Editing and Proofreading

Shelly Rodrigue

Student Learning Outcomes

  • Identify techniques of editing and proofreading
  • Modify an essay that has already been through the rough draft and revision processes

What Is Editing?

Editing is improving an essay by using various methods of revision. It can involve major and minor changes to an essay’s content, structure, or language. There are multiple stages to editing: content editing, line editing, copy editing, and proofreading.

In content editing, you can expect to make major changes to your work. Take an early draft of the essay and add or delete content as needed. Perhaps your thesis statement required revision, or you needed more substantial evidence to support your claims. Adjust your introduction, body paragraphs, and conclusion accordingly.

In line editing, you may need to rearrange words or phrases to make sure your meaning is clear. Some paragraphs may benefit from restructuring in order to create a sense of flow in the essay. Make sure each paragraph begins with a topic sentence, has supporting details to back up that topic sentence, and ends with a transitional sentence.

In copy editing, pay attention to each sentence’s grammar. Make sure there are no obvious critical errors such as sentence fragments or run-on sentences. Make sure that your tone and tense are consistent. Double-check your formatting to make sure it is styled appropriately (usually MLA, APA, or Chicago).

In proofreading, scan each sentence for misspelled words, incorrect punctuation, or stylistic inconsistencies (such as capitalization). At this point, you are combing through the essay for minor errors that may have been missed previously. This is the final stage in editing before submitting a final draft.

The Steps of Editing and Proofreading

After drafting an essay, it is time to begin editing and proofreading. Start with content editing first. Double-check the overall content and organization of the essay. The writing should be easy to follow and logically ordered. At this point, you may need to change the order of sentences or even move whole paragraphs to ensure the essay has a sense of flow. Make sure that the essay reflects your conceptual intent and responds appropriately to the writing prompt. It is a good idea to recheck the assignment guidelines and make sure that your essay has all of the required components. For example, if your instructor has asked for a five-paragraph essay with an introduction, three body paragraphs, and a conclusion, then you know you will need to add a paragraph if there are only four paragraphs in your essay. Now is also a good time to check the word count and page count of your essay. If the essay is too short or too long, then you will need to add or delete sections until it is the appropriate length. Be sure to apply any required formatting to the essay to easily see its length. Any big changes you need to make to your essay should be completed in this step of the editing process.

Once the biggest changes have been made, you can move on to line editing. In this stage of the editing process, you want to look at each paragraph individually, line by line. Check the word choice for syntactical errors. Be careful to avoid clichés. Make sure the language you use is both clear and precise and that the tone you use is appropriate for your topic. If you are writing an essay about a serious issue such as starving children, then you want to maintain a serious tone throughout the essay. It would not be a good idea to insert humor in such a topic. On the other hand, if you are writing an essay about the necessity of attending clown school, then jokes are more likely to be received well, as clowns are associated with entertainment. Now is also a good time to review the order of sentences in each paragraph. It is a good idea to make sure the paragraph has a topic sentence that clearly identifies what the paragraph will discuss and that each subsequent sentence supports that topic sentence. If you notice any sentences that veer off topic or don’t seem to make sense, then you can remove or revise them. Once the topic has been adequately discussed with supporting details, check to make sure there is a transitional sentence at the end of the paragraph. This will signal to readers that the discussion of this topic is complete while pointing readers onward to the next topic your essay will discuss.

Now that organizational issues have been addressed, it is time to begin copy editing. From here on out, your essay should not require any major changes, so it is a good idea to print the essay and mark additional edits with a pen or pencil. In this stage of the editing process, try to find any obvious grammatical errors such as sentence fragments, run-on sentences, and subjects and verbs that disagree. Double-check your spelling, punctuation, and capitalization. In formal essays, it is a good idea to avoid first-person pronouns, contractions, and colloquial language. Scan for these things as you read over your essay. Another issue that is easy to miss is changing verb tense. Make sure it is consistent. Some authors will accidentally switch back and forth between past and present tense. To avoid confusing your readers, pick a tense and stick with it, switching only when necessary (such as showing a shift in time). Likewise, if a sentence begins with a singular noun, then you should use a singular pronoun when referring to that noun, and if a sentence begins with a plural noun, then you should use a plural pronoun. A mistake students often make is to begin a sentence with a noun like “person” and then use “they” as its pronoun. “Person” implies one, whereas “they” implies more than one (unless someone specifically stated they/them are their preferred pronouns). To balance a sentence, use singular and plural nouns and pronouns consistently. One more element to address in this stage of editing is factual inconsistencies. Make sure the information you provide to readers is accurate. This step can be thought of as “fact-checking.” After all of these items have been checked, spend some time reviewing your formatting. If your instructor has requested MLA, APA, or Chicago format, then it is important to check that format’s most recent style guide.

The last step in the editing process is proofreading. The goal of proofreading is to go through the essay one last time searching for minor errors such as incorrect or missing punctuation, misspelled words, and stylistic inconsistencies (such as capitalizing words that are not proper nouns). While your computer’s grammar checker can help point out some errors, you should not rely on it to catch every potential error in your essay. You are your own best editor. However, after looking over your paper several times, your eyes can miss things. The following strategies may help you to catch errors you would have otherwise missed:

  • Read the essay aloud. Sometimes your ears will hear an error even if your eyes skip over it.
  • Read the essay backward, starting with the final sentence and ending with the first sentence. This will allow you to have a fresh perspective on your sentences.
  • Do an initial proofread of the essay, and then physically step away from it. Give yourself some time before you read over it again to give your eyes and your mind a break.
  • Have a friend or peer read over the essay to look for mistakes.
  • Visit your school’s writing center to help with finishing touches on the essay.

Your Turn

Think about your most recent writing assignment. Once the essay has been drafted and revised, begin the editing and proofreading processes. Take a break between each step in the process so you can approach each step after adequate rest. Keep a log in which you record your editing steps, along with the amount of time you spend on each step, that you can share with your instructor.

Key Terms

  • Content editing
  • Line editing
  • Copy editing
  • Proofreading


Editing and proofreading are two important steps in the writing process. Major edits should be done first, but it is still important to proofread for minor errors before submitting a final draft of an essay.

Reflective Response (Optional)

Now that you have practiced editing and proofreading, what mistakes do you notice yourself making? Which mistakes were easiest to fix? Which mistakes were the most challenging to fix?



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Writing Rhetorically: Framing First Year Writing Copyright © 2022 by Shelly Rodrigue is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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