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What is Proofreading? A Handy Guide for Researchers 

If you want an error-free research paper, proofreading is a crucial step. Proofreading ensures that your text is correct, consistent, and polished, thereby making your paper more readable. But what exactly is proofreading? And what does a proofreader do? In this blogpost, we’ll take a look at what proofreading entails, list out effective strategies for proofreading research papers, and identify the best stage during the publication process for proofreading your paper. 

What is Proofreading?  

Proofreading involves a close and detailed check of your research paper to identify and correct errors in grammar, punctuation, spelling, consistency, and formatting. Proofreading goes beyond a software-based spell check, and is essential for making your writing look professional and polished. 

Proofreading Example 

Let’s take a look at what kind of changes a proofreader makes to a research paper: 


This literature review examine the effectiveness of teaching mindfulness to nursing students. We searched the CINAHL, Pubmed, and Scopus databases. In total, 15 articles met the eligitibility criteria and were subjected to constant comparative analysis.  

Proofread version: 

This literature review examines the effectiveness of teaching mindfulness to nursing students. We searched the CINAHL, PubMed, and Scopus databases. In total, 15 articles met the eligibility criteria and were subjected to constant comparative analysis.  

What is the difference between proofreading and editing? 

Proofreading focuses on correcting basic mistakes like spelling, punctuation, and grammar errors. Editing, on the other hand, can involve more substantive changes to the paper. For instance, an editor focuses on making the text clearer, more readable, and suitable for the target audience. Besides checking for awkward or non-native constructions, an editor may modify the structure and organization of your paper, and suggest revisions to express your arguments more clearly and effectively. 

What is the difference between proofreading and revising? 

As mentioned above, proofreading is about a final polish to the language and presentation of the paper. In contrast, revising is about the intellectual content of the paper; when you’re revising a paper, you are making changes to data, citations and references used, and your arguments or interpretation of your data/existing literature.  

Different types of proofreading 

Different types of documents require different proofreading styles.  

  • Academic proofreading: This is meant for journal articles, as well as academic books, book chapters, and theses. 
  • Translation proofreading: Professional translation services often proofread a translated version before delivering it to the client. This may or may not be done by a bilingual expert.  
  • Legal proofreading: This is done by proofreaders with legal expertise, for all types of legal documentation. 
  • Business proofreading: Proofreaders specialize in all kinds of business documentation, including financial documentation. 
  • Pharma proofreading: This is a specialized service for the pharma industry, including various regulatory and R&D documentation.  

What are proofreaders’ marks? 

Earlier, proofreading was done by hand, especially for the typeset versions of books, journals, and magazines. Proofreaders evolved a set of annotations (proofreaders’ marks) to communicate changes clearly and efficiently. For example, “#” meant “insert space” and “¶” meant “begin a new paragraph”. Now, proofreading is mostly carried out in MS Word using Track Changes or on PDF files using specific annotation software. Therefore, proofreaders’ marks are often considered obsolete.  

Why is proofreading important? 

Imagine that you’re meeting a prospective employee or student for the first time. No matter how impressive their CV is or how well they speak, you’re not going to have a good impression of them if their shirt is stained and they’ve food stuck in their teeth. The same applies to any journal editor or peer reviewer who is looking at your research paper. Typos and inconsistencies make a paper look sloppy and careless, no matter how sound and robust the research is. This is why it’s important to proofread your paper carefully before submission or resubmission to a journal.  

What does a proofreader do? 

A proofreader conducts a thorough, line-by-line review of a text to address all grammatical errors, spelling mistakes, inconsistencies, and punctuation errors. Proofreaders also examine tables and figures for the above, and may review citations and references for internal consistency. Some proofreaders may also check adherence to a particular style guide (e.g., APA, MLA) or journal guidelines.  

If you’re thinking about a career in proofreading, you need strong language skills, attention to detail, knowledge of English grammar rules, and ability to work with close deadlines.  

Proofreading Tips and Tricks 

Yes, you know it’s important to proofread. But sometimes, you just can’t spot errors, even if you’ve looked at the text 100 times. How do you make your proofreading effective? Here are some tips:  

  1. Take a Break: Before you start proofreading, take a break from the manuscript to approach it with fresh eyes. You’ll be more adept at catching inconsistencies and identifying areas for improvement. 

Pro Tip: Always proofread your abstract last. You’ll be able to spot inconsistencies with the main text.  

  1. Use Tools Wisely: While you can’t skip a manual check, you can also make use of technological aids like grammar checkers and spell-checking software to catch surface-level mistakes efficiently. However, these tools may not be able to deal with technical terminology (e.g., gene or protein names) or could suggest incorrect revisions (such as “Turkey’s test” instead of “Tukey’s test”). 

  1. Read Aloud: Reading the paper aloud can help you spot errors in pluralization, punctuation, etc. You can also try reading the paper backwards, one sentence at a time, so that you aren’t tempted to skim over or skip portions.  

  1. Focus on One Aspect at a Time: Divide the proofreading process into manageable tasks focusing on different aspects such as grammar and punctuation, formatting, and data consistency.  

Pro Tip: Follow an established style guide or keep notes on how you handle abbreviations, units of measure, etc. This will ensure consistent presentation (e.g., “hr” vs “h” for “hour”).  

  1. Pay Attention to Detail: Review each sentence carefully for typos, grammatical errors, and punctuation mistakes. Also, cross-check the completeness and accuracy of citations, references, and data presented in the paper. 

Pro Tip: If you have figures and tables in your research paper, always check for consistency between figures/tables and the main text, especially for numerical data.  

  1. Collaborate: Ask a friend or colleague to help you proofread, or use a professional language editing service to gain fresh perspectives on the paper. External input can help in identifying blind spots and improving the overall quality of the manuscript. 

  1. Repeat the Process: Proofreading is an iterative process. After making revisions based on initial proofreading, revisit the document multiple times to ensure that all errors have been rectified and the content is polished to perfection. 

Proofreading tips for PhD students 

If you’re working on your thesis, you might find proofreading especially challenging, given the length and complexity of a thesis. Here are some strategies you could use: 

  1. Use a style guide: Stick to a style guide prescribed by your institution or a widely accepted one in your field (e.g., APA). This will help you make sure citations, references, headings, and subheadings are internally consistent. 

  1. Set aside enough time for proofreading: Theses can be very lengthy and difficult to proofread in a single day. If you proofread for too long at a stretch, you risk getting fatigued and overlooking errors. 

  1. Proofread parts at a time: Again, you can spend some time checking only your headings and subheadings, or only your figures and tables. This will help you spot inconsistencies in style and format.  

  1. Researchers nowadays have a variety of AI-based and other tools to assist them. However, opt for tools built specifically for academic writing, so that the tool is familiar with technical terms and conventions in your field. You don’t want a tool that suggests changing “vas deferens” to “vast difference”! 

  1. Utilize a professional proofreading service: You might think that professional academic editing services (e.g., Editage) are beyond your budget. But many services are willing to provide customized quotes for theses and work within your budget. These companies are aware that PhD students are under tight budget constraints. Approach one and you’ll be surprised at how much flexibility such a company can offer you as a PhD student.  

Choosing a proofreading service 

A quick Google search will give you dozens of proofreading or editing services to choose from. How can you find the one that best meets your needs? Here’s what you need to consider: 

1. Reputation & Experience: Your research paper or thesis represents months or even years of hard work and burning the midnight oil. Always entrust it to a qualified editor or proofreader. That person should not just have strong English skills but also be aware of field-specific terminology and conventions. Otherwise, there’s a risk of them introducing errors in the paper (e.g., by using “ilium” instead of “ileum”).  

2. Price: It goes without saying that proofreading costs need to fit within your budget. The good news is that reputable proofreading services offer reasonable prices and flexible payment options. Set aside time for proofreading in your publication planning (remember that if you require high-speed turnaround times, you might end up paying a premium).  

3. Turnaround time: You may be under a tight deadline to submit your work and also encounter unexpected delays while preparing your manuscript. Look for service providers that have a wide range of turnaround times, so that you can account for any emergencies.  

4. Post-proofreading support: A good proofreading service should be willing to answer any queries you have about their changes and justify why a particular change is needed.  

5. Ease of communication: It’s best to look for a service provider that offers a wide range of communication channels 24*7: email, chat, etc. That way, you can get support and assistance whenever you need it. 

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