Writing about Literature
The Writing Process
Editing and Proofreading
Once you’ve gotten the overall argument in good shape, it’s time to focus on the small but important stuff—words and sentences. Your prose should not only convey your ideas to your readers but also demonstrate how much you care about your essay. Flawless prose can’t disguise a vapid or illogical argument, but faulty, flabby prose can destroy a potentially persuasive and thoughtful one. Don’t sabotage all your hard work by failing to correct misspelled words, grammatical problems, misquotations, incorrect citations, or typographical errors. Little oversights make all the difference when it comes to clarity and credibility.
Though you will want to check all of the following aspects of your essay, it will probably be easier to spot mistakes and weaknesses if you read through the essay several times, concentrating each time on one specific aspect.
Every writer has individual weaknesses and strengths, and every writer tends to be overly fond of certain phrases and sentence structures. With practice, you will learn to watch out for the kinds of mistakes to which you are most prone. Eventually, you can and should develop your own personalized editing checklist.
Does each one read clearly and crisply?
Are they varied in length, structure, and word order?
Is my phrasing direct rather than roundabout?
- Try circling, or using your computer to search for, every preposition and to be verb. Since these can lead to confusion or roundabout phrasing, weed out as many as you can.
- Try reading your paper aloud or having your roommate read it to you. Note places where you stumble, and listen for sentences that are hard to get through or understand.
Have I used any words whose meaning I’m not sure of?
Are the idioms used correctly? Is my terminology correct?
Do my key words always mean exactly the same thing?
Do I ever use a fancy word or phrase where a simpler one might do?
Are there any unnecessary words or phrases?
Do my metaphors and figures of speech make literal sense?
Are my verbs active and precise?
Are my pronoun references clear and correct?
Do my subjects and verbs always agree?
Is every quotation correctly worded and punctuated?
Is the source of each quotation clearly indicated through parenthetical citation?
Have I checked the spelling of words I’m not sure of? (Remember that spell-checks won’t indicate how to spell every word and that they sometimes create mistakes by substituting the wrong word for the misspelled one.)
Are my pages numbered?
Does the first page of my essay clearly indicate my name (and any other required identifying information), as well as my essay’s title?