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The power of proofing

October 28, 2009



It seems that with every job I’ve ever held, there’s been a motto of “don’t let anything go out the door without a second pair of eyes.” But in today’s fast-paced, tech-heavy stream of communication, how many of us actually take the time to get a reviewer? It’s easy to pass something off as “just a quick email” or say “it was a text response,” but if it’s going to a business associate, executive or customer, and there’s a typo or a missing word, how does that reflect on your credibility as a communicator? It’s easy to do…we’ve all done it…typed too fast, let spell-check “correct” your work, use “to” instead of “too” and so on.

In fact, I received a mass-distribution email this week from a well-known organization seeking donations. You would assume the document had been reviewed at least once, but in the middle of the email there was an underlined sentence that said, “Don’t worry – we not eliminating this important resource.” I cringed because, unfortunately, they had eliminated a verb.

But since we are all human and mistakes do happen, following are a few tips I’ve learned along the way to help proof your work:

  • Print it out. It’s hard to catch typos on the computer screen. In addition, by reading a hard copy, you’re at least committing to reading your own work a second time.
  • Start at the bottom. If you read the document from the bottom, going from right to left, your brain reads each actual word rather than sentences. It helps catch missing words, especially if you’re writing on a subject you know extremely well and your mind “adds in” the words that might be missing.
  • Look it up. It takes time, but use the tools that are available to you – spell check, the dictionary, the thesaurus, a brand’s guidelines and the AP Stylebook. You might discover something new, such as “use bring to indicate movement toward yourself and use take to indicate movement away from yourself.”
  • Ask for help. This, of course, goes back to asking for a second set of eyes. Fresh eyes and someone who knows the subject matter can be invaluable.
  • Slow down. Deadlines will always be looming, but take five minutes to review your work or hand it off to a colleague. It doesn’t take long to secure a reputation for being sloppy.

From a former manager’s directive, “There will be no stars in your crown for quick turnaround, for juggling heavy workloads or for beautiful language if your work contains typos and factual errors.” Write on!

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