Tips: Careless essays with “formal errors”

Examining essays create troublesome extra work for tutors and examiners when the essay is carelessly proofread, with formal errors of various kinds. Here is an example of how to use a checklist to support students’ proofreading, reduce extra work for the teacher and get better essays.

Students often fail when they try to systematically proofread their own essay. Teachers who note typos and formal errors end up in a labor-intensive dilemma; Should the essay be returned, processed by the student again and re-evaluated, or should the assessment of the content be carried out and a new assessment be made later, when the formal errors have been rectified? In both cases, more work is required from the tutoring and/or examining staff.


A solution that contributes to better proofreading by students is to require the student to explicitly certify that proofreading has taken place systematically. The certificate can be designed so that it also gives the student a checklist that is useful for understanding what proofreading includes and how it should be carried out.

Concrete steps

The following instructions have been used for this purpose for several years in the one-year master’s program in Project Management at KAU. Note that the checklist also includes items that deal with other formal requirements than those directly to the essay’s text, such as archiving of basic materials, etc..

A checklist for order and clarity

When the final version of the essay is submitted for grading, you must certify that all items in the list below can be answered with Yes. The certification should be made via email to your tutor.

If you are a reasonably normal person, it is not enough that you read through the items in the list and try to recall if you have handled what the item is about when you wrote the text. It is required that you take one item at a time and go through the essay systematically to ensure that the requirement is met. Should deficiencies be discovered in connection with the grading assessment, the essay may be rejected with reference to the observed deficiency or with reference to the risk being high that more deficiencies exist even though you have certified otherwise.

Language and layout

  • The text is spelled correctly and grammatically correct.
  • Abbreviations follow the Svenska språknämndens rekommendationer i Svenska skrivregler or corresponding recommendations for American/British English text.
  • All figures, tables and appendices are systematically and consistently numbered.
  • There are references to all figures, tables and appendices in the current text.
  • All headings are consistently formatted.
  • Tables of contents are complete and matches the content of the headings.
  • The essay is formatted according to the layout templates provided by the university.

Systematic source references

  • All referenced sources are found in the bibliography and all sources in the bibliography are referenced in the text.
  • References and reference list are designed according to the designated reference management system.

Plagiarism, copyright

  • No part of the text (images, photos, drawings, etc.) is taken from another source without the source being clearly stated. This also applies where the text is an adaptation of text or other content with an author other than myself.
  • For such material (e. g. images, photos, drawings) that is protected by someone else’s copyright and that appears in my text, I have documented consent from the copyright holder.
  • The source is clearly stated for all findings, ideas, conclusions, theories, quotes and the like that are presented and that have other authors than myself.
  • All source references have been made clear enough (e. g. to chapter, page, etc.) to make it possible for readers to find the source with reasonable effort.

Working material

  • Working materials in the form of notes, audio and video recordings, transcripts of interviews, agreements with respondents and other participating parties are systematically archived so that they can be accessed on request and can be understood by other researchers.
  • All participating individuals in the study have been informed of the conditions of their participation and have expressly given their approval. Documentation showing this is systematically archived.


The experience is that the students use the list, do better proofreading and produce fewer formal errors.

If formal errors are still discovered during the assessment of the essay, we have sent feedback with a standardized wording similar to the one below to the student. When the essay was resubmitted, it often turn out that the number of changes (Easily checked with “Compare Documents” in Word) was often several hundred! The students have systematically worked their way through the essay and, among other things, significantly improved their language! It has also been quickly spread among the students what negligence leads to, which has generally had a positive effect in the student group.

Reply e-mail from teacher to student after discovery of formal errors despite a positive certificate:

“When assessing your essay, I have discovered that in at least one instance you do not meet one of the items in the Checklist for order and clarity. It makes me uncertain whether you really took one list item at a time, systematically went through the whole essay to check that there were no errors left, or if you have made assumptions that you have been so careful during the work that you could answer yes to several questions at a time. However, I have not done any proofreading and I do not intend to do so. But you need to go through the list one more time, one list item at a time, systematically go through your essay to make sure that you can answer yes to what the list item refers to. This is serious and I do not think for a moment that you have thought differently. But I also do not think that you have done your own review well enough and you must convince me that this is the case for your essay to be approved for publication.

Go through the list and the essay again and correct the remaining shortcomings (there is at least one). Then email me a new version along with a new assurance that you can answer yes to all items in the checklist. To make life more exciting and get you up on your toes, I leave it to you to find the shortcoming I happened to see. 🙂 “

Written by:

Tomas Jansson (UPE, Project management)