YOU’RE Ham and Cheese Guide to Editing and Proofreading

Bu John Focht

You’re ham and cheese sandwich is one of the finest I have ever tasted, after you toast the bread witch way do you typically spread the mustard to make it so tasty, I has never tasted a sandwich like this before?  The grammar and spell check function in Microsoft Word did not catch any mistakes in the previous sentence, so it must be correct (for the record, there are three grammatical errors in this run-on sentence).  Many students struggle in editing and proofreading for a few reasons.  Number one, in some cases, they may never have been taught how to actually edit and proofread; and two, they may never have been taught the difference between editing and proofreading.  Students may pick-up on editing and proofreading in class exercises, but then continue to make similar grammatical errors in their own writing (Fox).  Students and teachers alike feel a sense of relief when their writing is compete, and have little desire to go back and read their own work (Fox).  An effective pedagogical strategy in editing and proofreading is to distinguish between the two stages and define how students review their papers.  Distinguishing the two phases will enable students to effectively understand what they will be reviewing during either the editing or proofreading phase.  Defining the editing and proofreading phases, through group sessions, elapsed-time, line-by-line review of a paper, and proofreading work aloud, students will be instructed how, and when, to edit and proofread.

Editing is defined as reviewing the content of a document while improving the language, flow, and readability; whereby proofreading is defined as the process of correcting grammatical, spelling, and typographical errors (Scribendi).  Defining the process of editing and proofreading as separate phases of the writing process will enable students to effectively understand what it is they are looking for while editing versus proofreading.  Instructing students that the editing phase is about making sense of their document, will assist them to better comprehend what they should be looking for during this phase.  Breaking students into small group sessions of 4-5 students per group helps further assist students in the editing process.  Students review each other’s papers and provide comments and feedback on each other’s work.  This process of group editing affords students the ability to take observations and suggestions not only on their work, but on other’s work, and apply to their own writing.  Group editing sessions also allow students the ability to better understand what it is they should look for in this phase of writing.

A challenge with proofreading is writers or students tend to read what they thought they wrote not what they actually wrote (Harris).  There is a fundamental flaw in how students proofread their papers; the flaw is they are reading, not proofreading.  Proofreading is vital in the success of writing, and the success of teaching writing.  Proofreading is not only a writing skill, it is a reading skill (Harris).  Proofreading should be taught as part of the writing process, not in addition to the writing scope.  Understanding what we thought we wrote verses reading what we actually wrote is an important distinction between students successfully proofreading their work verses simply re-reading their work.  A clear distinction between the two is that reading is a process of anticipation of reading ahead, whereby proofreading is looking at each word individually (Harris).  For instructors to effectively teach proofreading, it is important for them to impress upon their students to get out of the mindset of just re-reading their own text.  Len Fox notes in What to Do When Grammar Exercises No Longer Help: Group Proofreading that students, and himself, have little desire to go back and read their own work; the important point of note in Fox’s writing is he is not distinguishing reading versus proofreading. In Fox’s writing, he is not addressing the need for student’s to proofread, rather simply read their work prior to submission; this is the fundamental flaw in proofreading as a whole.  Most students do not understand what it is they should be looking for in this phase of the writing process.

A pedagogical proofreading strategy separates the writer from the proofreader.  Teachers should instruct students to walk away from their work once the work is complete prior to beginning the proofreading phase.  Allowing elapsed time between the two phases of writing is a mechanism to help students separate the two phases.  The elapsed time can be anywhere from five-minutes to a few days.  Instructing students to create a mental distance from what they wrote and what they are about to proofread may provide a productive fresh eye when it comes to proofreading (Purdue OWL).  A fresh eye will provide students a new perspective as they proofread from a different viewpoint; the tendency is students do not perceive errors because they read and do not proofread (Harris).

Once distanced from their own writing, the students not only have a fresh eye but will have a different mindset.  Students will be approaching their paper with the intention of finding mistakes through proofreading, not with the intention of re-reading their work.  Through line-by-line review, students are specifically looking at each word and mark of punctuation on their paper (Harris).  This provides a proofreading mindset in the students and enables them to carefully note, not only what is there, but what is not there (Harris).  An effective way to ensure students are proofreading line-by-line is to instruct them to actually print out their paper and hold a ruler or a straight edge against each line to ensure they are able to proofread each line effectively (Wisconsin).  The techniques of line-by-line proofreading can be further strengthened by also having the students read aloud.  Proofreading aloud will further focus the students attention on each word in a proofreading mindset, as opposed to simply reading, or re-reading, their writing.

Editing, proofreading, and re-reading are areas in writing that often get confused, overlooked, or combined into a single task to be complete prior to submission of an assignment.  As a result, sentences like you’re ham and cheese sandwich is the finest I’ve tasted is the end-result.  Proofreading should not be a hurried or forced process, nor should it be treated as a reading exercise.  It should be a methodical process that highlights to the students the areas of improvement on their own paper.  Through this pedagogical strategy of distinguishing editing and proofreading, and the mechanism within each phase, students are taught the intricacies of editing and proofreading, but more importantly, they are not simply being told to re-read their paper.  Now go enjoy you’re ham and cheese.

Works Cited:

Fox, Len. What to Do When Grammar Exercises No Longer Help: Group Proofreading. JSTOR. October 1981. Web. Article Stable URL:  JSTOR is an online research and teaching website founded in 1995.  Utilized by researchers and scholars, this digital library, JSTOR content is provided by more than 900 publishers; the database contains more than 1900 journal titles in more than 50 disciplines, according to Wikipedia (

Harris, Jeannette. Proofreading: A Reading/Writing Skill. JSTOR. December 1987. Web. Article Stable URL:  JSTOR is an online research and teaching website founded in 1995.  Utilized by researchers and scholars, this digital library, JSTOR content is provided by more than 900 publishers; the database contains more than 1900 journal titles in more than 50 disciplines, according to Wikipedia (

Scribendi. Editing versus Proofreading: Decide whether your document needs editing or proofreading. Web. Founded in 1997, Scribendi is an editing and proofreading company based out of Ontario, Canada.  Scribendi was founded as one of the first online editing and proofreading companies.

Wells, Jaclyn M. Proofreading: Where do I Begin? Purdue OWL. 17 April 2010. Web. The Purdue Online Writing Lab provides online writing and research services to instructors, trainers, and students.  According to Wikipedia (, the Purdue Online Writing Lab was founded in 1976 on request of the Department of English at Purdue to establish its writing lab.  Dr. Muriel Harris designed the campus-based service to assist learners with rhetorical writing.  Today, the Purdue OWL is available via the internet and is open to users worldwide.

The Writing Center @ The University of Wisconsin – Madison. The Writer’s Handbook: How to Proofread. 2 July 2012. Web.  The Writing Center @ The University of Wisconsin – Madison is designed to assist students from all disciplines in writing.  Opened in 1969, the Writing Center @ The University of Wisconsin – Madison, staffs academic staff, classified staff, graduate teaching staff, and undergraduate Writing Fellows.  Their mission is to provide short-term writing instruction in all disciplines.