Having been an undergraduate and postgraduate student myself, I can relate to the great deal of work that goes into writing an essay or dissertation. You’re understandably focused on researching your subject area and then writing it in a style that’s both easy to understand and academically rigorous. This focus on the content can mean that it’s easy to overlook the proofreading process.

It’s important though not to forget about proofreading your work, whether you hire a proofreader to do it for you or whether you try to do it yourself. Here are some of the key reasons why proofreading is so important:

  • A text littered with spelling, punctuation or grammatical errors looks unprofessional – and this can reflect badly on your academic work, no matter how much time and effort you’ve spent researching your topic
  • You might inadvertently give an unintended meaning through a mistake in your text
  • Sometimes you might make a mistake that isn’t picked up by a spelling or grammar checker (because they are correct words in their own right, but not in a particular context) – this is why careful checking is required
  • A text that has a minimum number of errors is more likely to be rated positively by readers

It can be difficult to proofread your own text. I find this hard myself, despite proofreading and editing for a living. But if you do want to do it yourselves, I’d recommend the following tips:

  • Forget the content when you’re proofreading your work for spelling, grammar and punctuation errors – you can focus on that once you’ve identified and corrected any errors
  • Don’t go directly into proofreading your work as soon as you’ve finished writing your essay or dissertation. Give yourself some time away from it first as you’re less likely to spot errors otherwise
  • If your work isn’t too long, why not try reading it out loud? You’d be surprised at the number of errors you’ll spot this way that might otherwise be missed
  • Take your time – don’t try to proofread while speedreading. Believe me, it won’t work and you’ll miss a lot of mistakes
  • Proofread tables and figures separately from the main text. It’s very easy to miss errors in these and the task requires a lot of concentration so it’s best to go through the tables and figures at a different time.
  • Ask a friend or family member to check your work once you’ve proofread it once

Good luck with proofreading your work. If you’re having difficulties, please feel free to contact me to do the job for you.

You’ve probably come across AutoCorrect many times before when writing your essay, dissertation or thesis in Microsoft Word. If you type in a misspelling such as ‘teh’ [the], ‘yuo’ [you] or ‘don;t’ [don’t] then AutoCorrect will automatically turn it into the correct spelling – a very useful feature.

What can I use AutoCorrect for in my academic work?

For academic writing, AutoCorrect can offer much more than simply correct misspellings. You can add your own AutoCorrect entries for particular words or phrases, saving you time in the process. It’s useful for typing author names that are at risk of being misspelled when typed quickly – e.g. if you’re writing about Friedrich Nietzsche a lot then an AutoCorrect entry would come in handy.

Probably the most useful AutoCorrect feature from the perspective of academic writing is the ability to set shortcuts for phrases that you write frequently in your work. Instead of having to type ‘phenomenological approaches’ over and over again, why not simplify it to ‘pha’ and let Word do the hard work for you? Or you could type ‘ind’ instead of ‘inferential and descriptive statistics’. The main advantage is that you can save so much time when you write if you carefully target the phrases you use the most frequently.

How to access AutoCorrect

The AutoCorrect menu is quite well hidden in Word 2010 and isn’t on the main ribbon. To access it, first click on the File tab and then select Options.


In the Word Options menu that comes up, select Proofing on the left-hand side and then select AutoCorrect Options…


In the AutoCorrect menu, you can view all the entries that are already stored in Word, modify them and add your own entries. To add your own entry, go to Replace text as you type: and type in the abbreviation that you want to use and type the full word/phrase in the With: box. Then click ‘Add’ to store your entry in Word’s list of AutoCorrect entries.

I’ve included an example below of ‘sociolinguistic variation and change’ – a phrase I typed many times during my academic work. Abbreviating this to ‘svc’ instead saved me a lot of time.


Each time I wanted ‘sociolinguistic variation and change’ to appear in a document, I just had to type ‘svc’ and press the space bar, and then the whole phrase would appear.

If you don’t want what you type to be AutoCorrected then simply press Ctrl+Z.

Hope this blog post has helped you, and that you go on to use AutoCorrect when writing up your academic work. :)

Cloud storage has changed the way we work. The ability to automatically sync the latest version of a file across multiple devices (e.g. a desktop PC, laptop, mobile phone, iPad) is incredibly useful. I wish I’d made more use of it when I was a student, as manually transferring documents via a USB stick between my university and home computers was tedious to say the least. But since I set up my proofreading and editing business, I’ve made full use of the cloud – and it’s definitely saved me a lot of time.

In this blog post, I’m going to review three of the most popular cloud storage providers – Dropbox, OneDrive and Google Drive.


Cloud storage - Dropbox
Dropbox has been around for quite some time now and is a very popular cloud storage provider. The Dropbox client is available for Windows, Mac OS X, Android, iOS, Linux and Blackberry.

It works by creating a local folder on your PC, laptop or mobile device that syncs with the online version available on the Dropbox website. You can access the Dropbox folder from an icon on your PC’s system tray which shows whether the folder is fully up to date.

It comes with 2GB of free storage which is a lot lower than what’s offered by Google Drive and OneDrive. If you want more space, you can choose a paid plan (the pro plan is £7.99/month and offers 100GB). There’s also various things you can do to get more free space – see www.dropbox.com/getmorespace. Referring friends gets you 500MB for each friend who signs up (up to a maximum of 16GB), installing Carousel, a photo gallery app, gets you 3GB, and installing the Mailbox app gets you an extra 1GB.

Google Drive

Cloud storage - Google Drive
Google Drive is already set up for anyone who has a Gmail account and comes with a generous 15GB of storage space. The storage space is shared between your emails, photos, videos and documents.

As well as being able to access your files on the Google Drive website, a desktop app is available for you to organise your files. It works the same way as Dropbox, creating a local folder on your computer that is synced with what is on the cloud. There are also mobile apps for Android and iOS, though an app is not yet available for Windows phone.

You can edit documents, spreadsheets and presentations online in Google Drive which is a useful feature. It’s also very simple to transfer files onto the Google Drive website – you simply drag and drop your file onto the Google Drive interface.

Microsoft OneDrive

Cloud storage - OneDrive
OneDrive (previously called SkyDrive) is built into Windows 8 and 8.1 – you can access your OneDrive folder via the File Explorer. As with Google Drive, it comes with a generous 15GB of storage space which is more than ample for most university work. You can earn a 15GB bonus if you choose to have your photos automatically copied to OneDrive, and up to 5GB is available via their referral scheme.

As with Dropbox and Google Drive, it comes with a desktop app and there are also apps available for Android, iOS, Windows phone and Xbox.

As with Google Drive, OneDrive enables you to edit your files on the website using the online versions of Microsoft Office programs (for more functionality, there’s the option to use your own Microsoft Office programs to edit your files directly).


I’d recommend having accounts on all three cloud storage platforms so that your data is backed up in at least three locations (it should also be backed up offline too for extra security). My personal favourite is Dropbox as I find it very easy to use, but you may prefer Google Drive or OneDrive if you want more storage space – and particularly if you’d like to edit your files online.

Just about every student has had writer’s block at some stage. You open up your laptop, full of good intentions to continue working on your dissertation or thesis, open up Word, and then…nothing. No matter how hard you try to concentrate, you can’t get going. The words just aren’t coming. What you’re left with is a blank page and an eternally flickering cursor, as below. And tonnes of frustration. Not good.

Writer's block When I was doing my PhD I certainly became acquainted with writer’s block (unfortunately). But as time went by, I managed to find ways to cope with it which I’m going to share in this post. Everyone has different things that help them, but this is what helped me cope with it.

1. Keep calm when you have writer’s block

The important thing is not to panic when writer’s block strikes. If you start worrying or let your emotions get the better of you, you’re not going to be able to write anything worthwhile. You need to stay calm and focused.

I used to listen to music to get into the writing ‘zone’. I remember listening to an eclectic mix of Lady Gaga, Take That, Queen, Michael Jackson, Duffy, The Feeling and Mozart. My favourite album was ‘Relaxation Study Music’ – I wrote the majority of my thesis listening to this. You’ll no doubt have different choices, but if music helps your concentration, then it’s always worth trying to listen to a bit when you’re in a writer’s block moment.

2. Try working on something different

It’s not always possible, but if you’re working on a chapter with different sub-sections, moving onto an easier section can help with writer’s block. Just the act of writing something, anything, is a positive thing. It doesn’t have to be brilliant writing either as you can always edit it later. Once you’ve started work on the easier section, you might find that the more difficult one is easier to tackle afterwards.

Or you could do some formatting work if all else fails. I became something of an Excel chart and table specialist after the many I did in my thesis. It was always easy work to do if I wasn’t in a writing mood – sometimes it’s just nice to do something other than writing.

3. Read more about your topic

Sometimes when you have difficulties writing it’s because you’re not yet 100% clear about the ideas or theories you’re going to discuss. Perhaps you need to read more widely about the topic first and think critically about how other work links back to your own. Just the simple act of reading academic papers can help to activate your brain into writing mode. And even if it doesn’t help immediately, the more you read, the better your work and writing ultimately will be.

4. Write bullet point notes instead of full sentences

I did this a lot. I’d think to myself, “What are my main arguments here?” and then just write short lists of points, not in full sentences. Once I had the the bare bones of my discussion down in bullet point format, I was able to add more content. Sometimes our brains just get so frazzled by composing our thoughts into coherent sentences and paragraphs that simplifying things like this helps a lot.

5. Have a break

Often writer’s block is just your brain’s way of telling you that you need a rest. Writing is tiring, especially writing dissertations and theses, and you need to take proper breaks. Something as simple as going for a coffee with a friend or a short walk in the fresh air can help a lot. Or if you’re not being productive today, taking the rest of the day off is definitely worth doing. Hopefully you’ll return to work refreshed – and there’s a good chance your writer’s block will have lifted too.

People sometimes confuse the abbreviations e.g and i.e. in their writing, and can use them interchangeably. But both abbreviations have specific uses, and once you’re clear on what they stand for it’s much easier to use them correctly.

What do e.g. and i.e. stand for?

Both e.g. and i.e. are abbreviations of Latin phrases:

e.g. and i.e.




They have both been in English usage for centuries. The first recorded date of usage in the Oxford English Dictionary is 1682 for e.g. and 1662 for i.e.

A simple way of remembering the difference between the two terms is to think of e.g. as an abbreviation of ‘example given’ and i.e. as an abbreviation of ‘in essence’.

Both e.g. and i.e. are always written in lower case text, and generally are not followed by a comma in British English (unlike US English, where the most common practice is to write e.g., i.e.,).

Usually e.g. and i.e. are preceded by a comma or enclosed in brackets together with the words following e.g. and i.e. (the latter is more common in academic work).

When to use e.g.

E.g. usage





Many northern urban centres have recently undergone regeneration, e.g. Sheffield, Leeds, Newcastle and Liverpool.

A range of different plants can be used in hanging baskets (e.g. pansies, begonias, fuschia and trailing ivy).

Several studies have suggested that social mobility has reduced over the past two decades (e.g. Hout 2004; Blanden et al. 2005; Corak 2006; d’Addio 2007; Dorling 2010).

When to use i.e.

i.e. usage



He could not function in the morning before having his favourite drink, i.e. a black coffee.

Many people had given me the same advice, i.e. that I should take the job.

In your academic work you may sometimes want to insert a landscape page into a portrait document. You may have a wide table or image that wouldn’t fit properly in portrait orientation without looking squashed. Luckily it’s very easy to insert a landscape page in Microsoft Word, and is done through using section breaks.

Insert section breaks

To be able to apply landscape orientation to just one page (rather than the whole document), you need to separate the page from the rest of the document using section breaks. Insert two section breaks into your document – one at the end of the preceding portrait page and one at the end of the page you want to be in landscape orientation.

To insert a section break, move the cursor where you want the section break to go. Go to the Page Layout tab, move to the Page Setup group and click Breaks. Select Next Page from the drop-down menu.

Insert next page breaks in a word document

This adds a Next Page section break into your document.

Next page break above landscape page

Move your cursor to the end of the page you want to be in landscape orientation, and repeat the above step to add another section break.

Next page break below landscape page

Change from Portrait to Landscape orientation

Place the cursor anywhere between the two section breaks. Then again go to the Page Layout tab, move to the Page Setup group, and this time click Orientation. Select Landscape from the drop-down menu.

Change from Portrait to Landscape orientation

The portrait page then changes into landscape orientation.

Landscape orientation

That’s all you have to do. It’s really easy to learn how to do this and wide tables or images will look a lot better in your documents, as in the above image.

Following on from my post on how to use the semi-colon, this post focuses on how to use the colon (:). It’s an easier punctuation mark to master than the semi-colon, but people still sometimes struggle to use it correctly.

1. Use the colon to explain or expand upon information

The colon is used between clauses, where the second clause explains or follows on from the first. The important point to remember here is that the first clause must be an independent clause (i.e. it must have a subject and verb). Here are some examples:

Paul thought I’d been ignoring his emails: I hadn’t received any email from him though.

On my morning walk I heard beautiful birdsong: the dawn chorus was in full flow.

We decided to buy a new house: a small cottage by the sea.

2. Use the colon to introduce a list

A frequent use of the colon is to introduce a list, as in the following examples:

In my gap year I travelled to several different countries: Australia, Thailand, China and Peru.

I aim to complete the following chapters of my dissertation soon:

  1. Introduction
  2. Literature review
  3. Methodology

3. Use the colon to introduce a long quotation

The colon is also used to introduce long quotations. The quotation is usually indented and is presented without quotation marks, as in the following example:

Until the 1960s, it was a widely held belief that sound change was a gradual process, and could not, in practice, be observed:

The process of linguistic change has never been directly observed; we shall see that such observation, with our present facilities, is inconceivable (Bloomfield 1933: 347).

4. Use the colon in in-text references and reference lists to introduce a range of pages

This usage doesn’t apply to all referencing styles, so please check with the style your university department uses first. The colon is often used to introduce a range of pages following a quotation or in a reference list, as in the following examples:

Labov stated that ‘the ideal method for the study of change is diachronic’ (Labov 1966: 218).

Labov, W. (1963). ‘The social motivation of a sound change.’ Word 19: 273-309.

When you’re writing an essay, dissertation or thesis, using Microsoft Word shortcuts can save you a lot of time. I certainly find them very useful in my work. In this post, I’ve compiled a list of 20 Microsoft Word shortcuts.

Shortcut Function
Ctrl + N Create new document
Ctrl + O Open document
Ctrl + S Save document
F12 Open Save As dialog box
Ctrl + B Add or remove bold formatting
Ctrl + I Add or remove italic formatting
Ctrl + U Add or remove underlining
Ctrl + D Open Font dialog box
Ctrl + Z Undo last action
Ctrl + Y Redo last action
Ctrl + C Copy selection to the Office clipboard
Ctrl + X Cut selection to the Office clipboard
Ctrl + V Paste selection from the Office clipboard
Ctrl + 1 Single line spacing
Ctrl + 2 Double line spacing
Ctrl + J Justify selected paragraph
F5 Open Find and Replace dialog box
Ctrl + Shift + E Turn track changes on/off
Ctrl + Alt + M Insert comment
Ctrl + P Open Print dialog box

This post is about a really common grammar error found frequently in informal writing on internet forums or in Twitter and Facebook posts. How many times have you come across sentences like this: ‘I would of called you but I was busy’, ‘I could of done that’, ‘I should of met him there’? I’m guessing pretty often – I know it’s a mistake I pick up all the time.

I think it’s an error that’s found more often among native speakers than learners of English. In the huge amount of non-native English that I’ve proofread since setting up my business, I’ve yet to come across this mistake in academic English.

Why does this mistake happen?

The main point of confusion comes from the fact that when unstressed, have and of sound alike. In fast speech, especially when people are chatting informally, both forms are frequently unstressed.

So instead of writing ‘could/should/would have’, or the contracted forms ‘could’ve/should’ve/would’ve’, some people confuse the two sounds in their written English and write ‘could/should/would of‘.

Key points to remember

Let’s take the following sentence as an example (I’ve used ‘could’, but what I say applies equally to ‘should’ or ‘would’):

a) *You could of called me
b) You could have called me
c) You could’ve called me

To avoid producing incorrect sentences like (a) instead of (b) and (c), it helps to understand ‘of’ as a part of speech. It’s a preposition, which is defined in collinsdictionary.com as:

a word or group of words used before a noun or pronoun to relate it grammatically or semantically to some other constituent of a sentence.

You can see in the example sentence (a) that ‘of’ doesn’t occur before a noun or pronoun, but before ‘called’, which is a verb. In this context, a preposition is not grammatically acceptable.

In contrast, it’s perfectly acceptable for ‘could have’ (or the contracted form ‘could’ve’) to appear in this position in the sentence. ‘Could’, ‘would’ and ‘should’ are all modal auxiliary verbs, meaning that they occur before a main verb to add information such as possibility, intention, permission and likelihood.

In this new blog post series called Punctuation Pointers, I’m going to talk about the different punctuation marks found in academic writing. To start the series, I’m focusing on the semi-colon (also spelt semicolon) (;), which is a punctuation mark that many people find difficult to use.

1. Use the semi-colon to link closely related sentences

This is the most frequent use of the semi-colon. The writing style handbook New Hart’s Rules states the following:

‘The semi-colon marks a separation that is stronger than a comma but less strong than a full point. It divides two or more main clauses that are closely related and complement or parallel each other, and that could stand as sentences in their own right’ (New Hart’s Rules, 2005, p. 72).

The key point to draw from the above quotation is that the semi-colon is used to divide main clauses that are closely related and complement or parallel each other. Here’s an example sentence:

The view was beautiful from the top of the hill; the valley below was bathed in golden sunlight.

There are two independent (but related) clauses here that could be separated using a full stop. But for a more flowing sentence, it’s better to use the semi-colon to divide the clauses.

2. Use the semi-colon to separate items in a list

It’s good practice to use semi-colons to separate items in a list that contains many commas. This often makes the list easier to read and reduces the ambiguity that can occur if frequent commas are used. Here’s an example of this usage:

The presentations were given by Thomas Edlington, University of Newcastle; David Pearson, University of Hull; and Helen Turin, University of Sheffield.

Semi-colons are also frequently used in academic texts to separate authors cited in a bracketed list:

This has been discussed extensively in recent times (Fern, 2010; Jones, 2012; Taylor, 2014).

3. Use the semi-colon before a conjunctive adverb

Semi-colons are also used in sentences before conjunctive adverbs – e.g. therefore, furthermore, consequently, finally, however, on the other hand, nevertheless, indeed etc.

It has been suggested that attitudes to debt are changing; however, this has not yet been proven.

Examples of semi-colon usage in academic English

In academic texts, semi-colons can often be found in long sentences. I’ve included a few examples from my PhD thesis here to show how semi-colons can be used:

In both of these age distributions, there is the possibility of age grading, which involves particular patterns of linguistic change being correlated with a particular life-stage and then repeated in successive generations; issues concerning age grading will be discussed in more detail in Chapters 5 and 6 (Finnegan, 2011, p. 110).

In this example, the first independent clause is divided from the second by a semi-colon. Both clauses give information about the same topic: linguistic age grading.

This distribution suggests that female speakers originally introduced the closing diphthong variant into middle-class Sheffield English; the rate of change is the most marked between the older and middle-aged generations (Finnegan, 2011, p. 222).

Here, the second clause is again related to the first one and adds information about the linguistic change associated with female speakers.

In the 1960s, the work of William Labov and his colleagues (Labov 1963, 1966; Weinreich et al. 1968) marked the beginning of variationist sociolinguistics (Finnegan, 2011, p. 6).

Semi-colons are often used in academic texts to separate different authors in a list, as in this example.

In this blog post, I’ve shown the three main uses of semi-colons that you’re likely to come across in academic texts. I’d recommend using them sparingly – don’t pepper your writing with huge paragraph-length sentences where very complex clauses are divided by semi-colons. Keeping sentences to a manageable (and readable) length is very important. But provided you don’t overuse them, semi-colons help to improve the flow of your writing.


Ritter, R. M. (ed.) (2005). New Hart’s Rules: The Handbook of Style for Writers and Editors, 2005. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Finnegan, K. (2011). Linguistic stability, variation and change in middle-class Sheffield English. Unpublished PhD thesis, University of Sheffield.

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