Despite what many people believe, professional engineers usually do produce writing that follows error-free standard written English (see our research results)! It might not happen in the first draft, but it needs to happen before other people read the document. Non-standard grammar and punctuation can make your ideas less clear, and - even worse - they can inadvertently make your ideas inaccurate, cause liability for your firm, and make your colleagues respect you less. Even if you are in your first year of engineering school, start making proofreading a habit now.

Proofread at the end of a process that includes multiple rounds of composing, reviewing your own work, and revising. Deal with large issues of content and organization before you proofread. Then, begin proofing:

  1. If you aren't confident about standard written English, have a good resource at hand. (Try the Resources link.)
  2. Take at least a short break before you begin proofing so you bring a fresh eye to the paper.
  3. Pick a technique to make you read every word. Many people read aloud or point to every word as they read it.
  4. Pay attention. If you notice your mind has wandered, go back to the last point you remember proofing.
  5. If the document is very important, proof a printed paper rather than trying to proof at your computer monitor.
  6. Use multiple readings to catch different types of problems.  For example, read once to check sentence structure, another time to catch superlatives and absolute words, another time to check spelling, etc.  If you are working in a team, give each team member something to proof in the final report.

***Most important: Read what is on the paper, not what you know you meant.***

A little practice: Can you find the mistakes in these real student papers?

  1. The questions that will to be addressed are the size, shape, and material for the storage facilities, the quantity of pipe needing repair and the quantity of new piping needed.  
  2. Attachments are provided in this report which, include a vicinity map, sit plan, subsurface investigation logs…
  3. The larges tank has a volume of 9121 gallons, the base slab is 11x11 feet and the height is 10 feet.43. 
  4. A factory of safety of 1.5 for static conditions and 1.1 for seismic conditions will be considered acceptable for the slope after the implementation of the soil nail wall.
  5. To predict the horizontal deflection of the pile the flexural stiffness must be calculated.
  6. The Filtron system seem to fit the components that…

It's worth the time!

Always take the time to proofread.  Even if you give your paper to a team member or friend to proof, you should proof it first. Otherwise, you run the risk of appearing sloppy, uncaring, untrained, and disrespectful of others’ time.