Poor writing–including lots of grammar and spelling mistakes–can leave a bad impression. Send in a resume or cover letter using the wrong form of “there” and a hiring manager may dump it right in the recycling bin. Use sentence fragments in a business proposal and the recipient may not take you seriously. How you write says a lot about you. You don’t need to be an English or journalism major to produce well-written, error-free letters and business communication. Here are 8 simple ways to avoid common spelling and grammatical errors:
Don’t rely on spell check
That may sound counter-intuitive and yes spell check is a great help, but it doesn’t catch everything, and it isn’t always right. Use spell check as just one tool in your proofreading process and remember it’s infallible. On a related note, don’t trust a computer program’s grammar check either; it might point out possible problems, but it doesn’t catch anything and can tell you something is wrong when it isn’t.
Proofread, but do it later
You see a job you’re excited to apply for and put together what you think is a great cover letter and read it through. But before hitting send on an important document, wait at least an hour–or maybe even the next day–and then proofread it again. Putting some time between when you finish writing and when you go back and proofread will help you catch more errors. When you write something and then immediately proofread it, you’re likely to rush through it, since you “know” what’s coming next. Giving yourself a little extra time will help catch those mistakes.
Proofread from the bottom up
This is a great tool for catching errors. Read your document sentence by sentence, starting at the end. This allows you to focus on each sentence and will help you catch missing words, misused words, or other grammar errors. Sure, it feels a bit weird, but it really works.
Find a trusted editor
Before hitting Send, have a friend or family member read over your letter, proposal, or resume to see if there are any mistakes they notice. Having a fresh set of eyes on a document can be a big help.
Find a reliable resource
Remember the dictionary? It’s still a great resource when you’re confused about a spelling or are looking for just the right word to use. Whether you’re using an online dictionary or a paper copy, dictionaries are important tools and can help avoid a lot of senseless errors. If you don’t know which “witch” to use, look up both words in the dictionary to make sure you have the right one. This isn’t a mistake that spell check will catch. Beyond the dictionary, there are other resource books available including the Chicago Manual of Style and the Associated Press Style Book. Now, you may not be writing a news story, but the AP Style Book contains great information about abbreviations and proper word choice. If you write frequently for your job, it’s definitely a good book to have around.
Make a list of common mistakes
We all have problem words we can’t remember how to spell or grammar lessons we never quite understood. If you know, for example, that you have trouble remember which “its” to use, put together a quick list and post it where you can see it. Make sure to look at it when writing. It can really make a difference.
Use easy shortcuts
Remember how you learned the names of the Great Lakes in school by using the word “HOMES?” You can use that same methodology in helping you remember how to spell certain words. For example, there’s “a rat” in “separate” and the “principal is your ‘pal’” to help you remember if you should be using “principal” or “principle.” It may sound silly, but easy shortcuts should be a part of every writer’s tool box.
Yes, you want to get out that letter or proposal, but rushing through a writing project likely means more errors. Take your time and always leave plenty of time for editing. Books break down the writing process like this: 20 percent of the time thinking about what to write, 30 percent actually writing and 50 percent refining or editing. Don’t just sit down, write off that important email to your boss, and hit send. Think first about what you want to say, then write it, and then read it through again using some of the tools described above. They’ll help catch silly mistakes and help you produce a quality document.
Anyone can put together an error-free email, letter, or business proposal–you just need to go slowly and use the above tips.