7-step guide to proofreading your own dissertation

7-step guide to proofreading your own essay/dissertation

For a variety of reasons, many university students, undergraduates and postgraduates, have to proofread their own academic manuscript, be it an essay or a dissertation/thesis.


Some may have to do so for financial reasons, because students are often on a very limited budget and they may not be able to afford paying a third-party professional dissertation proofreading services provider. Others may not feel comfortable about allowing third party access to the written outcome of years of research and hard work, for confidentiality and privacy reasons.


A third category is those researchers and academics who simply feel they are quite capable of proofreading their own written essay or dissertation/thesis without the help of external editorial assistance. 

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Before going into the details and specific steps that can be followed by those interested in proofreading and reviewing their own work, two things need to be clarified:


1-    What does proofreading mean in this article?

2-    Who can proofread their own work?


1.   What does proofreading mean in this article?


Professionals often like to differentiate and distinguish between proofreading and editing in order to avoid both editorial processes being mixed up. Definitions have varied and so have views from language gurus and specialists regarding the exact parameters of each, although there is a general consensus that editing is a more critical, intensive examination of the text and involves significant intervention from the editor, while proofreading is more or less a kind of a final polish to ensure nothing has slipped the net of the editor, the formatter or the designer.


However, in this article, when we refer to proofreading, we actually mean both processes: proofreading and editing. This is to avoid excessive repetition of the two words combination and to reflect the name most commonly used by students and academics to describe both processes.


1.   Who can proofread their own work?


Encouraging you, as an MA or PhD student, to proofread your essay or thesis and providing you with tips and advice as to how to do so is one thing and if you are actually qualified to proofread your own work is something else.


So, whether you belong to the first, second or third category of students wanting to proofread their own academic papers, you need to meet the following conditions:


1-    Excellent command of English language grammar and usage (Reading a short book on English language grammar would prove quite beneficial in this process)

2-    Flawless academic writing skills

3-    An eye for detail and narrative

4-    Have sufficient time


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Now, let’s go into the particulars of how you can effectively proofread your own thesis or essay:


1.     Find a comfortable seat and read a print-out


It might be at home at your desk, on the sofa, or even in a Costa Coffee or Starbucks, but the very first thing you will need to do is to print out what you have written and take it somewhere you feel comfortable and read it from cover to cover, from the first letter to the last letter. Do not touch anything yet; at this stage, all you need to do is to read that written academic text as if it was drafted by someone else and you are interested to read it from beginning to end.


2.     Take general notes and observations from a bird’s eye view


Once you have completed your first read of the text, just jot down the most salient points that caught your attention or you spotted while reading the copy, for example, a break in the narrative or flow, unsubstantiated claims or argument, inconsistency, a structural gap, lack of clarity in some areas, ambiguous language, or unnecessary repetition, etc. The aim at this stage is not yet to introduce any changes at the linguistic level. The aim is first and foremost to improve the written piece itself to be a broadly solid, connected, signposted and clear essay or dissertation. At this stage, you will be fixing broader issues that you had noticed by reading the entire text from beginning to end.


3.     Print it out again


Once you have identified those broader issues and fixed them in the soft copy of your dissertation or essay on your computer, print it out again. At this point, you can start focusing on your written piece from a linguistic perspective, i.e correcting and improving your own written English, in terms of syntax, tone, style and flow.


4.     Start with essentials


You now have a solidly written essay or dissertation (in terms of theme, sub-themes, development and coherence of ideas and argument, etc) and you are set to move to the next stage of proofreading your own work. It is advisable to start with the essential: correction of grammar, punctuation and spelling. Although your supervisor or evaluating professor may not be extremely upset if you express your ideas improperly, he or she will most likely be unhappy to find your essay or dissertation full of SPAG mistakes. At the very least, you should be able to submit a paper that is free of spelling, punctuation and grammatical errors. AND do not forget to ensure you used American English if you are expected to write in American English and that you used British English if you are expected to write in British English. Mixing up British and American English is definitely frowned upon by professors and university teaching staff.


5.     Improvement and enhancement


Once you have gone through your academic paper and finished correcting all the essential errors and mistakes, it is time to put it aside. Sleep on it for a while; just leave it and go and do something completely different. Go out for a walk or have a chat with a friend or even watch a movie. Then come back to your dissertation and essay with a fresh pair of eyes. Now read it from the point of view of an average reader. This will give you an idea about the areas in which you will now need to improve and enhance the language and delivery of ideas and sub-ideas within the piece of writing itself. Do not forget, you must read it aloud but with complete concentration (ensure no distractions around). This will help you spot the gaps and language issues that need to be fixed to ensure the essay or dissertation flows nicely throughout in clear, concise, idiomatic and academic language.


6.     Check your references, in-text citations, formatting


Every MA or PhD student is expected to follow certain guidelines for referencing and it is extremely important to ensure that you got those right, because when your paper is being marked, your marking professor or supervisor will take the referencing style and in-text citations into account. So, ensure you proofread and edit them correctly by studying the specific style guide related to your specific college or university. If in doubt, check with your supervisor and ask for advice as to where you can find a good resource. Again, proofreading and editing the in-text citations and references used throughout your paper is crucial. Now it is time to ensure that you got another essential part of proofreading and editing – which is formatting - right. Again, you will be given or directed to specific guidelines on formatting, so it is a matter of ensuring you got your font size, margins, etc correctly. Formatting is such an important aspect that professional proofreading services providers offer it (and charge for it) as a separate service from editing and proofreading services.


7.     Final checks


Now you have a solid piece of writing that is free of grammatical, punctuation and spelling errors, a piece that is written in proper British or American English, a piece whose theme and sub-themes are laid out clearly and concisely, a piece that flows nicely throughout, a piece that has correct referencing style, in-text citations and format.


It is now time for a final, calm and solid read of the entire dissertation or essay, just in case anything has slipped your net throughout the previous stages of proofreading your own piece of writing.


Good luck with submitting a properly proofread and edited dissertation/thesis or essay. 

The Ultimate Proofreader is a UK-based provider of academic English proofreading services.

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