It goes without saying that I think all academic documents should be proofread before submission. You may have incredible content, but if the reader is distracted or confused by typos or unclear sentence structure, it’s possible that your grade, acceptance to a conference, or potentially even your funding could be affected.
This may mean paying someone like me to go through your words with a fine-tooth comb. It could be pressing a friend or flatmate into service, someone who may be happy to work for a pizza, a bottle of wine, or a mention in your acknowledgements. Regardless of who is doing the reading, the important thing is that you have a fresh pair of eyes review the document.
After all, you know exactly what you are trying to say. Your brain fills in missing words, smooths troublesome spelling and syntax, and ignores inconsistencies. It is very difficult to see your own errors.
However, if you want to try to proofread your writing yourself, I have a few tips that should help:
- Create a style sheet: This is the best way to ensure that your document is as consistent as possible. Use it to record any and all formatting or stylistic choices you make (or which are in your guidance document): serial or Oxford comma? Make a note of it. Writing out numerals up to a hundred? Write it down. Using 10 pt font for all figure captions? You get the picture. When you are reviewing your document you can then use this as a cheat sheet to stay on track. Sign up for the Blue Eagle mailing list to get an academic submission checklist that doubles as a style sheet.
- Plan in advance: In an ideal world, it’s best if you can leave at least a few days between finishing your final draft and the deadline for submission. This allows your eyes and brain to reset and approach the document from a different vantage point.
- Read backwards: Starting with your last paragraph and moving up the document from the end can make it harder to fall into autopilot when checking things.
- Read out loud: You can also try reading your document out loud. This is a great way to make sure that it flows well and that the sentence structure is straightforward. If you get tongue-tied, it may mean that the sentence needs to be re-written!