Editing and proofreading

So the writer who breeds more words than he needs, is making a chore for the reader who reads.

Dr Seuss

Editing and proofreading both require close and careful reading, but they focus on different parts of your writing and use different techniques. Editing involves improving the overall picture of your assignment: whether you have fully addressed the assessment task requirements, how the paragraphs are structured and how your writing flows. Proofreading focuses on specific details, like spelling, grammar, sentence structure and referencing.

  • Solid editing and proofreading of your writing can improve your overall marks.
  • Editing is a continuous process, so start early and do it often.
  • You should re-draft your assignment several times before you proofread.
  • Once you have done all your editing, you can proofread your work.

Students and lecturers discuss the importance of editing and proofreading.

Editing - Check the structure

Once you have written your essay, it is a good idea not to look at it for a few days. Some distance helps you to view your work more objectively.  When you begin editing, read your work a few times and focus on different elements of the assignment with each reading.

Consider the following:

  • Does my essay have a clear introduction, body and conclusion?
  • Is there a clear message?
  • Have I covered all the main points from my plan?
  • Is my argument convincing?
  • Do I contradict myself at all?
  • Is there a logical flow to my writing?
  • Have I answered the question?

 Then for each section ask yourself:

  • Have I presented or defined my topic clearly?
  • Is my line of argument clearly presented?
  • Have I briefly stated what I will write about in the assignment?
  • Have I developed my argument throughout the body?
  • Are my ideas and paragraphs ordered logically?
  • Are there transitional words/sentences between paragraphs?
  • Does each paragraph clearly state the main idea of the paragraph?
  • Is each paragraph supported with examples and explanations?
  • Does my conclusion summarise the key points in my essay?
  • Does it link back to the introduction?
  • Does it emphasise my argument?
  • Have I made sure I haven't included any new ideas?

Editing - Check the style

If you have ever received an assignment back from a lecturer with comments like "too wordy" or "passive voice" or "look at your word choice", then you may need to work on your academic writing style. The tricky thing about style is that it is subjective and different disciplines and academic departments have different ideas about what makes good writing style. However, remember that your goal in academic writing is to communicate your ideas in a clear and understandable manner. 

Below are some tips on how to improve your academic writing style.

Use a formal style of writing
  • Use the unit readings to get an idea of appropriate language.
  • Don't use slang, jargon and pretentious language, as this can cloud what you are trying to communicate and frustrate or confuse your reader.
  • Avoid using abbreviations and contractions, e.g. write is not rather than isn't.

For more information see the following resource:

Use impersonal language

In general avoid using personal language such as I think or I believe unless it is reflective writing. Whatever is included in your paper that is not attributed to someone else is assumed yours.

For more information see the following resource:

Use tentative language Researchers are cautious in the way they present their findings. Academic writing uses tentative language, it does not describe things as being absolutely true or false.
Some examples of tentative language include:
  • tends to ...
  • appears to ...
  • suggests that ...

For more on academic style and "style crimes"  spend some time reading the following resources:


The last part of editing your writing is proofreading. This involves checking things like spelling, punctuation, grammar and referencing. Some general tips to start proofreading include:

  • Print your document if you prefer to proofread from a printout rather than on a screen.
  • Make sure you have no distractions -  shut down your email and social media and turn off your phone.
  • Try reading out loud to hear any problems.
  • Use a blank sheet of paper to cover up the lines below the one you are reading. This technique keeps you from skipping ahead of possible mistakes.
  • Review comments on past assignments to identify errors that you make repeatedly.
Formatting Check for consistent use of heading styles, font, diagrams, tables, margins.
  • Use the computer search function to find any mistakes you are likely to make. For example search  for "it", if you confuse "its" and "it's.

For more help with punctuation see the following resources:

Spelling Use the spell check on your computer, but remember that a spell checker will not identify mistakes with homonyms (e.g., "they're," "their," "there") or particular typing errors (like "he" for "the" or "form" for "from").
  • Am I sure this is the recommended referencing style?
  • Are all references presented consistently in the required style?
  • Are all sources used listed in the bibliography or reference list?
  • Do all in-text references correspond with the end references in the reference list?

Further resources

Deakin library

Camp, S, 2001, Developing proofreading and editing skills, Glencoe/McGraw Hill, New York.

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