Proofreading and Editing Your Draft Help (page 2)
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.
Finally, before your paper is submitted, check it once again for accuracy. Are you sure that all your facts came from reputable sources that you can quote and document? Is there any material or analysis that could be incorrect or that you can't substantiate? While your paper may not be officially published or even used as a reference for others, it is still your product and as your product, it is ultimately a reflection of you. Your argument and analysis will lose all credibility if you have used bogus sources or have falsified or altered any information to fit your thesis. You may also face charges of plagiarism, which is considered a serious offense by schools and universities, and is against the law.
Now that you have gone through your paper with a fine-tooth comb and have corrected all errors and inaccuracies, this is the ideal time to make any additional edits. Since you have your work in its final form, this process should be easy. Take out a marker or pen—in any color that will stand out from the original text. Get ready to circle specific words or cross out any last paragraphs or pages that you feel do not fit your paper. In this last editing stage, you are attempting to revise your paper with these final criteria in mind:
Is your writing sweet, short, and to the point, or do you repeat yourself in certain places and passages? Are there pages that describe or explain the same incidents and facts? Can you make the same points with fewer sentences and using fewer words? Similarly, is your writing clear? Are the explanations that you provide for your reader enlightening or are they obvious to you alone—or only an expert in that particular field? Finally, does your paper make sense from beginning to end? Is your writing and narrative streamlined or is your writing choppy and abrupt? Can the reader easily follow your thoughts or does he or she have to flip back and forth between pages in order for the writing to make sense? It is normal for you as a writer to like what you have written. After all, you have spent a great deal of time and effort working on your paper, gathering sources, making notations, writing, and editing. But be ruthless as an editor! If there are any problem areas or unnecessary material, take it out. Itis always better to have a shorter, more focused, and persuasive paper than to have an overly long, tedious, and confusing piece of analysis. Remember that less is more!
Both the process of proofreading and editing should be easy compared to the gathering of research and the actual writing of the paper. However, while these final tasks may be easier, they are equally important. A valuable paper and excellent piece of writing can easily be ruined and dismissed by readers if you do not proofread for basic spelling and grammatical errors. In addition, although you may feel as if you have sweated and labored over every word and each sentence, cut out any phrases, paragraphs, or pages that are not necessary or do not add to your work. While you may feel as if you are taking a knife to your creation, in reality, you are being merciless in your detection of errors. Now your paper, your work, and ultimately your reputation, are the best that they can be.
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