Sunday, November 8, 2015

Easy Fixes for Daily Writing

Most people write every day. Whether you’re in school, at work, or in retirement, there are reports to be written, memos to be drafted, and emails and text messages to send. We write for our internal audiences such as co-workers, and we write externally to our customers, potential customers, and others. Most of us don’t give our writing a second thought; we just do it.

Therein is a potential problem: If we write without any reviewing or editing afterwards, we send stuff that is sloppy, has errors, or doesn’t communicate what we want it to say. How do you feel when you read some online news that has misspellings, incomplete facts, or faulty conclusions? What about company policy number 37 that is confusing, chock full of errors, and dated eight years ago? There may be a sinking feeling in your stomach at this moment, and if so, that’s ok because it might mean that your preference is to read, see, and send communications that are pristine, logical, and precise. Even if you’re not all knotted up when envisioning such haphazard writing, you might find it useful to have some quick pointers on improving what you have written. Writing well leaves a good impression, and it reflects on your professionalism, your concern for the recipients of your document, your ability to communicate well, and, of course, you.

In keeping with my prior promise to you, I am only mentioning practical, relevant, and easy-to-use tips and fixes. Today’s post will offer you five ways to clean up your communication so that your recipients have better feelings when they read or see what you have written. In another post later this month, I will offer some more ways to ensure that your written products look sharp. Today’s post is not a review of how to write; it is useful guidance on what to do after you have finished writing something.

1. Spell-Check. Always use the spelling and grammar checker (aka spell-check) on your word processing software to catch misspelled words in your documents. If you’re writing an email and don’t have access to spell-check (although there is a review tab in most email software), then write the email and copy/paste it into a blank document; then spell-check this new document and correct the email as necessary. Spell-check will also alert you to any grammar issues that you can correct as well. If you have the money and believe you are in need of some serious double-checking of your writing, there are dozens of software packages or online companies from which to choose.

A caveat to spell-check is that it’s not always correct. And so with every suggestion it gives you, think about it and decide whether to accept or decline the suggested alternative spelling or grammar improvement. As an example, if you write the following sentence and then spell-check it, Microsoft Word will consider it a correct sentence; however, it is not correct.

“He was on a mission to sleigh or trap the animal, since it was violently killing his outdoor pets.”

So because of instances like this, never completely rely on spell-check.

2. Read What You Write. After spell-checking your document, read it a minimum of two times. Read once on the computer screen, and then print the document and read it again. I promise you that after reviewing the printed document, you will find an error, an improvement, or a logic issue that you would have never seen just by reading from the computer screen.

Why is that? By printing the document, you are, in essence, reformatting it to your eyes and mind, thus allowing you to take a fresh look at your document because you’ve become too familiar with it. This slightly time-consuming task will pay off for you when you see things that you had not seen before. As a copy editor, unless I am editing something online in real time, I rarely go final on a document until I print it and review the written words as they appear on paper.  

3. The Buddy System. Some experts advocate reading your document backwards before you go final. This may catch some errors, and if you have the time, go for it. I find it tedious to read a document this way, and the only real benefit is to catch punctuation errors; it doesn’t help you find errors in sentence structure, logic, or style. Instead, spend your coveted time with your buddy. That is, find someone in your workplace or family who can read your document for themselves so that they can tell you what they think and possibly catch errors that you’ve missed. Just give them your document and ask them for any comments on the areas we are discussing today. Your buddy might catch some sentences that don’t make sense, a paragraph that is all over the place, and of course, misspellings. In turn, pay back the favor and volunteer to review your buddy’s documents as needed. You both will benefit as a result, and all of your documents will see improvement.

4. Wait. It’s quite amazing that after you write a document and put it away and out of mind for a while, it will then be much easier to edit and review. The idea is that you give your mind and eyes a break from the constant exposure to your words. When you wait a while for another review, you will be refreshed and in a better position to tackle the final review. If you have the time, take an overnight break from the document; when you look at it the next day, it will be almost as if you’re looking at it for the first time. No kidding.

5. One Space Not Two. In upcoming posts, I’ll offer some quick fixes that deal with the issues of format and style, but I will put those aside for the moment—except for one thing. One space, that is. Please commit this to memory by repeating three times while tapping your feet: “There is only one space after a period.” There. You’ve done it, and you are now in the 99th percentile on this grammar topic.

If you randomly look at others’ documents, such as memos, résumés, or anything, you will still find that some people believe that it’s ok to insert two spaces after a period, question mark, or exclamation point, which are usually called the three end marks. That’s ok, and the people don’t mean to do anything wrong. They are simply perpetuating a once-correct way of doing something during the age of the typewriter; it is no longer correct. Right now, check any magazine, newsletter, book, or newspaper, and you’ll likely find that they too have only one space after the end marks. Unfortunately, there are many self-published books, electronic books, websites, and online articles that are still using the two-space rule; this is usually because these items were not edited properly. If you’re using a typewriter, you could probably get away with the double spaces, but ever since the dawn of computers and multiple fonts, space adjustment after an end mark is properly accounted for with just one space.

Next time, we’ll continue the discussion and expand it to other areas that you encounter while writing each day. Once again, thank you for your time, please bookmark my blog, and check back with me in a couple of weeks.

Randall Ponder, Baton Rouge, Louisiana USA      @randallponder

No comments:

Post a Comment