Read about what proofreading is, why it's important and best practices to follow.
Proofreading is a vital and often overlooked academic skill that can improve the quality of your written work at university and beyond. But there is more to proofreading than just checking your work.
These videos and suggestions will introduce you to some of the main things to watch out for when you are proofreading and some useful strategies to make sure that you are getting the most out of your proofreading and producing polished written work free from avoidable errors.
Proofreading is the process of checking text for errors and mistakes. It commonly concentrates on aspects of writing such as grammar, spelling and punctuation, but more in-depth proofreading might also pick out questions of style, clarity and structure.
In much academic work, you will also need to check the presentation of numbers, referencing and the overall formatting of the work. Download our handy checklist (PDF, 570KB) for your assessed work.
Importance of proofreading
For something that’s apparently straightforward, proofreading can be deceptively tricky.
It's a real challenge to find grammatical or spelling errors in text, especially in writing with which you’re very familiar – your eye and your brain know what they expect to find, so they don't pay close attention to what is actually there.
This is why it can help to leave written work for a day or two before proofreading it; reading your work aloud or even reading pages from the bottom up to keep your concentration sharp.
Proofreading is important in all writing because it's frequently the small details that matter. You don't want your reader – whether that's a lecturer, a potential employer or anyone else – to be distracted by errors on the surface of your text.
You want them to engage with all the good things you have to say.
Getting to grips with grammar
If grammar is an issue and you would like some further training and guidance, check out the English Language Teaching Centre (ELTC) online grammar bank.
It provides interactive online training in the use of academic grammar with a series of short activities that you can apply to your academic writing.
Using paid proofreading services
There are a large number of companies offering paid proofreading services to students.
Be aware that the University of Sheffield does not endorse any of these services. If you use them, you do so at your own risk.
All writing submitted for assessment must be your own work, so any external input into your writing carries with it a risk of plagiarism.
Proofreading your own work is free, carries no risk of plagiarism and will teach you a new transferrable skill.
For more information on plagiarism, collusion and unfair means, see our guidance for students on unfair means.
Don’t proofread until you're completely finished with the actual writing and editing.
Make sure you have no distractions or potential interruptions.
Forget the content or story.
Make several passes for different types of errors.
If you do make a last-minute change to a few words, make sure you check the entire sentence, or even paragraph, over again.
Check facts, dates, quotes, tables, references, text boxes, and anything repetitive or outside of the main text separately.
Get familiar with your frequent mistakes.
Check format last.
University of Sheffield Library – Research skills and critical thinking resources
School of Health and Related Research – Unfair means
ELTC – Online language support
Open University – Editing and checking
University of North Carolina (UNC) Writing Center – Proofreading
BBC – Editing and proofreading
Daily Writing Tips – Eight proofreading tips and techniques
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