Category Archives: Proofreading

Making Your Dissertation First Class

Obviously, any degree is a massive achievement and you should be wildly proud of yourself for turning up and learning fascinating things, but if you happen to be a high achiever on the cusp of a top  grade, here’s what markers are looking for. (Check your mark scheme for your institution’s individual requirements.)

Originality is key. This can be in many forms. Consider a new phenomenon in terms of an old theory; do research that hasn’t Be Originalbeen done before (at least make sure no one else on your course is doing it!); dig in to one of your university’s archives for interesting materials to test your theory against; do a close analysis of a single unconventional issue. It can be hard to be ‘original’ on purpose, so read around your subject before deciding on your title and just see what thoughts come to you. At some point your brain will probably go, ‘well that’s interesting, but what if…?’ and there’s your question.

A critical evaluation of the literature. This means that beyond showing a full understanding of the research on your topic, you’ve demonstrated insight and considered the theorists critically, not just accepted their work as the truth. 

Have a clear argument that you stick to throughout. First class essays have a real sense of purpose – every sentence has a vital function which builds to prove its thesis. 

Relevance either to society or to the current debates in your academic field is always impressive. It demonstrates that you’re engaged in academia, like your lecturers are, and they may well appreciate this mature approach. It will seem to them more like the journal articles they read than just another undergrad essay. 

High quality English is mentioned in most mark schemes, with accurate spelling, grammar and punctuation. The writing should flow well with careful word choice, minimal repetition and an engaging style. 

Accurate and thorough referencing and a strong structure are also vital.  

Most importantly, give yourself plenty of time to think about it; start early if you can. All of the above would be ideal, but aren’t necessarily essential. The majority of essays and dissertations that I work on that end up being awarded firsts get the mark because the student has chosen a topic they’re interested in and their enthusiasm has come across. Some of the best dissertations I’ve read have a tight structure, fluency that makes the argument easy to follow and a conclusion that addresses the title. 

Would you like thoughtful, clear advice on your dissertation? Get in touch!

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‘Who’s’ or ‘Whose’?

These two words are often confused. We’re used to using apostrophes for possessives and this is not the case here, so this mistake is easily made. It is a similar issue to ‘it’s’ and ‘its’ and is very easy to read past and overlook in your own work. Here’s how to get it right.


Who’s is the contracted form of who is.

Who’s that wearing the magnificent scarf?

The Doctor, who’s a Time Lord, has a particular fondness for Earth.

Whose is the possessive form of who, it means belonging to whom. 

Whose TARDIS is that?

It belongs to the man whose bow tie is very cool.


That’s it for who’s and whose, illustrated by Doctor Who. Any questions, thoughts or Doctor Who memes, you know who to come to! As always, please do like and share if this was at all helpful!

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Comparatives and Superlatives

Comparatives are used to compare one thing to another- they often have an ‘er’ ending. Superlatives are used to compare more than two things- they often have an ‘est’ ending. So ‘Holmes is better than Watson’ (because there are only two of them) but ‘George is the best character in the Famous Five’ (because there are more than two of them).

A common error is using the superlative when there are only two things in contention: mt

‘Of the two methods, the oldest was better’ should be ‘Of the two, the older was better.’

Double comparisons are also not acceptable in standard English:

‘She was the most greatest’ should be ‘She was the greatest’.

‘She is more faster’ should be ‘She is faster.’

Additionally, I also see ’empty comparisons’, the use of a comparative without a base:

‘Today was better.’ Than what? It should be made obvious to the reader what you are comparing.

Also, superlatives are often over-used in writing. Unless used stylistically, exaggeration can become a barrier to how much the reader will understand and trust your statements. Think of the number of times advertisers use superlatives- do we really believe that their product is ‘the best’?

Not all multi-syllable adjectives take ‘er’ and ‘est’. This is where ‘more’ or ‘most’ is used before the adjective.

For example ‘The sofa was the most comfortable seat in the room’.

I hope that’s helped. Let me know what you think or if there’s anything else you’d like explained or discussed. As always,  I’d very much appreciate if you could share or like this if you found it useful! Thanks!

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‘It’s’ or ‘Its’?

These two are commonly confused. Here are the rules:

‘It’s’ is short for ‘it is’ or ‘it has’.


‘It’s been a long time coming.’

‘It’s not you, it’s me.’

‘It’s a massive hot air balloon shaped like Darth Vader’s head.’

‘It’s rather intimidating.’

‘Its’ is used as the possessive: when something belongs to the ‘it’ in question.

s-BAD-IRON-MAN-COSTUME-large‘The jury has reached its decision: the guy in all the sellotape is not the real Iron Man.’ 

‘The dog chased its tail.’

‘Its colour was unexpected.’

‘The group changed its name.’


Could you put ‘it is’ in the sentence instead? Then use ‘it’s’. Could you put ‘him’/’her’ in the sentence? Use ‘Its’.

I’d love to hear from you if you have a good way of remembering this, any questions or good examples!


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Free on Amazon: The Origami Dragon and Other Tales and Wish by C.H. Aalberry

It’s no secret that I enjoy the writing of C. H Aalberry. You can read my review of his YA fantasy novel Wish here.  Now is a brilliant time to download Wish or his wonderful book of short stories The Origami Dragon and Other Tales – they are currently absolutely free on Kindle! Origami

WishThe Origami Dragon is really rather special- darker than Wish in some ways, the intelligent mix of compelling characterisation, fantasy and science fiction is original and engaging. From tiny elephants to inter-stellar travel, the collection has surprising twists and charming moments. The author has a gift for intriguing anti-heroes and bringing the dark and fantastical to life. There’s also a clever intertwining intertextuality throughout.

Get yourself some quality, entertaining literature while it’s free! Also,  look out for stunning use of spelling, grammar and punctuation in both. Come for the plot, stay for the syntax!

Read another review of Wish from the estimable Adam P Reviews. His overview is simply excellent!

Read C. H Aalberry’s advice for writers struggling with writer’s block.

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‘Less’ or ‘Fewer’?

Often, ‘less’ is used when ‘fewer’ is meant. This is easily done, particularly as we are often taught that ‘less’ is the opposite of ‘more’. Basically, use ‘fewer’ when talking about a countable number, but ‘less’ when you mean something that doesn’t have a plural or can’t be counted: ‘fewer dancers have less visual impact.’


‘Fewer people are learning the foxtrot at school these days.’

‘The shop sold fewer feather boas than ever before this year.’

‘Fewer than one in ten adults can perform a proper samba.’

‘There are fewer dance numbers in films than there used to be.’



‘I dance to less pop music than I used to.’

‘There’s less talent than there ought to be.’

‘I should spend less time trying to do the lift from Dirty Dancing.’

‘Less’ is only ever used with numbers when they are on their own or used as expressions  of time or measurement: 


‘The tap class lasted less than two hours.’

‘She travelled less than three metres with that leap.’


I hope this will help you make fewer errors in the future!

Please like and share if you’ve found this helpful!

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Silent Letters

A silent letter is a letter that is part of a word’s written spelling, but is not pronounced when the word is read out loud.

Why do silent letters exist? 

This varies depending on the etymology of each word. Generally, silent letterssilent letters often occur in words originally adopted from other languages that have been subsumed into English. Many of our words have roots in Latin, German, French or Dutch. Moreover, in some words the now silent letters would have been pronounced in the past as in Medieval times, for example, much of the language was more phonetic. Pronunciations change over time. 

Are there rules to learn? 

Unfortunately, there are few spelling rules that tell us when to use a silent letter, but there are general guidelines on whether a letter should be pronounced or not. For example:

is usually silent before the letters and T: lamb, plumber, comb, tomb & subtle, debt, doubt. 

G is silent before an N: gnome, resign, foreigner.

Also, is silent before as in diaphragm. 

The more you learn, the more patterns you will see.

So, what is the best way to learn silent letters? 

Practice is the key- perhaps you could have a go at making sentences with as many silent letters in as possible. It may initially be beneficial  to pronounce the silent letter in your head to help you to remember the spelling. Also, highlight the silent letters, as above, or write them in a different colour to make them stand out to you. Read more about them here or try the quiz here.

Could you give some more examples? 

I would be delighted! Perhaps you would like them in sentences, just for a change. See if you can spot the silent letters in the following:

Silent N: Last Autumn, hymns were all we could hear coming from the church with the columns at the end of our road. 

Silent D: The handsome man trimmed his hedge on Wednesday, with the help of a badger.

Silent U: When my guest left, I discovered the rogue had stolen a biscuit and a guitar.

Silent H: Which ghost could be knocking on the door with such an insistent rhythm at this hour? Honestly!

Surprised cowSilent T: The witch bought a castle, but often missed mortgage repayments.

Silent K: The knight knew that a knife to the knee would knock him, but a knitting needle to the knee was far worse!

Silent L: The calf was calm until it saw a salmon walk and talk. 

Silent W: Two wrens wrestled for the sword.

Do let me know if you can think of any more- I’d love to read your silent letter sentences. Please like and share if you found this helpful!




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Spelling Inconsistencies

Some words in our language are in variation. This means that you can spell them in more than one way and still be right. The only thing you have to be careful of is using just one form of the spelling in each document. Using either form throughout is fine, but never both. The easiest way to sort this out in a long document is to do a ‘find/replace’. Publishers will often have a style guide which says which they prefer so that all their titles are consistent.

Here are some common examples:

Millie Mackintosh wearing a macintosh. Point made, I think...

Millie Mackintosh wearing a macintosh. I’m all about popular culture when there’s a lexical point to be made.





Here are some others I’ve come across:





In case you're not aware of Made in Chelsea, have a picture of some cheese instead.

Emmental: in case you’re not aware of Made in Chelsea, have a picture of some cheese instead.





Sometimes variations happen because of influences from other languages and cultures, sometimes it’s just modernisation (modernization?), others have always been in contention.

Can you think of any more examples?

As always, I’d be very interested to hear if this is something you’ve come across and do please share if you’ve found this helpful! Thanks for reading!



Filed under Common Errors, Proofreading



Essentially this means saying the same thing twice, also known as self-reinforcing statements. For example: ‘revert back’; ‘equally as good’; ‘an essential prerequisite’. If the repetition does not add to the meaning, this can seem clumsy. I often see variations of ‘very unique’. Unique is an absolute, thus the first word is redundant.

The same goes for ‘new innovation’, ‘added bonus’ and my least favourite of all, ‘she herself’.  There are some tautologies that are ubiquitous: ‘free gift’, for example.  The Oxford English dictionary defines ‘gift’ as ‘a thing given willingly to someone without payment.’ Thus ‘free’ is in the definition and so unnecessary.

Avoiding tautology will make your writing sharper and mark you out as the sort of writer that chooses their words carefully and constructs something accurate and original.

Have you noticed any tautologies lately? As always, I’d love to know what you think, and do please share if you found this useful!


Filed under Common Errors, Proofreading

Using Commas Like a Winner

I’m generally on board when it comes to Ernest Hemingway: I like the books; I like the beard; I like that he uses commas sparingly. Though I do think the last two are rather hard to pull off for anyone other than the great EH.  One does need to pause for breath now and again and, if you follow the rules, well placed commas can be an asset to your writing. Here’s how to use them:

1. To separate items in a list. 

For example, the terminator’s Christmas list: ‘Clothes, boots, motorcycle.’

2. To put a section of the sentence in parenthesis.

‘Arnold Schwarzenegger’s most famous catchphrase, the one from The Terminator, hopefully doesn’t apply to his political career.’

3. To indicate divisions between clauses in  a complex sentence. 

‘Arnie might, if given the funds and opportunity, make a sequel to Total Recall, focussing on his character’s declining short term memory: Partial Recall.’

4. To separate sections of a sentence to make it a smoother read. 

‘Released in 1990, Kindergarten Cop is an indisputable triumph of the genre.’

5. To introduce or end direct speech. 

‘Your clothes,’ he demanded, ‘give them to me, now!’

Generally, try reading your sentence out loud to see where the pauses naturally fall. Then decide, based on the guidelines, whether a comma would fit there. Essentially, a part of your sentence must be a complete clause. If it isn’t, you’ve used too many commas!

It is important to get them right: a misplaced comma can entirely change the meaning of a sentence. See seals.

In terms of Oxford commas (commas before ‘and’ in a list), the convention is not to use them in British English unless their omission could cause the meaning to be misinterpreted. See below.

In creative writing, like Ernest Hemingway’s, commas can be omitted for effect to create a faster pace, but make sure that the sense of the phrase is preserved.

It’s been said that when Joseph Conrad emerged from his study one midday after a morning of writing, his wife asked what he had done. He said,  ‘I took out a comma,’  She asked the same question that evening after several hours’ more work. He said, ‘I put back the comma.’ The moral is: commas matter.

If you would like any help putting yours in the right places, do get in touch!


Filed under Proofreading