your final sentence and work back to your first. Are you making any logical leaps? How are your transitions?

More Proofreading Strategies to Try
  • Skim your paper, pausing at the words "and" and "or." Check on each side of these words to see whether the items joined are parallel. If not, make them parallel.
  • If you have several items in a list, put them in a column to see if they are parallel.
  • Listen to the sound of the items in a list or the items being compared. Do you hear the same kinds of sounds? For example, is there a series of "-ing" words beginning each item? Or do your hear a rhythm being repeated? If something is breaking that rhythm or repetition of sound, check to see if it needs to be made parallel.

How To Edit Your Own Writing (Self-Editing)

Editing takes considerable patience. I list below some reasonable ideas for each edit cycle. The sequence that you execute these steps may impact the style you produce; experiment a bit to see what order works best for your writing. You will know you are done editing when you are positively sick and tired of reading your work again.

A. Dictionary Check

Go through your document and look up in a dictionary any words where you aren't 101 percent sure of their meaning. I've surprised myself a couple of times when I have used a word repeatedly only to look it up and find it has another meaning entirely.

B. Action and Active Voice

Your writing will be clearer if you structure your sentences as subject-verb-object; tell action rather than describing situations. Use your word processor to search for words ending in "-ed" -- if you preceded this word by "is" or "was" (or similar verbs) the phrase would be better rewritten. Also check for the word "there" followed by "is" or "are" (or similar verbs).

D. Be Positive

Occasionally the word "not" is useful for emphasis. Most of the time though a sentence is stronger when positive; use your word processor to search for the word "not" and recast the sentence using other descriptives.

E. Drown Your Darlings

If something sticks in your mind as being "ever so clever" you probably should remove it.

F. Re-order Your Words and Sentences

Keep related words together -- adjectives next to their nouns.

  • Read your essay aloud at full volume (doing so forces you to go slow).
  • After each word or phrase, ask yourself, "If I cut this, will my meaning change?"
  • If the answer is "no", then cut it!
More tips here, including this activity from the Purdue Online Writing Lab (OWL), which is a fantastic resource for writers.  


Summary: This resource will help you write clearly by eliminating unnecessary words and rearranging your phrases.
Contributors: Ryan Weber, Nick Hurm
Last Edited: 2010-04-17 05:34:19

The goal of concise writing is to use the most effective words. Concise writing does not always have the fewest words, but it always uses the strongest ones. Writers often fill sentences with weak or unnecessary words that can be deleted or replaced. Words and phrases should be deliberately chosen for the work they are doing. Like bad employees, words that don't accomplish enough should be fired. When only the most effective words remain, writing will be far more concise and readable.

This resource contains general conciseness tips followed by very specific strategies for pruning sentences.

1. Replace several vague words with more powerful and specific words.

Often, writers use several small and ambiguous words to express a concept, wasting energy expressing ideas better relayed through fewer specific words. As a general rule, more specific words lead to more concise writing. Because of the variety of nouns, verbs, and adjectives, most things have a closely corresponding description. Brainstorming or searching a thesaurus can lead to the word best suited for a specific instance. Notice that the examples below actually convey more as they drop in word count.

Wordy: The politician talked about several of the merits of after-school programs in his speech (14 words)
Concise: The politician touted after-school programs in his speech. (8 words)

Wordy: Suzie believed but could not confirm that Billy had feelings of affection for her. (14 words)
Concise: Suzie assumed that Billy adored her. (6 words)

Wordy: Our website has made available many of the things you can use for making a decision on the best dentist. (20 words)
Concise: Our website presents criteria for determining the best dentist. (9 words)

Wordy: Working as a pupil under a someone who develops photos was an experience that really helped me learn a lot. (20 words)
Concise: Working as a photo technician's apprentice was an educational experience. (10 words)


2. Interrogate every word in a sentence

Check every word to make sure that it is providing something important and unique to a sentence. If words are dead weight, they can be deleted or replaced. Other sections in this handout cover this concept more specifically, but there are some general examples below containing sentences with words that could be cut.

Wordy: The teacher demonstrated some of the various ways and methods for cutting words from my essay that I had written for class. (22 words)
Concise: The teacher demonstrated methods for cutting words from my essay. (10 words)

Wordy: Eric Clapton and Steve Winwood formed a new band of musicians together in 1969, giving it the ironic name of Blind Faith because early speculation that was spreading everywhere about the band suggested that the new musical group would be good enough to rival the earlier bands that both men had been in, Cream and Traffic, which people had really liked and had been very popular. (66 words)
Concise: Eric Clapton and Steve Winwood formed a new band in 1969, ironically naming it Blind Faith because speculation suggested that the group would rival the musicians’ previous popular bands, Cream and Traffic. (32 words)

Wordy: Many have made the wise observation that when a stone is in motion rolling down a hill or incline that that moving stone is not as likely to be covered all over with the kind of thick green moss that grows on stationary unmoving things and becomes a nuisance and suggests that those things haven’t moved in a long time and probably won’t move any time soon. (67 words)
Concise: A rolling stone gathers no moss. (6 words)


3. Combine Sentences.

Some information does not require a full sentence, and can easily be inserted into another sentence without losing any of its value. To get more strategies for sentence combining, see the handout on Sentence Variety.

Wordy: Ludwig's castles are an astounding marriage of beauty and madness. By his death, he had commissioned three castles. (18 words)
Concise: Ludwig's three castles are an astounding marriage of beauty and madness. (11 words)

Wordy: The supposed crash of a UFO in Roswell, New Mexico aroused interest in extraterrestrial life. This crash is rumored to have occurred in 1947. (24 words)
Concise: The supposed 1947 crash of a UFO in Roswell, New Mexico aroused interest in extraterrestrial life. (16 words)

(found at; accessed 11/2010)

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- Updated by Vince on Fri 12 Aug 2016
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