Over the last few weeks, I’ve covered how to structure and style academic papers, as well as how to write in-text citations and bibliographies in academic papers. This week, I’m covering how to revise or proofread your academic paper. I have 14 tips to offer you from my own writing and editing experience.
TIP 1: Put your essay away for a few days. Ideally, you’ve written your paper in full and have put it out of sight for a few days. The more time you spend away from your paper, the better chance of making successful revisions you have.
TIP 2: Use spell check. Spell check will help you get rid of those pesky typos and extra spaces. It’s the first thing you’ll want to do before you dive into your text.
TIP 3: Change the spacing of your essay. In the document itself, you can change the spacing of your paper. So if you were writing your paper with single spacing, change it to double or even triple spacing.
TIP 4: Change the font size and typographic style. So instead of using the usual 12 point Times New Roman, change your paper to 14 point Arial or Comic Sans. I find the curlier the font, the harder it is to read, meaning I really have to focus on what is written, therefore upping my critical thinking skills and my ability to spot errors.
TIP 5: Read your essay out loud. You’ve probably heard this advice a thousand times before, but I’m saying it because it works. You have to actively focus on each word instead of skimming your paper.
TIP 6: Have your computer read your essay to you. When I’m feeling lazy and like I don’t want to stare at a screen, I select a portion of the text I want to read and have my computer read it to me. All you need to do is figure out the keyboard shortcut to get your computer to read the selected text. Hearing the words out loud, when it’s not you reading it, can be so helpful in noticing the flow of your sentences, and it’s especially handy at catching obvious typos.
TIP 7: Read backwards. That is, read the last sentence of your essay, then read the second last sentence of your essay, then read the third last sentence of your essay, etc. This way, you’re focusing on each sentence individually because it no longer has an obvious connection to the sentence that came before it.
TIP 8: Convert your paper to a PDF. This fall and winter, I’ve applied to a few graduate programs, and many of them accept only PDFs. Thus, I’ve learned that my writing looks different in a PDF than it does in my Word document. Maybe you’ve noticed that a lot of these tips have to do with changing the look of your paper so that you can see it differently. Well, that leads me to tip 9…
TIP 9: Print your paper. Most editors prefer working on printed paper as opposed to working on their computers. Reading a physical paper doesn’t strain your eyes as much and it doesn’t take as long to read either.
TIP 10: Use online paper checkers. These programs are basically an editor’s nemesis, mostly because people like free stuff. Still, online machines are hardly equivalent to a real, human writer and editor. Anyway, rant over. I’ve found that a few of these programs are helpful in finding other spelling mistakes or stylistic writing problems your academic paper has that spell check just doesn’t look for. Two of my favourites are Hemingway Editor and Paper Checker.
TIP 11: When you’ve exhausted all of your own resources, ask a friend or classmate to look your paper over. Writing is mostly a collaborative effort. Paid and volunteer writers rarely publish their work without having at least one other set of eyes look their writing over, if not multiple sets of eyes. Though, I understand why it wouldn’t feel like your writing is collaborative since you’re probably just writing a paper for your professor to read.
Still, you can help a classmate out by reading their work in exchange for having them read your work. And, reading over a classmate’s paper can help you get a feel for where your writing is at in comparison to their writing and it can help you with your own critical thinking skills.
It’s even more helpful if you prepare a list of open-ended questions, like “What is the most interesting part of my paper?” and “What part(s) of my paper were boring to read?” That way, you get helpful feedback and a (hopefully) honest review of where your writing is successful and where it is lacking.
TIP 12: See your professor for help. Your professors have office hours for a reason — it’s to help you with you understanding the course material and improving your assignments. Make use of your professor’s expertise in their subject and their own writing skills! That way, you can get a better sense of what formatting or style they want to see in your papers, and from my understanding, if a prof. knows you, they might grade your papers less harshly!
TIP 13: Use your institution’s FREE writing centre. Maybe your professor wasn’t helpful, or you’re too scared to see them. That’s okay. Often, writing centre employees are undergrad and grad students themselves. They’re living the student struggle too and they’re offering their writing knowledge to help you.
TIP 14: Make use of professional editorial services. If you’re looking to ace your thesis or get a journal article published, professional editors can help you develop or copy edit your work.
And that concludes my how-to series on academic writing! Next week, I’m going to talk about writer’s block and tips on moving past it.