last-minute proofing – 12 things to look for

The last stages of handing in a thesis or book can be very trying.  It’s taken you an age to get to the point where this big hefty manuscript is as ready as it’s going to be. Well just about. You really want to press that send button and get rid of it. But… always with the but. 

Proofing. There are often last minute proofing – formatting and consistency – checks to do. Proofing may even be necessary after you’ve checked for missing references, repeated words and phrases and unnecessarily klutzy sentences. But at the end of a long haul, proofing is generally the absolute last thing that you feel like doing. But it has to be done.

Examiners and publishers get pretty irritated by carelessly checked texts. Sometimes publishers even send them back. And irritated thesis examiners – aargh, no, no – will certainly ask for corrections. But they might also approach all of your text with a dim view of your scholarship, and you want to avoid this. 

So here’s a little list of proofing issues that need a very last minute look. This is just a beginning I’m afraid, but the listicle will help you to search for some common causes of inconsistency in your wodge of pages.

  1. References 

Trust me when I say that examiners look at references and copy editors certainly check them all – and they will ask you about anything missing or incorrect.  If you don’t have to follow a particular referencing style, the big question is which style you will choose and whether what you do is consistent. 

Hop over to your reference list and check that your use of capital letters is consistent. How are the capitals in titles of chapters and journal articles? 

While you’re doing this, you might also look for missing page numbers and publisher locations. And before you leave the references, do have a look at the way in which you report works by the same author – do you repeat the author’s name or use a dash?

And just before you go, just check what you do after a colon – do you use capitals or not? As in I am here: Not there versus I am here: not there.  

2. Linking

In big manuscripts you often refer in one chapter to other chapters. Linking helps jogs readers’ minds so they can go back to the relevant bit if they want to. And you don’t have to repeat yourself at length. 

But it takes a long time to write a big book and you may have changed the order and numbers since you started. So you need to check that all of those I address this in more detail in Ch. X (or p.) are still right. And of course, do you say See Chapter One, See Ch. 1 or some other combination? And do you put this instruction/reminder in brackets or not? 

3. Spelling

A big one. If you’re writing in English, are you using British or American spelling? The most common word processing programmes usually default to the American. You can check these fairly easily using a search function. Look for ise/izeour/or for starters. 

4. Numbering figures and sections

The key thing here is to ask yourself whether your system is systematic? Is your numbering consistent from chapter to chapter? 

And what do you call the stuff in boxes – are they all figures or are some images or tables or something else – and is this consistent? 

Have your figures all got a useful heading ( the most common convention)? That’s one thing – but have you anchored all the whatever-you-call-them back into a relevant place in the text? Should you? (Lots of people get annoyed about floating images and diagrammes.) 

5. Quotation marks

When do you use double and single quotation marks? Look at what you’ve done with direct quotes from literature, quotes from people and scare quotes. Have you done the same thing all the way through? 

Where do you put quotation marks in relation to full stops – inside or outside? – “It was hot.” or “It was hot”. Getting quotation marks sorted can be a time-consuming job.

6. Spaces

Spacing is one of those things that people notice if it shifts around without apparent rhyme or reason. Do you use consistent spacing between sections and lists? Do you use a double space or single space between sentences? Do you put a space around dashes or not?

7. Commas 

Some people really use a lot of commas. Others don’t. Some people insist on there being correct ways to use commas, but in the UK publishers and examiners are generally a bit more relaxed about what you can do. As long as you are consistent. So think… are you a fan of the Oxford comma – this, that, and the rest – or not – this, that and the rest.

8. Lists

Some of us like a good list, as in this. But do you put stops at the end of each item in a list or not? Do you start each item in a list with a capital letter or not?

9. Stops

We’re not done yet. Is your use of stops in acronyms consistent? (U.K. or UK) How about with names in your reference list – M K Fish, M.K. Fish, MK Fish… ? And do you always use three stops as in … or something else?

10. Abbreviations

And the pesky abbrevations. Do you follow common conventions with abbreviated Latin terms – e.g., etc. ? Some referencing  styles are very particular about abbreviations, not that I’m looking at you APA.  So you may need to check the rules you’re meant to follow. 

And it might be a good idea to check its and it’s while you’re at it. and perhaps there, they’re, their and there. 

11. Numbers

The list goes on. Yes, I know it seems to be unending. Do you use words or numerals to report numbers? The usual English convention is words from one to ten and then numerals from 11 onwards. But do you use a different convention- if so, what? 

How do you report percentages- as percent, per cent or %? And would you ever say ten%? How do you report number spans – maximum 135-136 or minimum 135-6

12. Dates

Wait there’s still more. But we are nearly done. How are you reporting dates – 24/06/2022, 22 June 2022, 06/22/22 or something else?  Don’t forget to check how you’ve written dates for conference papers and media clips in your reference list. 

And – Fonts

Yes one more. I just didn’t want to have 13 in the list, so its a baker’s dozen. But really, you do need to check the heading fonts and font sizes and whether you have the hierarchies of type and sizes right. Also if you are using coloured headings and fonts, check that the pattern is obvious. You might be using a pre-set template, but it’s always worth checking.

Now… I do think that’s enough for now.

it’s actually a pretty good idea to take a list like this one and work out what you actually want your text to be, before you start proofing. Then you can read your manuscript against your own checklist to see what and where you need to apply a quick fix. 

And a confession. Dealing with proofing is my least favourite writing activity. But it does have to be done. Yes, I know you can pay someone to do it, but there is something satisfying about making your own work ready to send off.

My co-author Chris and I are just about at proofing point with our book manuscript. If you are also here, we feel your pain. And we share your impatience. Speaking of which it’s back to checking those quotation marks. 

You might also like to check out this post on HOW to proof read.

Photo by Aron Visuals on Unsplash

About pat thomson

Pat Thomson is Professor of Education in the School of Education, The University of Nottingham, UK
This entry was posted in academic book, Big Book, proof-reading, proofreading, thesis and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to last-minute proofing – 12 things to look for

  1. Read it in a different format- (laptop, tablet, print copy) – put it into a different font/font size. Both help to make the familiar strange.


  2. As usual, Professor Thomson, wonderful advice which is so important to those who are writing dissertations and theses. Thank you, Pat. As a doctoral supervisor and examiner I can vouch for the necessity of the advice you share here. Kind regards, David

    Liked by 1 person

  3. MH Thaung says:

    Oddly, I just proofread a manuscript this morning. My legend for an annotated figure referred to an “arrowhead” instead of the “white arrow” I’d used to indicate the feature of interest. Obviously I changed my mind which symbol worked better and forgot to update the legend. Slip-ups sneak in everywhere!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s