When Should You Edit and Proofread Your Writing?

Whether it is for an academic manuscript or an admissions essay for college or university, any writing can benefit from extensive revision before being submitted to target readers. We know you probably have questions about when and how to revise your work during the writing process. This article provides a few insights and strategies when it comes to proofreading and editing your work.

Are editing and proofreading the same thing? Proofreading and editing are not quite the same. Both are parts of the revision process and demand careful reading by the reviewer, but each focuses on different aspects of the writing. Even within editing, there are multiple types of revision: content editing, copy-editing, and line editing. While editing is done to make the text “better,” proofreading focuses on eliminating errors in grammar, punctuation, and mechanics to make the text “perfect,” as in “free of objective errors.”

The Editing Process Editing and proofreading can be completed in two stages as part of the same continuous process, or they can be done separately. Editing is usually done after completing the first draft of your work. After reading through your work to make sure that you have all of the content you need and that it is well-organized, you will edit the paper to make sure that the language is clear and natural and will impact the reader in the intended way. There are a few elements that editors usually focus on while editing:

Paper Content

Content editing is generally done by someone with deep knowledge of the subject area and topic of your paper—that person could be you (the author), or it could be a peer or professional editor. During this step, you should confirm that all required content is included in the work, that the claims are accurate, that the methodology is sound, and that the findings are replicable. Are the paper’s argument’s logical and sustainable? Are the claims consistent and the information presented backed by evidence? Do you only present highly relevant information that satisfies the goals of your research paper, course assignment, or admissions essay? Content editors will focus on these elements, whereas language editors will primarily edit for issues in the editing categories below.

Vocabulary and Terminology

Issues with vocabulary and technical terms are usually handled by either a generalist editor (in the case of non-technical documents or admissions essays) or a specialist editor (in the case of journal manuscripts and other highly technical work). Are your terms appropriate and of an academic level? Are there more suitable terms that could be applied to make your writing more precise?

Transition Terms and Expressions

Transitions help maintain cohesion and logical consistency in and between paragraphs and between some sentences. Does each paragraph contain a topic sentence or “main idea” that guides the rest of the paragraph content? Are there enough details and evidence included to bolster the topic sentence? Is anything in the paragraph extraneous or unnecessary or irrelevant? Are there any elements missing from the paragraph that need to be included?

Flow and Readability

Flow and readability are difficult to define exactly, but they refer to the general clarity and comprehensibility of the writing. Are the information and arguments clear and understandable? Are there awkward or unnatural phrases include that might impede the meaning or make the reader scratch their heads? Do the pronouns used (he, she, it, they, which, who, this, etc.) clearly show who or what the paper is referring to? Are the length and structure of the sentences varied? Wordiness and repetition of terms can also impact the flow and readability of your paper, and most editors check for these issues, especially if you ask them to focus on making the work “more natural and readable.”

Style Issues

“Style” is a set of writing and language conventions that identify a document as belonging to a particular “class” of writing: an academic paper, personal essay, resume, etc. Style issues can include incorrect vocabulary and terminology; but they usually encompass the tone, voice, and diction of the writing. Does your paper convey the intended tone? Is the work formal, informal, casual, personal, or persuasive? Proper tone is conveyed through both individual words and expressions, which must use natural English yet fit the tone that the writing is trying to convey. (For instance, the tone of a college admissions essay is going to be much lighter and more personal than that of a research manuscript.) Are there gendered terms that might be outdated and unacademic (e.g., write “postal worker” instead of “postman”)? Are there terms that are used several times but applied or explained inconsistently?


Formatting can be fixed during the editing or proofreading stage, depending on what formatting issues are being addressed and how knowledgeable your editor is about the style formatting requirements of your paper. Are your citations of literature formatted correctly? Does the References section conform to these same style formatting? Is the punctuation and spelling consistently in US or UK English style? Because these issues are addressed during editing, your work will be updated in terms of vocabulary, expressions, and other content. While editing (or after editing, if someone else is editing your work), look for repeated errors and issues that appear in your writing. This will help inform you about what to change in your writing, especially in longer documents with more text like dissertations and theses. Correcting these errors starts with paying attention to what kinds of errors you tend to make. For example, if you tend to repeat the same transition terms, highlighting the terms you use at the beginning of each paragraph will help you diversify this language and will make your work more compelling.

Editing enhances style, vocabulary, and readability in any document.

The Proofreading Process

Proofreading is usually the final step in the revision process. This is where corrections to grammar, punctuation, mechanics and most formatting are made. Proofreading should be applied only after all the other content and style issues have been addressed.

What is the purpose of proofreading?

Think of every published piece of writing you have ever read. What do they have in common? Chances are, no writing with outstanding language or punctuation errors comes to mind. This has everything to do with good proofreading. After spending so much time developing your ideas and arguments and putting them into writing, errors in your writing that distract your readers and obscure the meaning of your work are the last things you want. Therefore, your writing needs to be completely free of objective errors.

A lot of authors spend the bare minimum amount of time proofreading their work, assuming a quick scan of their document will reveal any glaring spelling or grammar errors. But reading through your own work on a screen—especially right after writing it—is far from the most effective way to identify and fix writing mistakes. Rather, you should have a detailed plan to find errors and apply them correctly to your writing. This process can take a lot of time (and a lot of expertise in English grammar and writing conventions), but ensuring your document is free of basic errors is essential to crafting a paper that others will want to read and even cite in their own work.

Editing and proofreading are best separated into two tasks. When editing your draft, do not focus too much on grammar, punctuation, and formatting errors. You should instead make sure your ideas are developed and that each line is as clear and readable as possible. If you spend time focusing on misspelled terms and punctuation mistakes, you will overlook the more important substantive elements of your work. Likewise, when proofreading, focus only on the objective errors that remain in your writing. This will decrease the amount of time it takes you to proofread, as well as allow you to pay more attention to any issues in the work.

Take some time away from your writing before editing--whether that means reading, having a coffee, or playing video games.

Proofreading Tips

You have likely applied some of the tips listed below. The important thing is to make the process systematic and focused so that you catch as many errors as possible in the least amount of time. By applying a uniform approach to proofreading, you will improve your ability to identify and fix errors in your work.

  • Don’t rely solely on grammar and spellcheck tools. Although these tools can be quite useful in catching errors when drafting your paper or essay, grammar and spelling software will not identify every error in your document, as they don’t take into account the specific writing context and miss issues with terms and punctuation.
  • Read every line out loud while proofreading. Reading your text out loud will help you identify any homophones or misspelled words, as well as allowing you to hear how your sentences should be punctuated.
  • Proofread one line at a time (on a printed paper document). Revising one line of your text at a time lets you to focus more closely on language and punctuation issues. Separate your lines on a word processer by hitting the “return” key after each sentence to separate your work line-by-line. Even better, print out a copy of your document (double-spaced) and use a piece of paper or other object with a straight line to separate the specific line of text you are revising.
  • Use Track Changes if drafting on MS Word. When proofreading, keep track of the revisions you make to your work. The most efficient way to do this is to apply MS Word’s Track Changes feature, which registers each edit applied in colored text. Using this tool can help you see patterns of errors made on the level of the word or phrase. Just make sure to hit “Accept All Changes” after you finish editing or proofreading.

Tips for Editing and Proofreading

  • Take some time away from the text before revising. If you have just finished drafting your essay, research paper, or other document, step away for a few hours (or a few days) before starting the revision process. It is important to distance yourself from your writing in order to have a fresh perspective when it comes to fixing any writing issues or objective errors in your work. Moreover, this will allow you to better see what is “on the page.”
  • Choose a technique that lets you edit and proofread as efficiently as possible. Whether you are doing your revisions at your desktop computer or on the couch with paper and a red ink-pen, create a consistent system and process for your editing and proofreading work that allows you to get into the work naturally and comfortably. Additionally, choose a time of day where your powers of focus are at their highest so that you don’t overlook any errors in your work.
  • Don’t edit and proofread everything at once. Revising a text that is thousands of words long can be exhausting and cause you to lose focus if you try to do it all in one go. Therefore, break up your work into chunks of time, allocating an hour or two a day to editing and proofreading, depending on how long your work is and what your deadline is.
  • Consider giving your work to a peer or professional editing service. If you have made it through this entire article about proofreading and editing your work, you may be wondering why we would suggest giving it to someone else to edit. The reason is simple: a second perspective and pair of eyes is also beneficial and decreases the chances of anything incorrect or unnecessary in your document being missed. A research peer steeped in the specific subject and academic area of your work is an especially useful resource when it comes to revising academic work.

Even better, consider a professional proofreading and editing service that has hundreds of qualified editors with expertise in thousands of academic subdisciplines. Wordvice is such an editing service, and we assign your academic, admissions, business, and personal documents to the editor with the most relevant experience and qualification in your subject area.

We hope this article provided some helpful information about why, how, and when to proofread and edit your writing. For more tips on writing and revision of all kinds of work, visit Wordvice’s Academic and Admissions Resource pages. Or check out our services below.

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