Whenever you put something in writing and set it free in the outside world, an almost universal worry is that there will be a mistake.
When you’re writing for your business, it’s your company image on the line so the prospect of getting it wrong can be such a worry you avoid doing anything.
Hopefully, some of the tips in my previous blogs will help you feel more confident about producing the writing you need.
Today, I’m going to look in more detail at, what I think, is the most important of the tips we’ve covered. Looking back at my Top Tips for Better Business Writing – let’s see how we can make sure we’re ‘Getting it Right’.
Use the tools you have
Whether it’s basic word processing software, an online grammar checker or your old-school dictionary, use what you have available.
However good your own language skills are, there are times when they might let you down – maybe you’ve written a word and it doesn’t look quite right, or the sentence you’ve typed doesn’t come across the way you’d hoped it would.
There are so many tools available to help with spelling and communication, to get it wrong makes it look like you couldn’t be bothered to get it right.
If you’re using a word processor the chances are this checking is built in – make sure you haven’t switched it off. When the automatic underlining tells you to check something out, it’s worth doing so – even if you’re sure you haven’t made a mistake.
There are more complex grammar checking programs out there which can really help the readability of your text if you’re writing more complex pieces. However, if your writing is quite simple this is probably unnecessary; maybe consider researching these if you feel it will give you more confidence.
Read it again
Always re-read what you’ve written.
There are many mistakes which appear when you’re first drafting – don’t let these make it out to the audience. If you’re rushing and send the email (or report) straight out, you can be sure you’ll spot the mistake as soon as you’ve sent it.
At this stage, you’re simply reading through your writing ready to make any changes – whether you’ve spotted a mistake, or are simply unhappy with the way it’s written. I’d guarantee that during this first read through you’ll make updates.
Read it again – backwards (or maybe in a different font, or on different media)
Proofreading tips anywhere will include these options, in a variety of different forms. Find the one which works for you – or more than one.
The theory goes, your brain is always a step (or more) ahead of your eyes. While you are reading you are already thinking about what you’ll be reading next. This means, rather than reading what is on the page your brain ‘remembers’ what you expect to see. Changing the way the text looks, helps break the link with your memory and allows your brain to read the words fresh.
- Read through the text backwards.
By making it disjointed you will pay more attention to each word ensuring the spelling is correct.
- Print out a document you’ve only viewed on a screen.
This gives you a changed perspective allowing you to read it fresh.
- If you can’t print the piece, at least change the font or layout.
Again, making the look of the piece different allows your brain to forget the links made when you wrote it.
Read it again – out loud
Most often, your readers will devour your writing in the quiet of their head. Despite this, you will often pick up flaws in how the piece is written if you read aloud.
The issues you find in this way are to do with how the writing flows, commas or full-stops in the wrong place, or sentences which are too long. You may also find incorrect spellings though, as you use your brain differently when you are reading to produce the sounds aloud.
You may have to find somewhere private to do this step, and it may feel like a waste of time. But this step is the one most likely to stop your text sounding stilted, doing this helps you identify ways to make it more engaging.
Get a second opinion
If you’re able to, ask someone else to read it. Especially if doing so will give you more confidence.
However much you try to fool your brain, these are your words and you have spent time and effort on them. Mistakes are missed because you know what you wanted to say.
By asking someone else to read through your words you can make sure the text says what you wanted, and you can have confidence you didn’t make any mistakes.
Read it again – later
If possible, give yourself some time away from your writing before you publish, or send. Then read through, one last time.
Again, the space between writing and re-reading your work will allow you to spot mistakes you may have missed at previous readings. Whether you allow 24 hours or just an hour, this could make enough difference to find those mistakes.
Is that enough?
You’ve done your writing, you’ve checked it and read it, and read it again. How will you know when you’ve done enough?
Hopefully, by the time you’ve finished these checks you’re not making any more changes.
Do enough checks that you feel confident it’s as good as you can make it, that it says what you want it to say. Then press send.
Don’t let your fear of mistakes stop you acting.
Have I made any obvious mistakes?
Are there any memorable mistakes which have affected how you work or check your work?
I’d love to know, leave me a comment below.