Proofreading: Putting the finishing touches to your dissertation

Although proofreading seems like the easiest part of dissertation writing, it’s easy to get too confident and miss simple mistakes, letting yourself down and losing easy marks.

Truthfully, the most effective way to proofread your work is to get someone else to do it. Having spent weeks writing it, the text can become too familiar to you which means you tend to skim over words, only reading what you expect to see. A second opinion can allow your work to be objectively dissected, pulling out any mistakes that have been made. The reader does not always have to be someone studying the same course, so you could ask one of your friends! It may be more beneficial having someone read it that is less familiar with the subject as they can check the accessibility of the text and are able to point out where more explanation is needed. If it’s not possible to get someone else to proofread your dissertation or research project report, give yourself a break of at least an hour between finishing your work and starting to proofread in order to distance yourself from the text.

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A proofreader is looking for small errors, not trying to rewrite the text, so an extensive knowledge of the subject is not necessary. When reading, it can help to proofread a hard copy rather than from a computer screen. If your dissertation is too long to print out, try reading the text aloud, or change the size of the page margins before you proofread – we tend to skip over the last words on a line, so changing the page margins will mean different words are at the end of the line and you’ll be more likely to notice mistakes you might have previously missed.

When proofreading, try to remove all distractions (including music) and dedicate enough time to do this: and never leave it to the last minute! If you start to rush, take a break and force yourself to slow down when reading.

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Here are some things you should focus on:
Flow

This refers to how well your dissertation reads overall and whether your ideas are linked in a coherent manner. Do your paragraphs link in a logical order? Do your sentences make sense when standing alone?

Clarity

Checking for clarity involves checking how easy your essay is to understand and confirming that all aspects of the question have been covered. Check you’ve answered the question fully and you’ve communicated your ideas well.

Accuracy

Check for spelling and grammatical errors – identify any potential mistakes by using a spelling and grammar checker and correct them as you go. Also, make sure you referenced where appropriate and in the correct format; bear in mind that different schools have different requirements, so check with your supervisor to ensure that you are following the specific guidelines required by your school. If you want to know more about references and how to manage them, read through the Library’s Referencing Guide.

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The most common errors to look for are:
  • Mixing past and present tenses throughout the text
  • “One in ten people are” instead of “one in ten people is”
  • Swapping similar words e.g. “affect” and “effect” or “accept” and “except”
  • Misuse of apostrophes
  • Words with similar spelling or pronunciation e.g. “they’re/their/there”
  • Incorrect or inappropriate punctuation use
  • Incorrect capitalisation
  • Wrong or missing headings or figure legends
  • Formatting errors e.g. changes in font size or indentations
  • Mistakes in small words (a/an/and/is/it/the)
  • Repetition of words or phrases

Have a look at the feedback you’ve received from previous assignments; if you’re making the same mistake again and again, do one read through just looking for that particular mistake. By concentrating on just one thing you’ll be more likely to notice these errors. Don’t try and fix everything at once.

For further tips on proofreading, have a look at our online resource, Better safe than sorry: proofreading your work,  or come to the workshop Proofreading: the final stage before submission.

By Megan from the Student Team

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