Whether you are a self-publishing fiction author, online social network professional, or compulsive blogger, errors in your writing can be a source of discredit, if even implicitly. For example, an industry professional recently noted an example where an author titled an article, “What is your worse fear?”
As can often happen, comments exploded following it’s publication. English majors came out of the woodwork to argue usage and the article gained the author attention, but perhaps not the kind intended. Comments didn’t pertain to content, but instead focused on whether or not the author was proficient with the English language. That’s not, in general, what authors want others to take away from their work.
While publishing online has many benefits, technology often allows us instantaneous revision. Book publishing, including self-publishing, is much more permanent. It really is worthwhile to make sure your writing is bomb-proof. Below are five tips you can employ to drastically decrease the chance of mistakes finding their way into your business writing, whether it be a proposal, a website, or a newsletter.
1 – Use an editor
The most common mistakes are minor, such as misspellings or incorrect use of punctuation. Other common errors are incorrect word use (their, they’re, there; or worse, worst, borscht, etc.). A professional editor is adept at noticing and correcting these kinds of mistakes. Your book will reach many human hands; use a human editor.
2 – Get a second, even third, set of eyes
Since you are overly familiar with your own work you are much more likely to miss obvious mistakes because your mind already knows what it is supposed to say, rather than what it actually reads. So even if you opt away from a professional editor, which most good self-publishing services provide, anyone who reviews your writing will find mistakes you invariably miss. When someone else reads your work, they have no preconceived notions about your writing. At the same time, human behavior will often motivate them to find fault. Use that to your advantage. In addition to finding mistakes, other people may offer constructive criticism to improve your writing overall. Take nothing personally.
3 – Revisit
Do you wait long enough after writing something to begin editing it? Many writers edit their work as they write it. Not only does this slow down the creative process, it increases the chance that your mind will ignore blatant errors in deference to your intentions. Once your brain thinks a paragraph is free from errors, it tends to overlook any new errors that are introduced during the rewriting process. Put your writing away for several hours, days, or weeks (depending upon your deadlines) and revisit it later. After some time away from your work, you will be more likely to read the words as they appear on the page, not as you envisioned them in your mind. The mind is error-free, the page is not.
4 – Read Backwards
Reading your material backwards makes it seem entirely different and fools your mind into ignoring the intention and only concentrating on the reality. Furthermore, your critical view of the writing at its most technical level will not be corrupted by the flowing exposition you have massaged into sparkling prose. When you read your manuscript backwards, it becomes a collection of words. Without contextual meaning, the brain has nothing to focus upon other than the words themselves. Mistakes literally jump off the page.
5 – Read Out Loud
When you read words aloud, your brain must slow down and concentrate on the material. How fast can you read: The quick brown fox jumped over the lazy dog? Now, how fast can you read it out loud? It takes at least twice as long, and those precious milliseconds sometimes make all the difference between a typo that is missed, and one that is caught and corrected. As a popular Internet posting informed us as far back as 2003, it deosn’t mttaer in waht oredr the ltteers in a wrod are, the olny iprmoetnt tihng is taht the frist and lsat ltteer be in the rghit pclae. The rset can be a toatl mses and you can sitll raed it wtihuot any porbelm. Tihs is bcuseae the huamn mnid deos not raed ervey lteter by istlef, but the wrod as a wlohe. But try raednig tihs out luod and see how far you get. An extra bonus for reading your material out loud is that you may discover stumbling blocks like awkward sentence structure and choppy dialogue. Strong business writing is not only dependent on error-free prose; it must be crisp and clear.
You are not alone. ♣︎