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Academic writing

Expert guidance from Study Advice at the University of Reading

Your written work may be interesting, well structured and informed. Yet it may still make a bad impression because of poor proof reading.

Part of your assessment will usually relate to the standard of your written English. It's important to pay attention to things like tenses, gender, plurals and the structure of your sentences, especially if you have rewritten or moved sections of your work. It's easy to lose marks - but it's also easy to make sure you don't.

This brief guide offers ten brief tips to help you to proof read your work as effectively as possible.

Please note: Students are not permitted to use another person (‘third party’) to proof-read or edit their assessed work, whether a friend, family member, classmate, or a professional or paid proof-reading or editorial service (except, in the case of Higher Degree by Research students, where third-party proof-reading is undertaken during the publication process for part of the thesis). As a result, there is no proof-reading service available through the University, including from Study Advice.

Ten tips for better proof reading

  1. Print it off - it's much more difficult to read onscreen and there's always the temptation to start doing major rewrites.
  2. Leave it a day - if you can, leave some time between finishing your full draft and proof reading. It's easier to read critically when it's not so fresh in your mind.
  3. Read aloud - small errors of expression and punctuation are more likely to become obvious if you read aloud.
  4. Punctuate your reading - put pauses in for punctuation when you read, timed differently for different punctuation marks - so take a breath for commas, come to a halt for full stops. This is a good way to see if your sentences are too long or too short.
  5. Take it slowly - if you have time to do a really thorough proofing, first read each sentence in a paragraph one at a time to make sure each makes sense. Then read the whole paragraph. Finally, when you've read all the paragraphs, read the whole essay through.
  6. Take care with cut and paste - if you decide to move things about, don't forget to check the whole sentence again afterwards to make sure all the tenses, genders and plurals agree. 
  7. Learn punctuation rules - make sure you know how to use commas, apostrophes, colons and semi-colons. For more on this, see the page in this guide on Punctuation.
  8. Check your referencing - always check your course handbook for preferred conventions - if you have to reference something that's not covered there, be consistent.
  9. Get another view - ask a friend to read through your work and tell you if it makes sense (NOT correct it for you). Offer to do the same for them. Especially good if you can't leave time between writing and proofing - another pair of eyes will be fresher.
  10. Use your feedback - always read and learn from your academic feedback. Use it to make a list of the things you often get wrong. Look out for these especially. They should start to disappear as you get used to doing them right.