Proofreading and Editing Your Draft Help
Spelling errors are the easiest and quickest errors to detect. No one is a perfect speller, but there are many ways to insure that the words you have used throughout your paper are spelled correctly. The first and quickest way to check for spelling errors is to run a spell check on your computer. This program instantly enables the computer to scan through the entire paper and point out obvious spelling errors. But be careful, however, when you use a computer. Computers do not check the meaning of words in context. In other words, you may write a sentence that states:
President Kennedy was always their for his advisors whenever they summoned a Cabinet meeting to determine national policy.
The computer will see the word "their" and will not highlight the word since it is spelled correctly—it is the context in which it is used that is wrong. In order to avoid glossing over these mistakes, it is a good idea to reread your paper after the computer has run its check to make sure that you have used the correct word in context. As old-fashioned as this sounds, it also helps to have an actual dictionary on hand. Looking up words in a dictionary forces you to sort through physical pages and see a word. Seeing the word in print will actually help you remember the correct spelling of that word much more than if you simply rely upon the computer and the click of a button. Similarly, an excellent way to proofread is to give your paper to a friend or relative. It always helps to have another set of eyes reading your work. Since you have probably spent days if not weeks writing and researching your paper, you may not be able to see it as objectively or carefully as someone who is reading it for the first time.
Grammatical errors can be trickier to detect than spelling errors. Again, most computers highlight sentences that are awkwardly constructed or defy common rules of grammar, but computers don't catch everything. Use the grammar check on your computer and then, once again, reread your paper. You should check your paper for:
- grammatical agreement between subjects and verbs
- consistent use of tenses
- sentence fragments
- awkward phrases or construction
- run-on sentences
Again, once you have combed through your work, give it to a friend. Any sentence that doesn't make sense, that doesn't stand on its own with a proper subject and verb, that is obtuse or off topic, or that continues for over four lines, should be reworded or omitted. Similarly, make sure that all the verbs you use are also written in the same tense, as in this example:
Whenever President Kennedy summoned [past tense] a Cabinet meeting his advisors were ["to be" verb, past tense] quick to respond.
As you prepare your paper for footnotes, endnotes, or parenthetical citations, it is important to make sure that you have documented your sources. You should have correctly copied down all the titles, authors, publishing companies, dates of publication and page numbers for the facts that you have listed in your paper. Since it is not likely that you will have your resource books with you any longer, go back to your handy stack of note cards where you originally jotted down your information. As you transfer information to your footnotes, endnotes, or parenthetical citations, be sure that you have spelled each author's name correctly and that all the accompanying information is also correct. Although it is extraordinarily unlikely that a living author or publishing company executive will read your paper and sue you for incorrect information or spelling of a name, it is essential when documenting your sources and facts to make them accurate. Remember, your paper might be an important source of information for others and as a professional work that is also educational, it must be accurate. Now is an ideal time to catch any errors before you incorporate this information into the final footnotes and bibliography.
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