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National College of Ireland


Academic Writing Skills Guide: Proofreading

What is Proofreading?

Proofreading means correcting the surface errors in your writing mainly misspellings, typing errors and mistakes in grammar, punctuation and referencing. Surface errors also include errors in sentence structure, word choice, capitalization, and formatting.

Proofreading is the final stage of the writing process and should only be done after you have completely finished with the writing, revising and editing stages. You may go through several rounds of revising and editing before you are ready to proofread. It is important not to proofread until this is complete as it is a waste of time to proofread text that does not end up in your final draft.  

Why Should You Proofread?

Everyone makes mistakes and typos when they write, things like spelling mistakes, grammar or punctuation errors, incorrect referencing format or using the wrong word. While you may be reluctant to spend even more time on your assignment, proofreading is still really important - a badly written assignment that has not been properly proofread is a clear sign to a lecturer that you may not have put enough effort into your submission. Left unchecked, these mistakes will also make your work harder to read and it will become hard to understand the points you are trying to make. Proofreading helps to give your reader a good first impression of your work, showing that you have taken care over it and checked it thoroughly before submission.

When you have worked hard to develop and present your ideas, you do not want careless errors distracting your reader from what you have to say and obscuring your ability to communicate effectively. While content is important, like it or not, the way a paper looks affects the way others judge it. If your lecturer sees your writing as careless, they will also be less trusting of the content of your assignment. If you can minimise these errors, you will communicate your ideas better, ensuring that the best possible version of your assignment is submitted to help you achieve the best possible grade. Proofreading also shows that you have taken the time to present your work in a professional manner which is a skill that employers are looking for, so working at presenting yourself precisely and concisely on paper can benefit you in the longer term as well. 

Do not solely rely on a spell checker or a grammar checker as they will not pick up everything; while they may indicate a word is spelled correctly, it might not be the correct word to use in the context of your sentence. These tools do not understand context, they do not know all the rules of grammar, they have limitations to the number of words in their dictionarys and they lack accuracy so you should not rely on them alone to do the job for you.  

However, if you do choose to use this software: 

  • The Spelling & Grammar Check function in Microsoft Word can help you quickly find some of the spelling and grammar mistakes in the Word document. To check for errors, click on the “Spelling & Grammar” button in the “Review” tab of Microsoft Word. Or, if you notice Microsoft Word is underlining your words in red, green, or blue, simply right click on those words and Word will offer you suggestions on how to correct the issue. 
  • You can also use Microsoft Word to read your paper out loud to you. By using the Speak feature in MS Word, or the Text-to-Speech feature for Macs, your computer can read your paper to you, allowing you to listen for awkward or confusing sentences. 
  • Use the focus tool in Microsoft Word to minimise distraction if reading the text online. 
Check for typos/spelling errors. For example, form instead of from.
Watch out for words spelt correctly but with a different meaning to what you intend. For example, where/were, to/too/two, right/write, weather/whether, there/their).
If using Word, use English/Irish spelling by selecting English (Ireland) under the language option. When you identify a spelling error, use ctrl + f to search through your document and find where else you have made the same error.
Is your spelling of words consistent throughout? Have you included both American and English spellings of the same words? Ideally, they should all be spelt following the English/Irish spelling.
When you first use an acronym, have you first written the word/phrase in full? For example, Central Statistics Office (CSO) instead of just CSO?
Are numbers below 10 spelled out? (numbers 10 and above are written as figures).
Have capital letters been used where required? For example, for personal names, organisations or the start of a sentence. Is there any incorrect use of capitalisation for words within sentences where it is not appropriate?
Have contractions been avoided? For example, cannot instead of can’t?
Are there any sentence fragments (incomplete sentences)? Are there any run-on sentences?
Are there any words missing or written twice by mistake in your sentences?
Are there any problems with verbs and nouns matching (subject verb agreement)? For example - These results suggest... NOT These results suggests...
Are there any problems with the sequence and consistency of verb tenses within sentences?
Have you used singular/plural forms correctly?
Have articles (a, the, an) been correctly used? Are there any missing?
Have you used apostrophes correctly where required for possessives?
Have you used commas correctly where required? Particular attention should be paid to comma use, as it is a common mistake to use too many or too few.
Is the font and text size consistent for the headings of sections and any subheadings used? Is the font and text size for the remainder of the text the same throughout?
Is the use of higher/lower case letters in these headings consistent in both the table of contents and within the text?
Are the headings for all diagrams and tables presented in the same format?
Is the line spacing of the assignment consistent throughout?
Are there any errors in spacing between words or punctuation, either too much or too little? Check for double or no spacing. Look out for incorrect double spacing before commas and full-stops in your sentences.
Have all tables and figures been numbered, labeled and referenced (where applicable)?
If Harvard/APA, are all references listed alphabetically at the end of the assignment?
If IEEE, are all references listed numerically at the end of the assignment in the order they appeared within the text?
Is there correct spacing within both the in-text referencing and the full references at the end of the assignment?
Is there correct punctuation and font use for all references at the end of the assignment?
Have all author names been correctly spelled and consistently spelled the same way?
Have the author names for each reference been placed in the right order?
Have you included all author names for each full reference at the end of the assignment? Check your referencing style’s format for dealing with multiple authors both in-text and in the full reference.
Have the first names and second names (family names) been correctly identified? Especially pay attention to which name is the surname (family name) as this is the name that will be referenced within the text.
Have all initials for authors been included in the full references at the end of the assignment?
Have page numbers been included in the in-text references for quotes from sources that have them?
Is there any missing information in source titles or publication titles?
Has your referencing used the correct punctuation and text formatting, especially full stops, commas, ampersand (&) and italics?
Have all in-text citations at the end of sentences been placed before not after the full stop?
Does each citation in your text have a corresponding reference in the references section?
Has each item in your references section been referred to in your text?
Have you cited a source within the text as if you have accessed it directly when you have only found it within another source? This is known as secondary referencing and requires you to cite where the reference came from as well. Only the source where you actually accessed the information goes into your list of references at the end of the assignment.
Have you listed any sources in your list of references that you have not directly read? You should only credit sources here that you have directly consulted.
Are all the years for your references accurate and consistent in all parts of the assignment?
Have all images been referenced both in-text and at the end of the assignment?
Does your list of references at the end of the assignment start on a new page?

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