6 tips for proofreading and editing your dissertation or thesis

| June 11, 2019

As you are probably aware, when you write something which is to be read by another person, it’s important that it is accurately written. Spelling mistakes look sloppy, grammar errors affect clarity and poor punctuation drops your grades. Yet all these problems can be rectified by making sure your thesis or dissertation is properly proofread before sending it off.

What is proofreading?

Proofreading is the act of checking the technical aspects of the writing you do. It isn’t just reading through when you have finished, it’s a much more specific audit of your writing. What’s included in your proofreading can differ depending on the work you are doing. Here’s a list of some of the most important things you need to check for:

  • Spelling
  • Punctuation
  • Grammar
  • Factual accuracy
  • Consistency of style and tone
  • Coherence and structure

In addition, your thesis/dissertation also needs to be checked for other purposes, for example:

  • Meeting the style required by your university
  • Agreement with a referencing style – e.g. Harvard
  • Appropriateness of vocabulary for audience
  • Ensuring the piece contains all the elements needed for its form (e.g.  the different elements needed in the thesis/dissertation structure)  

One of the difficulties with proofreading is that it’s easy to miss mistakes. Research has shown that the brain works at such a speed that it only needs to see a few letters to create the entire word in our minds. That means even if a mistake is there your brain might not notice it.

This, obviously, isn’t much good when you proofread, so you need to train your brain to read in a different way when looking for mistakes. Here are some tips to help.

1. Know your weaknesses

One of the best ways to proofread is to make a list of the most likely mistakes you will make before you start to check. So, if apostrophes are not your strong point, make sure that you do one proofread completely focussed on spotting apostrophe errors. Repeat this for any other errors which you know you often make. This way, when you come to a more general proofread, you’ll have already amended most of the mistakes.

2. Proofread several times

When you first read your work, you’ll be focused on the content. From the second read onwards, you’ll start to pay less attention to understanding the information and will be able to concentrate on the technical aspects of the writing. Each time you repeat the reading your focus on accuracy will intensify so that eventually you’ll spot more and more mistakes. 

3. Proofread the sentences in reverse order

Reading the sentences in reverse order is an odd way to proofread a text but by using this approach you prevent yourself from concentrating on the meaning of the writing and free yourself to look at the technical accuracy.

Another benefit of choosing this method is that it is a great way to ensure each sentence makes complete sense on its own. If a sentence doesn’t make sense on its own then, technically, it isn’t a sentence – and this can often help you with your punctuation.

4. Save the proofreading for later

The worst time to proofread is straight after you have finished writing. If you’ve been working hard on the writing for a few hours, it’s quite likely that your concentration is not at its best and that you lack the patience good proofreading requires.

Leaving it until the next day means you will be able to look at it with a fresh pair of eyes and this often makes it much easier to spot the mistakes that your frazzled mind would have missed the day before. 

5. Get a second opinion

Different people read texts in different ways and often a friend or colleague can spot a mistake that you have missed over and over again. The best person to ask for help is someone who the text is aimed at. So, if you have written a leaflet aimed at parents, get a friend who is a parent to help – this way you can also ensure that the style and vocabulary are suitable and that the piece works for your intended audience.

If the writing you are doing is for an extremely important purpose, as is the case for your dissertation or thesis, then using the services of a professional proofreader might be a preferable option in order to ensure that the work is completely free of errors. There are many dissertation/thesis editing services online. For example:

Sibia Proofreading

Cambridge Proofreading LLC


Quality Proofreading

6. Proofread the entire text

One of the common proofreading errors made by many writers is to unconsciously focus only on the body of the text. It’s an easy mistake to do. For this reason, make sure you do one specific proofread that looks only at the following:

  • Title
  • Headings and subheadings
  • Bullet points
  • Footnotes
  • Bibliographies
  • Captions
  • Numbered Lists (including the number sequence)


From reading this article, you should now have a clearer understanding of how proofreading differs from rereading and you will know that proofreading is done to ensure that the writing is technically accurate. In addition, you will also be aware of the different technical aspects which need to be checked when editing your dissertation or thesis and the range of techniques you can use to improve the way you check your work.

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