After you finish the final draft of your paper, there’s a natural feeling of pride and accomplishment. You’ve worked hard, done your research, put it all in writing, made your edits, and now you’re done.
But wait: depending on the assignment and what edits you’ve made before this point, there may be more you want to do to ensure that you get the best grade possible.
To that end, there are five essential checks that you should do after you finish your paper but before you submit it. Otherwise, you may be submitting a paper that isn’t as perfect as you anticipate and you may be in for some unexpected feedback when the graded papers are returned.
1: Fact Check
With any research paper, it’s fairly obvious that you should cite your sources. If you do this properly, fact-checking might seem unnecessary, as every claim is supported by an appropriately cited source.
But what if the source you trusted turns out to be wrong?
Taking a moment to fact-check your paper can help you spot any weak sources you have and catch any “facts” you provided that are either up for debate, are more nuanced than you previously understood, or are completely false.
The way to do this isn’t to try and find a second or third source that aligns with your opinion, but rather try to find a reliable source that disagrees. For example, you can find many sources that will show the speed of sound through the air as being 331.30 m/s. However, most people don’t realize that that figure only works for 0 degrees Celsius (32 degrees F) and the speed can be significantly faster or slower depending upon air temperature.
If you had made a flat statement about the speed of sound without discovering a source that offers an alternative, you would be presenting the wrong information. After fact-checking, you might need to go back and add clarification and nuance.
However, you can only find these kinds of flaws by fact-checking the paper and actively working to disprove your own assertions. In addition to being a great way to ensure your paper is bulletproof, it’s also good practice for debates, as it teaches you how to challenge your own assertions.
2: Spell Check
Spell-checking might seem like a small problem. Even the most basic word processor includes a spell-checking function that underlines suspected mistakes. Nonetheless, as with most things, technology is a useful tool but not a replacement for human analysis.
For one, spell-checking systems will produce a large number of false positives, especially if you use scientific, legal, industry, or other specialized terms not in its database. These false positives can make it easy to ignore the warnings, even subconsciously.
Second, there are many situations where a word is spelled technically correctly but is either the wrong word, wrong capitalization or some other issue. While homophones such as to, too and two are well known, there are countless other examples of misplaced words that may sneak they’re, er, their way into a paper.
Before submitting a paper, go through it one more time and look at every highlighted spelling mistake and confirm that you are right. From there, consider going through it and looking for common mistakes missed by spell checkers. You can also read the paper backward or otherwise out of order to help you focus better on the individual words.
This can help you avoid embarrassing spelling mistakes.
3: Grammar Check
As with spell-checking, there are many great automated tools for checking grammar, including many baked into word processors. That said, it’s important to remember that these tools have their limitations. Also as with spell-checking, even the best grammar-checking tool is going to miss mistakes and give you false positives.
In short, there’s no substitution for a human grammar check.
However, grammar-checking your work can be difficult. It can be a challenge when you know what is coming next to read your work slowly and critically enough to catch grammar mistakes.
The best way to counter that is simple: Have someone else read it. Obviously, make sure that they don’t make changes directly, but having another set of eyes to proof your work can do wonders for catching grammar mistakes.
If that isn’t practical, there are various tricks you can employ to slow your reading down. One is to read the paper backward(as mentioned above), starting with the final sentence and working up, reading each sentence individually. Another is to read the paper out-loud. This can help you spot not just grammar mistakes, but also find portions of the paper that are worded awkwardly.
Either way, a good, thorough grammar check should always be one of the last steps you take before submitting a paper.
4: Clarity Check
As a writer, you have an obligation not to write so that you can be understood, but to write so that you cannot be misunderstood.
Clarity is very difficult because what is clear to you is often very unclear to others. This is especially true when your writing is read by others of different backgrounds, ages, and perspectives.
A word or phrase that is completely neutral to you might be seen as biased to someone else. Likewise, it’s also possible to organize thoughts and information in a way that makes perfect sense to you but completely loses your reader.
As with most things on this list, the easiest way to do a clarity check is to have someone else read it. Ideally, this person should be as different from you (or as much like your intended audience) as possible. The more different their perspective is from yours, the more they can help.
That said, if that isn’t practical, the best thing to do is try and find ways to express your ideas and information as simply as possible. The more straightforward something is laid out, the less chance your intent will be misconstrued. Often times the key to making your writing more clear is tightening it and removing any unneeded language.
5: Similarity Check
Generally, if you write using a cleanroom writing technique, carefully cite your sources and follow the best practices for research, a similarity check shouldn’t yield any surprises. After all, if you wrote everything in the paper and did so with care, you should know what is and is not copied.
That said, given the seriousness with which schools take plagiarism issue, it never hurts to be 100% sure, especially if your school gives you the chance to check your work before submission.
Taking a few moments to run your work through a plagiarism checker can help you find any matching text that you might have missed or anything that might trigger questions. While almost no paper will be 0% matching, it’s a great chance to see if you have any passages that are questionable or if there are any citations and quote marks you might have missed.
It also gives you insight on what your instructors will likely see when they are grading the paper and running their own analysis. Even if this check finds nothing of concern, it can do wonders to put your mind at ease and increase your confidence when hitting submit.
While finishing the final draft of a paper is a great accomplishment, it’s rare that any paper is truly ever “finished”. As almost any writer will tell you, no paper is ever really complete, as there is always room for improvement and growth.
Running these checks before submitting a paper can go a long way in polishing and honing your work. Best of all, they should only take a few moments and only make up a tiny fraction of the time spent working on a paper.
Given how much work goes into a paper, not doing these checks means you are taking a very big risk to save a very small amount of time. For the sake of your work and your grade, take a breath before hitting submit and make sure that your paper is as close to perfect as it can be.