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Editing and proofreading: A short guide

Getting Started

This is a guide to editing and proofreading your work. It will consider how and why we edit, offer some tips for proofreading and help you to think about how to make time for these activities.


Let's start by thinking about what we mean by editing. Editing is sometimes talked about as if it is something that only happens right at the end of working on an essay or other assignment. It can be seen as a 'one off' final job to be fitted in before the deadline. If you reflect on your own experiences of writing, how have you edited your work?  When has it happened? Which jobs, do you think, fall under the category of editing?

In First you Write a Sentence (2018), Joe Moran reflects on the process of writing. 

The very first paragraph of the book tells us something about Moran's views on editing and how big a part of writing he sees editing as being.

He says,

First I write a sentence. I get a tickle of an idea for how the words might come together, like an angler feeling a tug on the rod's line. Then I sound out the sentence in my head. Then I tap it on my keyboard trying to recall its shape. Then I look at it and say it aloud to see if it sings. Then I tweak, rejig, shave off a syllable, swap a word for a phrase or a phrase for a word. Then I sit it next to other sentences to see how it behaves in company. And then I delete it all and start again. 

Were you surprised by the last sentence of the paragraph? Do you relate to these reflections on the process of writing?



But I use a spell and grammar checker…

Spell checkers and grammar checkers are useful tools and can help you spot 'typos' and other errors. You won't want to rely on them to find all of the errors in a document because there are lots of errors that they won't pick up. They may not always pick up on such things as the difference between UK and US spellings. And they will not necessarily alert you when there are words that are spelt correctly but are not correct in the context in which you've used them. You might use the word 'there', for example, and that will, of course, be a word which is recognised by the spellcheck but the word you needed was 'their'. In this instance the spell check function might not be useful. 

In the same way, reference management software such as EndNote Online UG/PGT), EndNote Desktop  (MRes/PhD), etc. are really helpful when you're putting together your list of references but they are not always accurate and so you will want to carefully proofread your references too.

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