As a former writing consultant with the Centre for Writing and Scholarly Communication, I’ve noticed some small mistakes that students (including writing consultants) can easily miss when proofreading their own work. Sometimes it can help to know what to look for when proofreading, so I’ve compiled the following list to help!
1. The opportunity for good 'flow'
It can be difficult to tell if your own sentences ‘flow’ well together. Good ‘flow’ usually means a reader can follow the logical progression of ideas in your writing without confusion. This requires well-structured sentences, transitional words, and clearly explained connections between ideas.
The best way to ensure you have good ‘flow’ is to ask a friend or writing consultant to read your paper. If this isn’t an option, it also helps to take some time away from your own writing. When you don’t work on it for a few days, you can return with fresh eyes and assess whether you need to make any changes.
Helpful changes include splitting long sentences into shorter ones and adding explanations and transitional words to clarify connections that might not be obvious to your reader.
2. Consistency and clarity in vocabulary
Word choice is another common issue for students as they proofread. Many students worry about repetition in their writing and search for synonyms to avoid this problem. This is fine…unless you accidentally change the meaning of your paper! In most fields (English Literature and Creative Writing might be exceptions) it is better to be repetitive than to cause a misunderstanding.
It is also a good idea to assess whether the words you have used are the best fit for your ideas. For example, the word ‘good’ can be replaced with ‘moral’, ‘correct’, or ‘advantageous’, which have more specific meanings.
3. Common grammatical concerns
Articles—words like ‘the’ or ‘a’—are easy to forget, so double check that you have used them appropriately!
Another common grammatical concern is subject-verb agreement, especially with longer sentences. Subject-verb agreement is when each verb correctly matches up with the subject whose action/state of being is being described. For example, we would say that “The research is inconclusive” instead of “The research are inconclusive”, because the word ‘research’ is singular. I notice this mistake often, especially with the verbs ‘to have’ and ‘to be’.
4. Remove unnecessary complexity
Academic writing should be easy to understand because the reader should focus on your ideas instead of trying to figure out what you are trying to say. Extra ‘filler’ words—words that don’t add any meaning—can make your writing less effective. My personal strategy is to print out a copy of my work and use a red pen to cross out any unnecessary words. This ensures that my ideas are presented in the simplest way possible for my reader.
5. Review course expectations
The overall presentation of your paper should be sophisticated. This means you should capitalize appropriate words, check the spaces between your paragraphs, and ensure that your paper has followed the assignment guidelines provided by your professor.
Finally, as you proofread your paper, consider issues that your professors or TAs have pointed out on your past assignments. Make sure you have learned from your mistakes!
If you’d like help with identifying your most frequent proofreading mistakes or with anything writing related, visit us at the Centre for Writing and Scholarly Communication (CWSC).
The CWSC offers one-on-one writing consultations to support UBC students with all their writing needs. Each consultation is 30 minutes long.
You get to work with peer writing consultants to improve your writing, shape your writing process, and meet your goals. Book your appointment today!