Proofreading is the act of searching for errors before you hand in the your research paper. Errors can be both grammatical and typographical in nature, but they can also include identifying problems with the narrative flow of your paper [i.e., the logical sequence of thoughts and ideas], problems with concise writing [i.e., wordiness], and finding any word processing errors [e.g., different font types, indented paragraphs, line spacing, uneven margins, etc.].
Before You Proofread
NOTE: Do not confuse the act of revising your paper with the act of editing it. Editing is intended to tighten up language so that your paper is easier to read and understand. This should be the focus when you proofread. If your professor asks you to revise your paper, the implication is that there is something within the text that needs to be changed, improved, or re-organized in some significant way. If the reason for a revision is not specified, always ask for clarification.
Strategies to Help Identify Errors
NOTE: Pay particular attention to the spelling of proper nouns [an individual person, place, or organization]. Make sure the name is carefully capitalized and spelled correctly, and that this spelling has been used consistently throughout the text of your paper. This is especially true for proper nouns transliterated into English or that have been spelled differently over time. In this case, choose the spelling used most consistently by researchers in the literature you have cited so, if asked, you can explain the logic of your choice.
Individualize the Act of Proofreading
In addition to following the suggestions above, individualizing your proofreading process to match weaknesses in your writing will help you correct errors more efficiently and effectively. For example, I still tend to make subject-verb agreement errors. Accept the fact that you likely won't be able to check for everything, so be introspective about what your typical problem areas are and look for each type of error individually. Here's how:
In general, verb tense should be in the following format, although variations can occur within the text of each section depending on the narrative style of your paper. Note that references to prior research mentioned anywhere in your paper should always be stated in the past tense.
Cogie, Jane, Kim Strain, and Sharon Lorinskas. "Avoiding the Proofreading Trap: The Value of the Error Correction Process." The Writing Center Journal 19 (Spring/Summer 1999): 7-32; Editing and Proofreading. The Writing Center. University of North Carolina; Editing and Proofreading Strategies. Writing@CSU. Colorado State University; Harris, Jeanette. "Proofreading: A Reading/Writing Skill." College Composition and Communication 38 (December 1987): 464-466; Lunsford, Andrea A. and Robert Connors. The St. Martin's Handbook. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1989; Madraso, Jan. "Proofreading: The Skill We've Neglected to Teach." The English Journal 82 (February 1993): 32-41; Proofreading. The Writer’s Handbook. Writing Center. University of Wisconsin, Madison; Proofreading. Department of English Writing Guide. George Mason University; Proofreading and Revising. Online Writing Center, Walden University; Proofreading a College Paper: Guidelines and Checklist. Troy University Library Tutorial; Revision: Cultivating a Critical Eye. Institute for Writing Rhetoric. Dartmouth College; Revision Guidelines. The Reading/Writing Center. Hunter College; Where Do I Begin? The Writing Lab and The OWL. Purdue University; Williams, Joseph M. and Lawrence McEnerney. Writing in College 3:A Strategy for Analyzing and Revising a First Draft. Writing Program, The University of Chicago.
Should you need help proofreading your paper, take advantage of the assistance offered by consultants at the USC Writing Center located on the second floor of Taper Hall, room 216. Consultations are free and they can help you with any aspect of the writing process. Walk-in help is provided when consultants are available, but you should schedule an appointment online because the Center gets very busy as the semester progresses. If you meet with a consultant be sure to bring a copy of your writing assignment, any relevant handouts or texts, and any outlines or drafts you've written. Also, the Center conducts helpful, fifty minute small-group writing skills workshops for students that cover a wide range of topics. These workshops provide an opportunity for you to improve your skills related to a particular aspect of writing that you may be struggling with.