When/How to Conduct Revision and Proofreading -->

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When/How to Conduct Revision and Proofreading

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When scheduling an appointment with the Writing Center, many students request help with revising or proofreading their paper. Or is it proofreading or revising? The two terms are often used interchangeably, when in fact, they are separate steps in your academic writing process. To clear up the confusion, it may help to define revision and proofreading and take a look at their differences.

When/How to Conduct Revision and Proofreading

Revision means to look at your paper for large (global) errors such as: removing entire sentences or paragraphs for clarity, reorganizing ideas for better flow, or rewriting the thesis for a more streamlined argument. Do you see a pattern here? Revision, remove, reorganize, and rewrite all include the prefix “re,” meaning to do something again. The key thing to remember (there it is again) is that you are looking (vision) over (re) large components of your paper.

When you proofread, your goal should be to identify and correct small (local) grammar and mechanical errors such as missing punctuation, incorrect verb tense, and the use of passive voice. Proofreading is a tedious, but necessary step in eliminating any errors that may distract your reader.

The differences between revision and proofreading are mostly found in their processes. The revision process includes steps for editing the paper’s general themes and ideas, while the proofreading process identifies sentence-level errors that could hurt your ethos as a scholar. The main differences between revision and proofreading are when and how to perform each process.

When to Revise: Revise As You Go
Most writers revise their papers as they write, taking short breaks along the way to reflect on their words and confirm that their ideas connect with the overall purpose of their paper. Proofreading, on the other hand, is usually performed as the last step in the writing process. To save time, it makes sense to edit for grammar and mechanics after any text has been moved around, deleted, or rewritten.

How To Revise: Revision process strategies 
There are a number of strategies you can use to revise your paper, all of which can help you to streamline your thoughts and clarify your arguments. My favorite strategy is the reverse outline. It’s easy for me to wander off topic and forget to connect my main ideas to my thesis or central argument. To keep my writing on track, I write the main idea of each paragraph in the right-hand margin of my paper. Next, I look over this list of ideas carefully. I ask myself if the paragraphs follow a logical order and if they connect back to my paper’s topic. I also consider if my paragraphs move my paper forward or if they keep introducing the same points. As I ask these questions, I may move paragraphs around, rewrite them, or delete them entirely.

Other steps in my revision process may include:
  • Using the MEAL plan technique to organize the main idea, evidence, analysis, and lead out within a paragraph. 
  • Highlighting the topic sentence, main idea, and supporting evidence in each paragraph to verify that they connect.
  • Underlining each paragraph’s lead out to make sure it works as a bridge between two paragraphs.

How to Proofread: Proofreading Strategies
Just like revision, proofreading comes with its own set of techniques and strategies that you can pick and choose from to develop you own process. My favorite proofreading technique is to read my paper backwards. After looking at the same paper for days, it is easy for my brain to skip over words and whole sentences as it anticipates what comes next. To trick my brain, I begin at the very end of my paper and read my last sentence out loud while listening for errors. I then move backwards to the next to last sentence. I again read out loud for errors and make corrections as I go. I continue this process and slowly work my way back to the beginning of my paper.

Other steps in my proofreading process include:
  • Printing my paper so I can make notes, cross out words, and highlight changes.
  • Reading my paper out loud to listen for any grammatical errors I may make as I go. I have even read my paper into my phone’s voice recorder and played the file back to listen for errors.

Revision and proofreading can seem daunting, especially when you just want to be finished with your paper. However, testing the techniques described here and developing your own revision and proofreading processes can make your writing feel more personal. What do your revision and proofreading processes currently look like? We’d love to hear more on the steps you take to edit your paper! 

Tasha Sookochoff author image

Tasha Sookochoff is a writing instructor in the Walden University Writing Center. Along with earning degrees from the University of Wisconsin, Stout and Depaul University, Tasha has written documentation for the U.S. House of Representatives that increases government transparency, blogged for DePaul University, copy-edited the Journal of Second Language Writing, tutored immigrants and refugees at literacy centers, and taught academic writing to college students.

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