Reading time: 5 min.
After you’ve put so much work into writing your essay, the last thing you want to do is submit it without first checking it for spelling, punctuation, and grammar errors. Not only can turning in an error-ridden essay negatively impact your grades, but it can also make your work appear unprofessional. Not a look you want to go for, whether this is an essay for one of your classes or for your college applications.
While the essay writing process is essential, it’s equally important to proofread your work to catch (and fix) any mistakes. Here are a few free ways to proofread your essay.
After you finish writing your essay, take a break from it. You’ve likely been reading and rereading your essay for hours (if not days or weeks), and you’re probably too close to it to read it with a clear brain right now.
Put the essay down and walk away from it. Really.
By stepping away from your work — ideally for a night, or even for 30 minutes if you’re running up against a deadline — you can clear your mind and look at your writing with fresh eyes.
Yes, this means planning ahead and making sure you build enough time into your writing process to be able to take some time away from the essay, but I promise it’s worth it.
You’d be surprised at how many people (students and professionals alike) don’t use this free tool for proofreading. Whether you’re using Google Docs or Microsoft Word, don’t forget to run spell-check. It’ll catch many errors (some you might not even realize are mistakes).
But remember: While spell-check is a helpful tool, you can’t rely on it exclusively. Spell-check can miss errors (for example, it may not catch the misuse of their/they’re/there), so you’ll still want to review your work carefully to catch any mistakes spell-check might’ve missed.
When you proofread on a computer screen, you easily miss errors and skip over words. So why not go old-fashioned and print your paper out? Printing out your essay lets you review your work on paper, which makes your brain look at the essay differently — making it easier to spot mistakes.
Reading your work out loud — either off the computer screen or off the printed page — can help you catch errors you might miss when reading silently. This technique is especially useful for identifying awkward phrasing or grammatical errors.
Pro Tip: Use the Read Aloud feature in Microsoft Word to give this tip an added boost. There’s something about those computer-generated voices that help mistakes stand out like sore thumbs. I use this strategy every time I proofread a piece of work or before I approve a student’s essay.
Online tools like Grammarly have free versions for proofreading your essay that can offer basic writing suggestions like:
Even better, Grammarly identifies and highlights errors in real time with their browser extension, making it easier for you to correct mistakes as you go.
Another way to proofread an essay for free is to ask someone else — like a parent, friend, or teacher — to look it over. Because they’re not as close to the essay as you are, their fresh pair of eyes and unbiased perspective can help you identify errors you might’ve overlooked.
Pro Tip: When asking for feedback from other people, be clear about what kind of feedback you want. If you want them to only check for typos, tell them. If you want them to give you the whole enchilada of feedback, tell them. If you’re not clear about the type of feedback you want, you may not get what you need or you may get overwhelmed with the volume of feedback you receive.
My free Essay Editing Checklist has a complete list of items to check off before you consider your essay fully edited. While I designed this checklist for you to use with admission essays, this free resource for proofreading essays will help ensure any written piece is as free of errors as possible.
Proofreading your essay is an essential part of the writing process. You’ve taken your time writing your essay — why would you not take the time to proofread it? When you spend that extra time carefully reviewing your work, you can catch errors that might otherwise go unnoticed. By implementing these tips for proofreading an essay for free, you can ensure your essay is polished and professional before submitting it.
Sometimes, you may need more help than what these free tools can give. If you need more help with any part of your admission essay — brainstorming, writing, editing/proofreading — contact me. I’d love to talk about how we might work together.