Here is a trick to help you proofread better:

  • Take a post-it or index card. Fold in half, and  on the fold cut a rectangle 1 inch by 1/4 inch.
  • Open up, and use this rectangle to help you proofread.
  • Continuity keeps us from proofreading well.  We know what should come next, so that is what we see, instead of what is really there.
  • When you drag your post-it with the rectangle across your paper, you break continuity.
  • Once you have broken continuity, you will see typos, missing words, etc. that you missed before.

Your readers will thank you!

College students are often confused about what it means to “revise” a paper. Catharine Wright explains the difference between revision, editing and proofreading.

Revision means “re-visioning” your paper. It is “big picture” work. Step back and ask yourself: does the paper you wrote respond directly to the assignment and its audience, answer the questions that were posed? Is the argument clear? Is it sufficiently complex? Check to see if any of the ideas need to be developed, and if you’ve articulated the relationships among ideas. See if you need to add further evidence or support. Revision can require adding material, taking material away, working with the big strokes of the paper. It might involve changing the order of paragraphs and re-crafting topic sentences/transitions. It may demand re-drafting the introduction and checking the conclusion to see what should be brought up to the front of the paper. All of this is when you “re-vision” your paper.

Editing: People often refer to all stages of revision as “editing,” but editing is what you do after you revise. Editing involves crafting with a fine tool, and it leads to style and coherence. Here is where you consider your paper as a writer/artist. Try reading your paper aloud, slowly, in parts. Is the voice clear and confident? Is there a sense of rhythm and flow in each paragraph, each sentence? Do the sentences connect up with one another like well-constructed joints? Editing is when you correct any awkwardness that may have occurred in the initial drafting or in revision (revision can be very helpful to the big picture but create problems within paragraphs, for example). While editing is also a good time to check the clarity of your title and the accuracy of your reference or works cited page(s). Careful editing is critical to a polished, well written paper.

Proofreading: Proofreading comes last and consists of a final sweep through your paper with an eye for errors. When proofreading you make your final check for errors in sentence structure, grammar, verb tense and punctuation. You also look for mistakes in spelling, use of quotations, citation details, etc. Look not just for the tricky mistakes but also for any typos. It is important to check that your name is on your essay and it is desirable to number your pages or include a word count. This is the final read-through of your paper, your last chance to impress your reader and show your commitment to your work. Reading aloud at this stage or any other stage of the revision process can help you focus more carefully on your work.

Catharine Wright for the Writing Program and Center for Teaching, Learning and Research

Middlebury College, 2010


To help aid coherence,* organize most of your sentences as

  • First, look back :
    • <–<–<–<–< At the BEGINNING of a sentence, place older, less important, less difficult information.
  • Last, look ahead:
    • Place newer, more important, more difficult information at the END of the sentence. –>–>–>–>


Sherman has imitated his father’s behaviors throughout the novel,


and in this scene, he serves as a reflection of his father (Middlebury College student ’06).



*For more information on coherence and other elements of writing style, see:


Williams, Joseph M. Style. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1990.



To explore creative ways of writing sentences, download these examples:

20 SentencePatterns

Sentence Variety

Run-ons, Comma Splices, and Fused Sentences are some of the most common grammatical errors that students make in their papers. Purdue’s OWL site gives a great explanation of these errors.

Join sentences (independent clauses) with a semicolon (;) or with a coordinating conjunction AND a comma. If you leave out the coordinating conjunction, you have a comma splice.  If you leave out the comma, you have a run-on sentence.

Luckily, there are only seven coordinating conjunctions to remember:

  • and
  • or
  • but
  • for
  • nor
  • so
  • yet

Note:  a comma AND a coordinating conjunction join each of the following compound sentences:

I went swimming, and John went swimming, too.

We could go to the beach, or we could go to the mountains.

I miss having a cat, but I don’t mind not having a litter box.

We should bring Paul on the trip, for he can read maps really well.

Neither of us can sing, nor can we dance.

I have made up these sentences, so you will learn to punctuate correctly.

You may not have know about coordinating conjunctions before, yet I hope you will not forget them now.

Final Details

•    Title: Create a good title for your paper. Your title should give your reader a clue about the main idea of your paper. The name of the book is the author’s title not yours.
•    Do not forget to have your name on your paper. Obvious, but some students really do forget.
•    Learn how to number your pages. Hint: check out the “Insert” menu in MSWord.

Style Tips

Avoid the following. They weigh down your paper, and make it tedious to read. Use strong, vital verbs, and specific, precise examples to bolster your points.

•    Code Words (important, significant, etc.) allow you to avoid making a specific point.
•    “Be” verbs (am, is, are, was, were, be, being, been) prevent you from using strong, active verbs that liven your writing.
•    Passive voice (has been noted) keeps you from taking responsibility for your arguments.
•    Nominalizations (“investigation” rather than ”investigate”) weigh down your paper and encourage professorial naps.

Paragraph Formation

September 8, 2008 | 2 Comments


Each body paragraph should make a point (preferably in its topic sentence).

That point should be followed by specific evidence that proves it

and by analysis that augments the point and its evidence.

(POINT/Topic Sentence) A third characteristic of the bond between Jane and Elizabeth that has implications for their relationships with their future husbands deals with the concern that each has for the well-being and happiness of the other. (Evidence) Towards the very beginning of the novel, Elizabeth discovers that Jane has taken ill and, “feeling really anxious, was determined to go to her”(22). Furthermore, later when Mr. Bingley’s departure from Netherfield threatens Jane’s happiness, Elizabeth can “think of nothing else”(90). By completely putting aside her own welfare and concerns in favor of Jane’s, Elizabeth demonstrates her selfless love for her sister. The miniseries portrays this visually through Elizabeth’s expressions of concern and sympathy when she speaks to Jane about Bingley and when she reads Jane’s letter from London in which Jane reports that the Bingley sisters snubbed her. Jane also concerns herself much with Elizabeth and making sure her happiness is secured. Towards the conclusion of the novel when Elizabeth tells Jane of her engagement with Darcy, Jane reacts by questioning her in order to make sure that her choice of spouse will make her content. Jane asks, “’And do you really love him quite well enough? Oh, Lizzy! Do any thing rather than marry without affection. Are you quite sure that you feel what you ought to do?’”(244). Jane’s needing an assurance from Elizabeth that she will in fact find happiness in the situation she has chosen for herself illustrates a real and sincere anxiety about Elizabeth having a partner in life who will give her what she deserves. (Analysis) The selfless concern that these two sisters feel for one another will translate into their relationships with their husbands. It is in Jane and Elizabeth’s nature to give themselves wholly to respected and beloved friends and feel their pains and disappointments as if they were their own. Thus, the intimate and loving bond that the sisters will share with their spouses will cause them to put aside their own worries and devote themselves completely to their husbands.

Middlebury College student, Class of 2005

  1. Choose a Topic. What is a Topic?
  2. Define a PROBLEM within your topic. How?
  3. Explore/ Analyze the PROBLEM. How?
  4. Create a Thesis Statement. What is a Thesis Statement?
  5. Find evidence that supports the Thesis Statement.
  6. Organize your writing around your Thesis Statement. How?

Using a thesis statement

September 8, 2008 | 3 Comments

Write fully developed papers with sound thesis statements at the end of the first paragraph (in a short paper). Each of the following paragraphs in the paper should have a good topic sentence, examples and development, and a good concluding sentence. Aim for about a half page typed or more for each paragraph. Use carefully placed quotations in your paragraphs, and correctly cite your quotations.

To develop a sound Thesis Statement, read the following:

  1. Your Thesis Statement should summarize the main idea of your paper.
  2. It is the nut from which your paper grows, the engine that drives your paper.
  3. Place it as the last sentence in your introductory paragraph.

Functions of the Thesis Statement:

  1. establishes a boundary around the subject that keeps the writer from wandering from the subject–about this–not about that.
  2. can chart an orderly course for the paper and make it easier to write–not just about this–but HOW it is –about this.
  3. gives the reader an idea of what to expect, makes it easier for the reader to follow.

Rules for the thesis statement:

1. The Thesis Statement should commit the writer to a single line of argument.
2. The Thesis Statement should predict major divisions in the structure of the paper.
3. The Thesis Statement should be clear, direct and concise.

Misplaced modifiers and dangling participles are among the most common writing errors that plague first-year college students. Watch this on-line workshop to learn more or download this pdf: Pesky Participles If there is nothing for the modifier/participle to refer to, it dangles. If there is something to refer to but it is too far away, it is misplaced. Because the participle works like an adjective, it has to modify a noun, pronoun, gerund, or noun phrase. The participle (which is half-verb and half-adjective) cannot refer to a verb.

I’ve thought long and hard about why modifiers/participles are such a big problem for students, and this is what I’ve come up with. We are programmed to be meaning makers and story tellers, so our DNA almost compels us to seal the deal with a verb as soon as possible–even if that verb does not contain the most important thought. Then, somewhere mid-sentence comes the better, more nuanced thought, but we’ve used up our verb spot already, thus comes the participle, the verb wanna-be.  I try to teach my students to let the syntax of the sentence carry the meaning and to make the most important idea have a complete verb in an independent clause.

For more information, check out these sites:

Integrating Quotations

Integrate quotations smoothly in your paper by:

  • Proper set-up and introduction before the quotation, and by
  • Skillful analysis or further pertinent discussion after the quotation

Examples from Middlebury College first-year students:

Repelled by the ostentation of the performances of Mary, the Bingleys and Lady Catherine, Darcy seeks an alternative to artificiality in a haughty, distant air. Austen introduces us to him as “the proudest, most disagreeable man in the world”(12) who spends an entire ball, not dancing but rather “walking about the room”(12). In the film, Darcy’s glowering expression and deliberate movements contrast perfectly with the happy looks and lively actions of f the dancers. Yet despite his bad manners, Darcy has no really serious characters flaws.

The different eras in which the novel was written and the films were produced causes a significant alteration in the destiny of the relationship between Harriet and Emma. In the novel, Austen allows the friendship between Harriet and Emma to wither away, as “the intimacy between [them] must sink; their friendship must change into a calmer sort of goodwill” (312). Harriet and Emma come from such different backgrounds that neither Austen nor her contemporaries would doubt the wisdom in returning from friends to friendly. This kind of snobbery would appall modern day audiences, and therefore both the A&E (although less enthusiastically) and the Miramax films uphold the friendship between the two girls by including reconciliation scenes.

Both physical and mental survival for children of poverty becomes an issue of great concern. Frank McCourt loses three siblings to illnesses that could have been easily cured. However, with lack of money, comes lack of medical care, and with that comes illnesses and even death. In an article from the London Times discussing the death toll of children in Russia, Anna Blundy relates a story of a 30 year old woman and the condition of her children at childbirth as a result of not getting medical assistance:“I can’t get into hospital to give birth. . . The babies were small because I hadn’t been eating properly and they died”(Blundy 2). It is simple to blame the malnourishment for the death of her children, but one must not forget the fact that this lady could not get to a hospital either. Doctors are expensive, and if one cannot pay with cash, then the only other choice left is to pay with one’s own life. The images McCourt provides his readers of the waiting process to see a doctor free of charge is unforgettable. Not only is the waiting room small, but everyone in need of free medical attention wait in the same small room. It would not be surprising if someone who entered the waiting room with a common cold would leave it with the consumption or an illness passed on in the waiting room.

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