You’ve reached the word count, you’ve answered the question and you’ve included all the right references. You’ve finished your essay, right? Wrong. You’ve moved onto the next stage of writing: proofreading.

Proofreading is the difference between a B and an A.  To do it justice, you need to proofread your essay at least five times, in both electronic and printed form, over the course of at least a couple of days. We all have our own weird writing habits, but this checklist should alert you to some of the most common ones.

– Have you run your essay through a spell-check, accepting when the computer is right and ignoring when you know better (like when it suggests American spelling)?
– Have you scanned for and fixed typos (like ‘as’ where you meant ‘at’)?
– Have you fixed misplaced homonyms (like ‘there’ where you meant ‘their’)?

– Have you included commas to: indicate where your reader should pause, separate words in lists, and enclose non-essential information (the parts of a sentence, like details, that the sentence would still make sense without)?
– Have you used semi-colons to link short, connected sentences (semi-colons are useful; they show that you know your punctuation)?
– Have you used apostrophes to show ownership (New Zealand’s first Prime Minister), but not in random word’s ending in s (see what I did there)?

– Does each paragraph has a clear topic sentence that conveys its main point?
– Do you explain each point before heading into relevant examples?
– Do you properly analyse your examples before moving on to the next paragraph?

– Is every sentence complete? Does each sentence make total sense on its own?
– Do you have a mix of longer and shorter sentences, without any really long ones?
– Is your essay fun and easy to read? Think: catchy opening line, clear sentences, links between paragraphs, thought-provoking closing sentence.

Just remember: if you suspect something might be unclear, it is. If something doesn’t look right, it probably isn’t. If you’ve got a nagging feeling about your essay, it’s not finished.


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