Proofreading is the final check you give your work before submission and involves scrutiny of your writing for consistency, completeness and accuracy (Day, 2018). This is also a final point for you to confirm that you have met all of the criteria in your assignment brief and answered the essay question to the best of your ability. A proofread is most effective when you have not looked at your writing for a day or two, and when it is read aloud.



Homophones are words that sound the same but have different meanings and spellings. The trouble with homophones is that they aren’t picked up with a word processing spell-checker; as these can check what you write, not what you intended to write (Billingham, 2002). Therefore, you will have to be vigilant in looking for them, so they don’t alter the intended meaning of your writing. Here are some common homophones* to look out for in your work:

compliment Admire or praise complement Something that completes or fits with something else
I complimented her on the dress she wore. The dress she wore complemented her shoes.
affect Verb, to impact or change effect Noun, the result of impact or change
The results were affected by the research environment. The research environment had an effect on the results.
accept Agree or receive something offered except To exclude something or an exception to a norm
The tribe accepted the child despite their city upbringing. All members of the tribe had similar scores, except the child from the city.
allude Refer to something indirectly or briefly elude To avoid something or fail to be understood
The researcher alludes to indicative statistics, but no full interpretation is given. When asked about climate change by a member of the audience, the minister eluded the question.
principal Most important principle Rules, beliefs and general laws about systems or behaviour
The principal aspect of Bowlby’s work was the mother-child relationship. The principles of attachment theory are clearly set out.
practice The application or an idea or method (noun) practise The application or an idea or method (verb)
The practice of interviewing requires consistency and accuracy. The method was practised in a pilot study, so amendments could be made if necessary.
revue A theatrical show with short sketches, songs and dances review A formal or critical assessment of something to make changes, reconsider or recommend
Comics and revue singers are also included in the article. The theory must be reviewed in the context of modern parent attachments.
stationary Not moving or changing stationery Paper and other materials needed for writing
The cars were stationary; traffic had come to a standstill. There was no more paper available, so the employee placed a stationery order.
weather The state of atmosphere; wear away over a period whether Expressing doubt or choice between alternatives
After years spent in a damp storage unit, the furniture was weathered and worn. The choice of job depends on whether the pay is commensurate to the requirements of the post.

*All definitions are based on the Oxford English Dictionary (2008)


Word processors on campus are automatically set to English (United Kingdom). However, your computer at home might not be, so you can’t rely on spell checker to make sure you haven’t used American-English. Here are some common spelling features to be aware of, but please note that some words in both variations have irregular spellings.

American-English British-English

Words that end in -er

­center, theatre, meter, somber

Words that end in -re

centre, theatre, metre, sombre

Words that end in -og

dialog, catalog, analog

Words that end in -ogue

dialogue, catalogue, analogue

Words with L endings do not double

traveler, modeling, fueled

Words with L endings double

traveller, modelling, fuelled

ae and oe change to ‘e’

encylcopedia, estrogen, pediatric

ae and oe kept

encyclopaedia, oestrogen, paediatric

Words that end in -ize

formalize, apologize, criticize

Words that end in -ise

formalise, apologise, criticise

Words that end in -or

color, favor, behavior

Words that end in -our

colour, favour, behaviour

Further reading: Spellzone. (2019). Differences between British English and American English spelling. Retrieved from


*Please note that all mistakes in these titles are deliberate ?

Sneaky apostrophe’s

Apostrophes are commonly used in error by even the most experienced writers. An apostrophe should be used to indicate ownership or be used in a contraction. However, contractions are not typically used in academic writing, so where possible, always use the fuller form. Possessive apostrophes should be used in academic writing as follows:

Ending in s

Singular possessive

Add apostrophe only after the noun

Dickens’ novel was …

Plural possessive

The researchers’ study…

Not ending in s

Singular possessive

Add apostrophe + s after the noun

The planet’s atmosphere…

Plural possessive

The children’s ambassador…

Joint possession

Add apostrophe + s after the final noun

Burton and Smith’s research…


Look out for It’s and Its: This is one distinction that trips up every writer! These two spellings have different meanings and will not be picked up by a spell-checker if used incorrectly. It’s is the contracted form of it is or it has, for example: It’s been a long day. In true irregular English style, Its is the possessive form, for example, The research has its merits and disadvantages.

Further reading: Ross, B. (2019). Apostrophe rules. Retrieved from

Comma and comma and comma

The comma is a useful piece of punctuation that can be used for various reasons. They can be used stylistically so not all uses are wrong, but there are some instances where a comma is absolutely required. If you have lots of commas in a single sentence, reconsider the structure!

  1. Separating items in a list e. The study required participants who were female, aged 60 and over, consumed 2 or more units of alcohol per week and had a history of heart disease.
  2. Marking an introductory word or phrase from the rest of the sentence e. In contrast, females over the age of 60 tend to consume more units of alcohol per week than younger females.
  3. Two complete sentences are joined together using conjunctions such as and, or, but i.e. The researcher found two anomalies in the results, yet he does not explain them further.
  4. To mark the beginning and end of additional information. In academic writing, this is used in place of brackets e. Freud’s theory, although dismissed by many, still has relevance in modern psychotherapy.

Look out for comma splices. A comma splice is when a comma is used to separate two syntactically complete sentences i.e. The readings were compiled by the course leader, the additional material was collated by the trainee teacher. Often, these sentences can be resolved by replacing the comma for a semi-colon, or inserting a conjunction i.e.

The readings were compiled by the course leader; the additional material was collated by the trainee teacher.

The readings were compiled by the course leader, and the additional material was collated by the trainee teacher.

Further reading: ‘That’ll do, Comma’ in Truss, L. (2009). Eats, shoots & leaves: The zero tolerance approach to punctuation. London, UK: Fourth Estate.

It really isn’t that exciting!!!

Exclamation marks don’t have a place in academic writing, unless you are including them as part of a direct quote. Academic writing relies on sentence-craft and the development of arguments to draw emphasis on points and persuade the reader.

Do you think an essay is the place to ask a question?

Typically, asking questions in your essays is not academic in style. There is no need to ‘break the fourth wall’ in your writing and ask a question of your reader. After all, the focus should be on your ability as a writer to answer and allay any questions that might arise as part of your argument.

See more: The Essay Writer’s Guide to Punctuation

Useful sources for proofreading