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Polish Your Writing to Professionalism: Three Tips for Self-Editing

Polish Your Writing to Professionalism: Three Tips for Self-Editing
Writing, or typing, a document

    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.

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    Recognize weaknesses.

    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:

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    • Vary your word choice. Avoid words that tend to trip you up.
    • Practice spelling (and using) problem words.
    • Explore root words and learn why a given word is spelled a certain way.

    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.

    Proofread for others.

    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:

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    • Offer to look over a co-worker’s memo or a friend’s short story.
    • Read the daily newspaper and circle typos. Because of the production cycle, most dailies wind up letting a few typos through.
    • Join an online critique group. Sites like WEbook invite editors as well as writers to help develop manuscripts.

    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.

    Set Goals For Documents

    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.

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    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.

    Ask For Help

    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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    The Gentle Art of Saying No

    The Gentle Art of Saying No

    No!

    It’s a simple fact that you can never be productive if you take on too many commitments — you simply spread yourself too thin and will not be able to get anything done, at least not well or on time.

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    But requests for your time are coming in all the time — through phone, email, IM or in person. To stay productive, and minimize stress, you have to learn the Gentle Art of Saying No — an art that many people have problems with.

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    What’s so hard about saying no? Well, to start with, it can hurt, anger or disappoint the person you’re saying “no” to, and that’s not usually a fun task. Second, if you hope to work with that person in the future, you’ll want to continue to have a good relationship with that person, and saying “no” in the wrong way can jeopardize that.

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    But it doesn’t have to be difficult or hard on your relationship. Here are the Top 10 tips for learning the Gentle Art of Saying No:

    1. Value your time. Know your commitments, and how valuable your precious time is. Then, when someone asks you to dedicate some of your time to a new commitment, you’ll know that you simply cannot do it. And tell them that: “I just can’t right now … my plate is overloaded as it is.”
    2. Know your priorities. Even if you do have some extra time (which for many of us is rare), is this new commitment really the way you want to spend that time? For myself, I know that more commitments means less time with my wife and kids, who are more important to me than anything.
    3. Practice saying no. Practice makes perfect. Saying “no” as often as you can is a great way to get better at it and more comfortable with saying the word. And sometimes, repeating the word is the only way to get a message through to extremely persistent people. When they keep insisting, just keep saying no. Eventually, they’ll get the message.
    4. Don’t apologize. A common way to start out is “I’m sorry but …” as people think that it sounds more polite. While politeness is important, apologizing just makes it sound weaker. You need to be firm, and unapologetic about guarding your time.
    5. Stop being nice. Again, it’s important to be polite, but being nice by saying yes all the time only hurts you. When you make it easy for people to grab your time (or money), they will continue to do it. But if you erect a wall, they will look for easier targets. Show them that your time is well guarded by being firm and turning down as many requests (that are not on your top priority list) as possible.
    6. Say no to your boss. Sometimes we feel that we have to say yes to our boss — they’re our boss, right? And if we say “no” then we look like we can’t handle the work — at least, that’s the common reasoning. But in fact, it’s the opposite — explain to your boss that by taking on too many commitments, you are weakening your productivity and jeopardizing your existing commitments. If your boss insists that you take on the project, go over your project or task list and ask him/her to re-prioritize, explaining that there’s only so much you can take on at one time.
    7. Pre-empting. It’s often much easier to pre-empt requests than to say “no” to them after the request has been made. If you know that requests are likely to be made, perhaps in a meeting, just say to everyone as soon as you come into the meeting, “Look guys, just to let you know, my week is booked full with some urgent projects and I won’t be able to take on any new requests.”
    8. Get back to you. Instead of providing an answer then and there, it’s often better to tell the person you’ll give their request some thought and get back to them. This will allow you to give it some consideration, and check your commitments and priorities. Then, if you can’t take on the request, simply tell them: “After giving this some thought, and checking my commitments, I won’t be able to accommodate the request at this time.” At least you gave it some consideration.
    9. Maybe later. If this is an option that you’d like to keep open, instead of just shutting the door on the person, it’s often better to just say, “This sounds like an interesting opportunity, but I just don’t have the time at the moment. Perhaps you could check back with me in [give a time frame].” Next time, when they check back with you, you might have some free time on your hands.
    10. It’s not you, it’s me. This classic dating rejection can work in other situations. Don’t be insincere about it, though. Often the person or project is a good one, but it’s just not right for you, at least not at this time. Simply say so — you can compliment the idea, the project, the person, the organization … but say that it’s not the right fit, or it’s not what you’re looking for at this time. Only say this if it’s true — people can sense insincerity.

    Featured photo credit: Pexels via pexels.com

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