How to Self-Edit a College Essay: An Editing Checklist to Make Proofreading Easier

With only a few simple proofreading techniques, any student can turn C-quality writing into an A essay. Don’t let silly mistakes bring an essay’s grade down.

One of the most common mistakes new college students make is neglecting to proofread their essays before turning them in. As an essay writer free, I know that it is resulting in all sorts of errors that even the most talented writers can’t avoid.

Why Proofreading Can Save an Essay

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Consider the student who writes an amazingly organized, brilliantly reasoned college essay for his English 102 class. He is so proud of the essay once he’s typed that final word, he just prints it out and sticks it in his backpack, ready to turn it in.

The following week, he gets his essay back from his professor. He’s of course glowing, expecting the A he knows he deserves. But in place of that big, shiny A there’s a fat, red C. He turns to the final page, to see the professor’s notes. “Proofread” is on top of the page, in sloppy red letters.

Mistakes are incredibly easy to make when typing, especially when a student gets in the “zone.” Fingers get sloppy, commas are put where they don’t belong, words are misspelled, and quality just goes downhill. There is a simple solution for every student: self-editing.

What to Look For – Spelling Mistakes?

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First and foremost, look for spelling mistakes. If using Microsoft Word, the red squiggly lines are telling the writer “something’s wrong.” Most Word users are well aware of this; it’s when the wrong word is spelled correctly that the student runs into a problem. If when writing, the writer is moving so quickly that he accidentally types “wait,” when he means “weight,” Word isn’t going to work magic for him by improving essay writing skills. The word is spelled right; it’s just not the right one. Reading through a paper before submission will fix these embarrassing mistakes.

Read Aloud to Check for Grammar

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Next up, check the grammar. This is more difficult for most students, as not everyone has the perfect grasp of grammar. The most common mistakes are usually punctuation-related (such as absent commas, improperly used semicolons, and run-ons), and if there’s a lack of depth in grammar knowledge, there’s an easy way to see if any punctuation is needed in a sentence.

Read the paper aloud, even if there are people around. Reading such familiar words out loud alienates those words a bit from the writer, forcing her to hear the words, rather than just scan over them. And, as mentioned above, reading aloud can shed light on where punctuation is supposed to go, especially commas, semicolons, and periods.

When reading aloud, listen closely for natural pauses. Don’t try too hard, as pauses should be enforced. If there’s a short pause in the sentence (as in “After the party (pause) we all went out to eat), add a comma. If there’s a long pause (Everyone was starved (long pause) we hadn’t eaten all night), determine whether a period or a semicolon works best. In the instance above, a semicolon would be the wisest choice, as there are two complete sentences (subject and a verb) that are closely related.


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Finally, look at the organization of the paper. Are all the paragraphs focused on one main idea especially the introduction paragraph? Are some points scattered around willy-nilly? Color-coding and outlining can be very helpful here. If the paper is a simple 5-paragraph structure with a 3-point thesis, highlight each point in a different color, and do the same throughout the rest of the paper.

If all the colors correspond properly in their respective paragraph, great. If not, move them around so each color has its paragraph. If color-coding isn’t appealing, and outline performs the same task without the flair. Assign each idea a number, then make sure each number fits in its proper paragraph.

Self-Editing Checklist

Now that the basics of proofreading have been explained, here’s a post-writing checklist students can use so they don’t turn in a sloppy paper.

  • Read through the paper once, checking for spelling mistakes (not just Word’s highlights)
  • Read paper aloud
  • Check for short and long pauses: add commas for short pauses, periods, or semicolons for long pauses
  • Check the organization: make sure ideas are in their proper places throughout
  • Color-code or outline each point, and do so throughout the paper

It may sound like these techniques will be too time-consuming, but the grade is worth the time. No paper is complete without proofreading, so don’t let these simple mistakes ruin what could be an A paper. Professors will be thankful.

About the author: John J. Gregg is an experienced writer on where he provides students with an opportunity to get high grades. Besides, He is fond of reading and playing the guitar. By the way, John dreams of traveling a lot and visiting as many countries as possible.