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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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    Last Updated on January 15, 2021

    7 Ways To Have More Confident Body Language

    7 Ways To Have More Confident Body Language

    The popular idiomatic saying that “actions speak louder than words” has been around for centuries, but even to this day, most people struggle with at least one area of nonverbal communication. Consequently, many of us aspire to have more confident body language but don’t have the knowledge and tools necessary to change what are largely unconscious behaviors.

    Given that others’ perceptions of our competence and confidence are predominantly influenced by what we do with our faces and bodies, it’s important to develop greater self-awareness and consciously practice better posture, stance, eye contact, facial expressions, hand movements, and other aspects of body language.

    Posture

    First things first: how is your posture? Let’s start with a quick self-assessment of your body.

    • Are your shoulders slumped over or rolled back in an upright posture?
    • When you stand up, do you evenly distribute your weight or lean excessively to one side?
    • Does your natural stance place your feet relatively shoulder-width apart or are your feet and legs close together in a closed-off position?
    • When you sit, does your lower back protrude out in a slumped position or maintain a straight, spine-friendly posture in your seat?

    All of these are important considerations to make when evaluating and improving your posture and stance, which will lead to more confident body language over time. If you routinely struggle with maintaining good posture, consider buying a posture trainer/corrector, consulting a chiropractor or physical therapist, stretching daily, and strengthening both your core and back muscles.

    Facial Expressions

    Are you prone to any of the following in personal or professional settings?

    • Bruxism (tight, clenched jaw or grinding teeth)
    • Frowning and/or furrowing brows
    • Avoiding direct eye contact and/or staring at the ground

    If you answered “yes” to any of these, then let’s start by examining various ways in which you can project confident body language through your facial expressions.

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    1. Understand How Others Perceive Your Facial Expressions

    A December 2020 study by UC Berkeley and Google researchers utilized a deep neural network to analyze facial expressions in six million YouTube clips representing people from over 140 countries. The study found that, despite socio-cultural differences, people around the world tended to use about 70% of the same facial expressions in response to different emotional stimuli and situations.[1]

    The study’s researchers also published a fascinating interactive map to demonstrate how their machine learning technology assessed various facial expressions and determined subtle differences in emotional responses.

    This study highlights the social importance of facial expressions because whether or not we’re consciously aware of them—by gazing into a mirror or your screen on a video conferencing platform—how we present our faces to others can have tremendous impacts on their perceptions of us, our confidence, and our emotional states. This awareness is the essential first step towards

    2. Relax Your Face

    New research on bruxism and facial tension found the stresses and anxieties of Covid-19 lockdowns led to considerable increases in orofacial pain, jaw-clenching, and teeth grinding, particularly among women.[2]

    The National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research estimates that more than 10 million Americans alone have temporomandibular joint dysfunction (TMJ syndrome), and facial tension can lead to other complications such as insomnia, wrinkles, dry skin, and dark, puffy bags under your eyes.[3])

    To avoid these unpleasant outcomes, start practicing progressive muscle relaxation techniques and taking breaks more frequently throughout the day to moderate facial tension.[4] You should also try out some biofeedback techniques to enhance your awareness of involuntary bodily processes like facial tension and achieve more confident body language as a result.[5]

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    3. Improve Your Eye Contact

    Did you know there’s an entire subfield of kinesic communication research dedicated to eye movements and behaviors called oculesics?[6] It refers to various communication behaviors including direct eye contact, averting one’s gaze, pupil dilation/constriction, and even frequency of blinking. All of these qualities can shape how other people perceive you, which means that eye contact is yet another area of nonverbal body language that we should be more mindful of in social interactions.

    The ideal type (direct/indirect) and duration of eye contact depends on a variety of factors, such as cultural setting, differences in power/authority/age between the parties involved, and communication context. Research has shown that differences in the effects of eye contact are particularly prominent when comparing East Asian and Western European/North American cultures.[7]

    To improve your eye contact with others, strive to maintain consistent contact for at least 3 to 4 seconds at a time, consciously consider where you’re looking while listening to someone else, and practice eye contact as much as possible (as strange as this may seem in the beginning, it’s the best way to improve).

    3. Smile More

    There are many benefits to smiling and laughing, and when it comes to working on more confident body language, this is an area that should be fun, low-stakes, and relatively stress-free.

    Smiling is associated with the “happiness chemical” dopamine and the mood-stabilizing hormone, serotonin. Many empirical studies have shown that smiling generally leads to positive outcomes for the person smiling, and further research has shown that smiling can influence listeners’ perceptions of our confidence and trustworthiness as well.

    4. Hand Gestures

    Similar to facial expressions and posture, what you do with your hands while speaking or listening in a conversation can significantly influence others’ perceptions of you in positive or negative ways.

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    It’s undoubtedly challenging to consciously account for all of your nonverbal signals while simultaneously trying to stay engaged with the verbal part of the discussion, but putting in the effort to develop more bodily awareness now will make it much easier to unconsciously project more confident body language later on.

    5. Enhance Your Handshake

    In the article, “An Anthropology of the Handshake,” University of Copenhagen social anthropology professor Bjarke Oxlund assessed the future of handshaking in wake of the Covid-19 pandemic:[8]

    “Handshakes not only vary in function and meaning but do so according to social context, situation and scale. . . a public discussion should ensue on the advantages and disadvantages of holding on to the tradition of shaking hands as the conventional gesture of greeting and leave-taking in a variety of circumstances.”

    It’s too early to determine some of the ways in which Covid-19 has permanently changed our social norms and professional etiquette standards, but it’s reasonable to assume that handshaking may retain its importance in American society even after this pandemic. To practice more confident body language in the meantime, the video on the science of the perfect handshake below explains what you need to know.

    6. Complement Your Verbals With Hand Gestures

    As you know by now, confident communication involves so much more than simply smiling more or sounding like you know what you’re talking about. What you do with your hands can be particularly influential in how others perceive you, whether you’re fidgeting with an object, clenching your fists, hiding your hands in your pockets, or calmly gesturing to emphasize important points you’re discussing.

    Social psychology researchers have found that “iconic gestures”—hand movements that appear to be meaningfully related to the speaker’s verbal content—can have profound impacts on listeners’ information retention. In other words, people are more likely to engage with you and remember more of what you said when you speak with complementary hand gestures instead of just your voice.[9]

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    Further research on hand gestures has shown that even your choice of the left or right hand for gesturing can influence your ability to clearly convey information to listeners, which supports the notion that more confident body language is readily achievable through greater self-awareness and deliberate nonverbal actions.[10]

    Final Takeaways

    Developing better posture, enhancing your facial expressiveness, and practicing hand gestures can vastly improve your communication with other people. At first, it will be challenging to consciously practice nonverbal behaviors that many of us are accustomed to performing daily without thinking about them.

    If you ever feel discouraged, however, remember that there’s no downside to consistently putting in just a little more time and effort to increase your bodily awareness. With the tips and strategies above, you’ll be well on your way to embracing more confident body language and amplifying others’ perceptions of you in no time.

    More Tips on How to Develop a Confident Body Language

    Featured photo credit: Maria Lupan via unsplash.com

    Reference

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