Writing is a process, which means a paper is rarely, if ever, finished after the first draft. Once the writer has finished the first draft of the assignment, it is time to begin editing and proofreading this draft. These are steps that are necessary to make the paper a polished, error-free final copy that truly represents the student's abilities as a writer.
Editing is improving upon the actual writing form. Is the thesis statement clear? Can more details be added? Can the writing be made clearer and easier for the reader to understand? Does the vocabulary need to be improved or otherwise changed? Do sentences or whole paragraphs need to be rearranged or omitted? Did the author use sentences that make for smooth transitions between paragraphs? These are some of the questions the writer needs to ask himself or herself when editing a paper. Do not be afraid to cross out words or sentences, draw arrows, highlight, or make other stray marks. The goal is to make the paper the best it can be, not to have a neat looking first draft.
After the writer edits the paper and is confident that all necessary changes in style and form have been corrected, he or she needs to rewrite the paper. If it is required that the final paper be typed and the student has not already done so, this would be the ideal time to type the first draft, of course making all of the editing changes. When the paper is typed, it is time to begin proofreading.
Proofreading refers to correcting errors in spelling, grammar, usage, capitalization, and punctuation. When a paper is typed on a computer, most software has a spelling check and/or a grammar check feature. This feature is designed to indicate when a spelling or grammar error has been made, and may even include options for fixing the error. Although this can be a helpful tool in some cases, the computer should never be completely relied upon to fix mistakes. For example, the computer may not recognize some homophones (your/you're, their/they're/there, affect/effect) or differentiate between plural and possessive forms of words ending in the letter s. The computer may also miss grammar mistakes or indicate that a mistake has been made when it actually is correct. One of the most important grammar rules to proofread for is subject-verb agreement, which the computer may not recognize. If the subject is singular, the verb must also be in its singular form (“She sits.” vs. “They sit.”) The point is to rely on the human brain over computer software to find and fix mistakes.
Proofreading for commas and capitalization is another necessary step in the writing process. Knowing the rules for where commas are required will make it easier to proofread for them. However, it is perfectly acceptable to use a guide that specifies the rules of comma usage when proofreading. When checking for capitalization mistakes, remember that the first letter of every sentence, as well as proper nouns need to be capitalized.
After the essay has been proofread, it is always helpful to print it out, double-spaced, and check over it again one more time. Having a friend or family member also check it over with fresh eyes may help to catch mistakes that were missed. Only print out a final copy when all errors, no matter how insignificant they may seem, have been corrected. The writer should be proud to hand in the final copy.
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