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Hints and tips for students

Posted on 16th January 2011; revised and updated April 2018

Back when I was a student making ends meet on my loan, there was no way I could have afforded to pay a professional proofreader, though I have no doubt it might have helped me as after spending three months staring at my dissertation, reading it one more time to check for errors definitely wasn't high on the agenda.

With fees rising, and some universities not permitting external proofreading help, here are some hints for you to try and banish errors from your thesis, articles or dissertation.

  • Set out your style guide early on (see 'Work it Baby' blog). If you have to follow a specific set of rules from your university, be sure you understand them and follow them from the start. This will save a lot of time, especially with the references.
  • Print the work out and proofread on paper - it is much easier to focus on the work this way, then when you transfer the amendments back to the computer, make sure to look out for Word's underlining for grammar and/or spelling errors. Word doesn't always get it right, so don't just accept their changes, but it can be a good back up sometimes.
  • Read the document backwards - i.e. do the last paragraph first, then the penultimate paragraph etc. This way, you are forcing yourself out of the 'norm' and will read it more objectively rather than reading what you expect to come next.
  • Don't leave the reference section to last - this is the most time-consuming and fiddly part but can count for 10% of the marks so give it the attention it deserves. If you can, get a tutor or fellow student to check one or two of your references to make sure you're doing it right, then just follow that style for all the rest.
  • Swap work with a friend (assuming you trust their English and that your university allows this) - you proofread their work and they check yours.
  • Don't just check for spelling and grammar - you're looking for consistency in formatting, spelling variations, footnotes/end notes, and that contents page matches page numbers etc.
  • Leave enough time for the proofreading - it's not worth spending weeks, months or years researching and writing the essay/dissertation only to leave yourself no time to check it. If you are getting someone else to proofread it for you, then also remember you'll need time to go through the changes and comments as you can't just accept all amendments and hope it's ok!

I hope the above is of some help, though I have also written a follow-up blog post about proofreading your own thesis or dissertation so you might want to check that out too.

Written by Kate Haigh.