Essays - Proofing

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Advice Leaflets

Advice leaflets originally produced for the Study Advice Service in the University of Hull, which holds the copyright:

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When you have finished writing/typing, you have not finished the essay. It is not complete until it has been checked. Reading it through yourself, slowly, will also reveal other points or qualifications you may like to include which will add to the quality of the essay. Checking is an important process which you must not fail to do. Treat it as if you are submitting it for publication. Ask yourself whether or not an editor would accept it as it is for printing. If not, why not?

  1. • Introduction.

Have you defined your focus, stated the main issues to be covered and how you are going to deal with them?

  1. • Main body of the essay. Have you developed an argument, using evidence and analysis to support your statements? Have you presented the main ideas one at a time in a logical sequence? Have you missed anything important? Is the line of thought clear? Is the balance of the essay right? Is it all relevant?
  2. • Conclusion. Does it indeed conclude or simply repeat or summarise what has already been said? It should not introduce any new material but should re-iterate very briefly what has already been said (a summary) or draw conclusions from that, if you have not already done so in the body of the essay.

Check for meaning.

  1. • Does it make sense?
  2. • How would another reader, perhaps one who is not familiar with the subject, react to it?
  3. • Is it for the layman or for someone with knowledge of the subject?

Next, check that ALL works mentioned have been acknowledged and correctly referenced. (See above)

Then check:

  1. • that the vocabulary you have chosen is in the appropriate register (e.g. that you have not used an informal word or expression in an academic piece of work);
  2. • that your paragraphs ideally each contain a single idea.

Then, check for spelling. A computer spell-check is a start but is not complete – you must also check it yourself since spell-checkers do not see everything. Check for the usual mistakes: principle/principal; affect/effect; practice/practise; too/to; its/it’s; where/were; there/their; who’s/ whose; of/off; compliment/complement; ensure/insure; advise/advice; discreet/discrete (+ many, many more!)

Next, check the grammar, especially:

  1. • for incomplete sentences.
  2. • for ’telescoped’ sentences, where there is a lack of division.
  3. • that your sentences are not too complex or compound. It is often better to break down a long sentence into a series of shorter ones – your expression will then be easier to understand and much less susceptible to syntactical errors.

Next, check the punctuation. Are there full stops where there should be? Are there question marks after questions?

Check also the apostrophes (or lack of them!). Even a casual glance at the local newspaper, shop signs and markets will reveal that these are widely misused, mainly due to a lack of understanding. They are used only to indicate:

  1. • possession (e.g. the country’s parliament), or
  2. • that a letter or letters has/have been omitted (e.g. it’s = it is).

In any case, the use of colloquial contractions (can’t, I’m etc) should be avoided in an academic piece of work. A basic rule is: There is NEVER an apostrophe in simple plurals! Finally, check for style. Unless you have been instructed otherwise, this should be formal and impersonal. It should not be colloquial, chatty or use the first person (I/we) too much, if at all. The most important principle is that of clarity. If it is not clear, it is not good English. Avoid superfluous vocabulary, particularly prepositions, which add nothing to the meaning, for example:

  1. • meet (up with) the president
  2. • (up) until the last moment
  3. • he missed (out on) the opportunity to …
  4. • they continued (on with) the project
  5. • … outside (of) the building

All the words in brackets add nothing to the meaning, so are unnecessary. All foreign words should be in italics. Thus, you should also avoid making ad hominem comments and reserve any disparaging remarks for the idea, not the person.