Text: Lower-Order Concerns

What to Look for in the Later Proofreading Pass(es): Lower-Order Concerns

Once you have fully addressed the higher-order concerns with an essay draft, you can focus on more local fixes or lower-order concerns. Lower-order concerns include writing style, wording, typos, and grammar issues.

magnifying glass held over the word "grammar" in a dictionary

Yes, it’s true: grammar is a lower-order concern! Even though students are often very concerned that their grammar needs to be fixed, it is actually more important to focus on the quality of your ideas and the logic of how they are presented first.  That’s not to say you shouldn’t worry about grammar; it’s just that you shouldn’t make it a main focus until closer to the end of the writing process.

Some typical lower-order concerns are listed below, along with some questions that can help you recognize aspects in need of revision:

  • Style:
    • Are you using an appropriate tone?
    • Are you following the conventions that are typical of your discipline?
    • Are you using the required style for formatting?
  • Wording:
    • Are you always picking the word that has the precise meaning you want?
    • Are there any places where your wording is confusing or where your sentences are long and hard to follow?
    • Are there any awkward phrases?
    • Are you writing as simply and concisely as possible?
    • Are there any redundant words or sentences that should be removed?
  • Grammar:
    • Do you have any sentence fragments or run-on sentences?
    • Are your subjects and verbs in agreement?
    • Are you handling your plurals and possessives correctly?
    • Are there any punctuation errors?
  • Typos:
    • Are there missing words?
    • Are any words misspelled (be especially careful to watch out for words that spell-check won’t catch, for example typing “can” when you meant “van”)?
    • Are there any extra spaces that need to be removed?

Cleaning up these local issues is the final stage in the writing process.  Think of this as polishing up your writing, so that the quality of your prose matches the quality of your ideas.


Other Tips for Proofreading

  • Metal-headed pins arranged in a spiral sequenceAlways read slowly and carefully when proofreading.  Don’t rush! If you try to go too fast, you will probably miss errors you would otherwise catch.
  • Read your paper out loud. This can be very helpful for catching typos, missing words, awkward phrasings, and overly long or confusing sentences.
  • Pretend you are the reader, not the author of the paper.  Try to look at what you wrote from the perspective of someone who does not know all the things you know.  Would a reasonably intelligent audience be able to understand your prose and be convinced by your argument?
  • Keep track of any errors you consistently make (within a single paper or in multiple papers).
  • Get feedback on your paper from your teacher, a classmate or friend, a tutor, or all of the above.