The ability to write without errors is crucial, whether you are writing for the whole world to see, or just your department. Even a few typos can make a writer look beyond unprofessional — errors imply laziness and poor presentation in much the same way that a stained shirt shows a lack of effort at a business meeting.
But, important as good spelling and grammar are, errors can slip through even a reasonable level of editing. Reasonable, by the way, does not mean simply running Spell Check. At the very least, it means reading a document carefully after you’ve finished writing it. It also means that if you can get another person to read over your writing, you should. We always know what we mean when we write, but that doesn’t guarantee that our readers will get the nuances.
Beyond general editing, there are steps you can take to improve your spelling and grammar, as well as your overall ability to create an excellent piece of communication. These three approaches can help you create a professional document and minimizes errors that can detract from the message of your writing.
Every time I try to write the word “maintenance” I use a different combination of letters. I’m generally a good speller, but that combination of letters manages to stump me every time. But I’ve made a note of the fact that I can’t spell that word. Knowing my weakness has allowed me to make allowances and quickly rectify the misspelling.
When I’m writing a document that includes a word I regularly struggle with, I slow down for that word and make sure that I spell it correctly before I continue writing. While I risk breaking my concentration on what I’m writing, I’ve noticed that I’ve been able to get better at spelling certain problem words. Other techniques can include the following:
Grammar can be a more complicated fix than spelling. As a general rule, most of us can tell if something sounds wrong just by reading it out loud — a number of SAT preparation courses actually recommend students do just that to pick out errors on the test. Recognizing an error isn’t necessarily enough, however. Fixing one can be much harder. If you feel that your grammar skills are weak, consider rewriting problem sentences in a simple format. I know that I run into comma splices and dangling participles when I try to make my writing fancier. Simple sentences, however, are easy to correct, and they are often easier for a reader to comprehend.
Part of the struggle with perfecting our own writing is the fact that many of us don’t practice our proofreading skills regularly. We aren’t adept at correcting errors because we are used to reading for comprehension, rather than for correction. To improve your proofreading skills, you must use them:
You can also improve your ability to proofread your own work by writing regularly. No matter how often you write, if you do not expect your work to be public, you’ll let typos slip. I try to go out of my way to proofread most of what I write — even if I’m just adding tasks to my to-do list. Furthermore, the more I write, the better I get at both proofreading and writing. It can be hard to sit down each day to write, but it can be a worthwhile endeavor.
Most of us write with a purpose in mind: a document may be a memo expected to explain a new company procedure or it might be an email arranging for lunch. Either way, documents should generally have a goal: an idea or concept that they’ll be communicating. Allowing such a goal or a purpose to guide you while writing can help you to plan your document — but it can also make editing your work significantly easier. After all, missing out on the message can make an entire document seem garbled, as well as unprofessional.
You can keep it simple: just make a list of the points you want to make with your writing and check them off as you come across them during your review. If you get to the end of a document without have crossed off every item on your list, you know what changes you need to make. This method is one of the fastest ways to essentially proofread your content — it won’t help you make changes but it can warn you of problems in a document.
Checking that your writing has met the goals set for it does not necessarily prove that a reader can comprehend your content, though. To ensure clarity, you might consider asking another person to read your document and then check whether they understood each of the ideas or points your document was intended to communicate. You can even use the same checklist.
It can be hard for one person to fully edit a document — especially if that person wrote it. Just having someone else look over a document, especially if you can ask him or her to keep the above tips in mind, can help you to prepare a clear and professional piece of writing.
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