Proofreading and Revising

You might think of revising and proofreading as interchangeable, but in fact, they are different:

Revision means to look again. After you write your draft, look at it again to improve your ideas, evidence, and organization.  By revising (also known as rewriting or changing) parts of your writing, you can produce a higher quality document. Revision happens more than once in the same draft.  Read your draft a few times to make some changes, and then look at the changed version again to make additional changes.  Repeat this process until you feel confident that your paper has focused ideas, strong evidence, and an effective organization.

Proofreading involves reading your document to correct the smaller typographical, grammatical, and spelling errors. Proofreading is usually the very last step you take before sending off the final draft of your work for evaluation or publication.  It comes after you have addressed larger matters such as style, content, citations, and organization during revising. Like revising, proofreading demands a close and careful reading of the text. Although quite tedious, it is a necessary and worthwhile exercise that ensures that your reader is not distracted by careless mistakes.

Thus, revision will occur throughout the writing process, while proofreading occurs once you are confident that your paper's ideas, support, and organization are strong. Below are some tips and examples for effective proofreading and revising. Use these ideas as you revise and proofread your writing.


Try a few of these ideas in order to look at your paper again with fresh eyes:

Revising for Focused Ideas

The following statement presents broad ideas with no clear focus:

Needs Improvement: Literacy rates are plummeting at alarming scale, and this devastating problem will continue as long as wrong-minded policy makers support ill-advised legislation that forces otherwise very good teachers to teach to the test.

The writer has presented generalizations and opinionated language rather than specifics about this topic.  Literacy rates for which student populations are falling?  Who, exactly, are the "wrong-minded policy makers" and which law, precisely, is the "ill-advised legislation" discussed here?  Every paper or capstone chapter needs a specific focus, and all research writing requires objective language.

Revision: Low online literacy skills among middle-school students can magnify other academic weaknesses.  Hutchison and Henry (2010) found that seventh-grade students at risk for dropping out of school demonstrated limited skills for educational Internet use.  If struggling students cannot evaluate the quality of information available on websites, then their lack of evaluation skills could adversely affect their grades on research projects.  These lower grades could in turn contribute to an even greater risk of their dropping out of school.

The ideas in this revised paragraph are more focused. This paragraph provides more detail for your readers, too, including your specific topic (online literacy skills), population (middle-school students), and related issues (effects of low online literacy skills on achievement). 

Revising for Stronger Evidence

The following paragraph relies on weak evidence:

Needs Improvement: Supervision is one of many different forms of leadership theory. Executives from CitiBank to Target to local mom-and-pop hardware stores use it.  In this approach, supervisors reward employees for good work.  As aforementioned, supervision is only one of many different leadership theories.

There are no sources cited in this paragraph.  Without any support from sources, the reader may question this information and wonder if it is actually true. Your paper will be much stronger if you support your ideas with published, credible evidence.

Revision: Entrepreneurs should practice leadership styles appropriate to their particular companies.  One form of managerial leadership, supervision, is especially effective for small business owners (Bass, 2008; Steers, Sanchez-Runde, & Nardon, 2012).  A supervisor engages with employees more than a leader who follows laissez-faire (or hands-off) leadership (Valdiserri & Wilson, 2010).  This hands-on, supervisory engagement could have important benefits for all stakeholders in a small business.

The evidence in this revised paragraph is stronger.  The citations are current and come from published research.  In this paragraph, your readers can see that you have read relevant, credible sources about your topic, helping to support your claims and build credibility with the reader.

Revising for Effective Organization

Whole-Essay Organization: These strategies will help you identify paragraphs with information or ideas that need to be rearranged or adjusted.

1. Read each paragraph. On note paper, write the central idea for each paragraph, forming an outline of your paper.
2. Read your summaries of each central idea and ask yourself the following:
• Does each central idea help you support the thesis of your paper?   If not, then you have gone off-topic.  Identify which paragraph does not relate to your assignment, and revise it.
• Do your ideas progress logically?  If not, then you have presented them out of order.  Identify which paragraphs to present earlier or later in your paper, and rearrange them.

Individual-Paragraph Organization:  These strategies will help you identify sentences that need to be added to your paragraphs. Additionally, click this link for more details about organization on the Writing Center website. 

1. Read each paragraph.  Compare it to the MEAL plan (Duke University, n.d.): 
• Main point: The first sentence of each paragraph should present its main idea.
 Evidence: The next line should support for your topic with cited sources.
• Analysis: The next lines should explain the evidence and connect it to your topic.
• Lead out: The last line of each paragraph should help readers shift smoothly to the new idea in the next paragraph.
2. If you find any paragraphs that do not follow the MEAL plan, identify which element is missing (main point, evidence, analysis, or lead out) and revise your paragraph to include this material.

For more specific revision strategies, see these blog posts:


Distance yourself from your work.
Set aside the document for a few hours or even a few days before proofreading. Taking a bit of time off enables you to see the document anew. A document that might have seemed well written one day may not look the same when you review it a few days later. Taking a step back provides you with a fresh (and possibly more constructive) perspective.

Print a hard copy of the text.
Reviewing the document in a different format and having the ability to manually circle and underline errors can help you take the perspective of the reader, identifying issues that you might ordinarily miss. Additionally, a hard copy gives you a different visual format (away from your computer screen) to see the words anew.

Do not rely exclusively on grammar and spelling checkers.
Although useful, programs like Word's spell-checker and Grammarly can misidentify or not catch errors.  While grammar checkers sometimes give relevant tips and recommendations, they are only helpful if you know how to apply the feedback they provide.  Similarly, MS Word’s spell checker may not catch words that are spelled correctly but used in the wrong context. Beyond that, sometimes a spell checker may mark a correct word as wrong simply because the word is not found in the spell checker’s dictionary.  To supplement tools such as these, be sure to use dictionaries and other grammar resources to check your work.  You can also make appointments with our writing tutors for feedback concerning grammar and word choice, as well as other areas of your writing!

Read your text aloud and slowly.
Reading a text aloud allows you to identify errors that you might gloss over when reading silently. This technique is particularly useful for identifying run-on and other types of awkward sentences. If you can, read for an audience. Ask a friend or family member to listen to your work and provide feedback, checking for comprehension, organization, and flow.

Have someone else read aloud to you.
Hearing someone else read your work allows you to simply listen without having to focus on the written words yourself. You can be a more critical listener when you are engaged in only the audible words.

Go through the paper backwards.
By reading the document backwards, sentence by sentence, you are able to focus only on the words and sentences without paying attention to the context or content.

Check for familiar errors.
If you can identify one type of error that you struggle with (perhaps something that a tutor or instructor has commented on in your previous work), go through the document and look specifically for these types of errors. Learn from your mistakes, too, by mastering the problem concept so that it does not appear in subsequent drafts.   

Ask someone else to look over the document.
After you have finished making corrections, have someone else scan the document for errors. A different set of eyes and a mind that is detached from the writing can identify errors that you may have overlooked.

Download and print a copy of our proofreading bookmark to use as a reference as you write!

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