Research paper hints: proofread, proofread, proofread

Some good advice for writing is that you should treat everything you write as if it was the only piece of writing you will ever be judged by. If you attach that much importance to it, you are more likely to undertake careful proofreading!

You might think that proofreading isn’t necessary; your spellchecker will catch everything. This simply isn’t true. It won’t catch grammar errors, nor will it catch the improper use of words. For example, the two words: ‘that’ and ‘than’. They are frequently misused. Many writers use the wrong one in the wrong place. Spellcheckers won’t catch this error because the word isn’t misspelled.

You might not be able to use a professional proofreader. If this is the case, follow these steps to polishing up your research paper.

Top tips for proofreading:

  1. The most common errors are misuse of the apostrophe and confusing the words, ‘they’re’, ‘their’ and ‘there’. Here’s a quick and easy way to tell which one to use. The words here and there are places. See how the spellings are so similar? If your sentence is referring to a place, use ‘there.’ The word “they’re” is a contraction of “they are”. Substitute “they are” into your sentence. If it makes sense, you’ve chosen the right one. The word “their” shows ownership of something. It looks like the word “heir.” An heir is someone who has been gifted ownership of something. If your sentence refers to ownership of something, “their” is the right word to use.
  2. Don’t proofread your own work immediately after you’ve finished writing. You need to put some time and distance between you and your writing first. Go over it a few hours later, or even better wait a few days to proofread. It will give you a new perspective and a fresh start. You will be more likely to find and identify your errors.
  3. Other misused word pairs to look out for are affect and effect, it’s and its, lose and loose, choose and chose, desert and dessert. Use a dictionary to identify exactly which of the two choices is the correct one for the context in which you are using it.
  4. Punctuation should be perfect. Spellchecking software will pick up some of these errors but often fails to detect all of them. Do you have a friend who is well-versed in English punctuation?
  5. Know which errors you are likely to commit. Always keep a checklist of these handy so you can check specifically for them.
  6. Research papers and other professional works of writing have no place for today’s slang or text speak abbreviations.

Your proofreading skills will become stronger as you put them to use. When you’re reading other peoples’ written documents, note silently any errors you find. It will get you used to identifying problems that need to be corrected. Conversely, praise perfect pieces of written work and verify that it’s possible to have excellent grammar and spelling. It really makes a difference for the reader who doesn’t have to trip over misspelled words or clumsy grammar when reading.