Your last task may seem trivial, but for a good many of your professors, it will determine whether they judge you to be a careful, thoughtful, and mature writer, or sloppy, careless, and thoughtless. You have to proofread your paper to be certain that you have no spelling errors, that your grammar is acceptable, the sentences are correctly punctuated, and your paper is in the right format.
At least run your spell-checker. Put your paper aside for an hour or so, then return to it to catch the kinds of errors that spell-checkers can’t find: wrong words, sentence fragments, mish-mashes of sentences and paragraphs that you created when you were deleting, cutting, and pasting. Do your subjects and verbs agree? Perform global searches for these sorts of words and be certain that you are using them correctly: there/their/they’re, its/it’s, your/you’re, affect/effect, etc. You might consider reading your paper line by line, starting at the last sentence of the paper. Here, you are reading not so much for meaning, but simply for correctness. If you find this too cumbersome, you can print out a copy of your paper and with another sheet of paper, cover everything except the first line. Then read the paper sentence by sentence, moving that sheet down the page. In addition to seeking out errors, ask yourself: “Judging by what I say in this sentence, what will readers expect to happen in the subsequent sentence, and does the subsequent sentence meet that expectation?” This is a test for coherence and cohesion. Each sentence prepares for the sentence to follow as it links back to what’s been said just before. If one sentence doesn’t logically follow another, do you need to supply cohesion markers (for example, to put this differently, as a contrast, to illustrate, etc.) Or, do you need to revise in a more substantive way, or change the progression of sentences? Would it be useful to add section headings to signal your changes in topic or focus? A list of terms that assist in cohesion can be found here.
Have someone else (a roommate, classmate, or friend) read your paper. It is not dishonest to ask a friend to read over a paper to catch typos and so on. We all do it.
- Pick a standard font, either a serif or sans serif style (your professor may prefer one or the other). For many years, academics assumed that serif fonts were more readable than sans serif fonts. That is an erroneous assertion; to date, no research on readability leans in that direction. You should definitely steer clear of spiffy fonts or bizarre fonts. Times New Roman (serif) or Calibri (sans serif) are the contemporary standards for printed academic work.
- Use a 12 point or 10 point font.
- 1 inch margins all the way around.
- Do not attempt to reach a recommended page length by making the font larger or smaller. This does nothing to conceal the real length of your paper, and it is likely to make your work harder to read.
- If you have inserted graphics or images into your paper, have you chosen the best way to display them (with text wrapped around them? with captions? placed in an appendix?)
- Use either the top or bottom headers to insert your last name and page number. (Go to the “Insert/Page Number” tab in Microsoft Word.
- On the first page, in the upper right-hand corner, put your name, the date, the course title, and the name of your instructor.
- Check to insure that all summaries and paraphrases of others’ work, and all direct quotations from source texts are cited with the appropriate information, and each is included in your list of works cited.
- Include a note of “Acknowledgement” either as a first footnote, placed after the first sentence, or as a separate note after your concluding paragraph. The note might read something like this: “I wish to thank Mary Ann McKay for her insights about XXX, and William Thornton for his suggestion that I further investigate YYY. My Review Team members (Mark Singleton, Patti Luckenberg, and Phil Sidell) provided smart feedback all the way around.”
- If your professor requires you to turn in a hard copy of your paper, staple the pages together.
- Be sure that you have backed up your file.