Unfortunately, when a reader sees a mistake, they don't think 'that person has probably worked on this document so long they can't see it clearly any more'. No, they think 'careless, sloppy writing'.
And sometimes they even judge the writer's integrity based on grammatical errors. When I was facilitating a business writing course once, a woman came back after a break and said: 'I’ve just received an email from a barrister. I didn’t feel comfortable about his advice and this email confirmed it. He used a wrong apostrophe! I’ll never trust him again.'
Ouch. It was just an apostrophe!
So how can we make our copy ‘as good as it’s going to get’? Here are my self-editing tips.
1. Take a break. If you edit your work straight after you’ve finished writing, you don’t see it clearly. Any break is helpful, but overnight is best as then you approach your work with fresh eyes.
2. Use Spell Check and set the default to Australian spelling if you live in Australia. I think it’s worth using Microsoft’s grammar check, even though it’s hopeless, as it will occasionally pick up something basic, such as a subject-verb agreement that you’ve missed.
3. Read your work through five times for a Rolls Royce edit:
- once for meaning (Is it clear?)
- twice to change grammar, words etc. (Is there a better way of saying this?)
- once for layout, headings, hyperlinks, tables etc.
- one last time for anything you’ve missed.
I realise this is a bit over-the-top, but I want to stress that one quick read-through is not enough and you edit more thoroughly if you look for different things on separate readings.
4. When editing the second and third times, concentrate on:
- sentences – are they too long?
- words – are any unnecessary?
- unnecessary repetitions
5. If you’re editing on screen, proofread on a hard copy as well. Unfortunately, we don’t see things as clearly on the screen.
6. Some people find it helpful to read:
- with a ruler underneath each line
- with another person – one person reads and the other follows the text
- in reverse order, i.e. they either read point 7 before point 6 or literally read sentences in reverse order.
7. Ask a friend or colleague to read your work for you. But choose someone with an eye for detail –not all people have that skill.
With self-editing, you may pick up that rogue apostrophe.
These tips first appeared in Flying Solo (http://www.flyingsolo.com.au)
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