A Simple Procedure to Identify and Fix Writing Errors
You want your business writing to be as correct as you can make it for three reasons:
If you send out writing that consistently contains writing errors, your team members, managers, clients, and vendors may believe you’re uneducated, unintelligent, careless, or incompetent.
Follow these guidelines to proofread effectively.
1. Read with your attention trained on four critical areas in which errors often occur.
After you write an e‑mail, memo, letter, or report, stop and reread every word carefully. Read it with attention to the following four areas of concern. For very important documents, proofread in four passes, one for each area of concern.
- Proofread for content. Make sure you’ve said what you want to say. Is all the information important for the reader to receive in this e‑mail, memo, letter, or report?
- Proofread for numbers. If you have phone numbers, dates, room numbers, or other numbers, double check them to be sure they’re accurate.
- Proofread for clarity. Will the reader be able to understand every sentence? Have you written so clearly the reader cannot possibly misunderstand?
- Proofread for usage. Read for grammar, spelling, and punctuation to make sure everything is correct. Look especially at those areas you know give you trouble.
2. For very important e‑mails, memos, letters, or reports, print out a copy and proofread it.
If this e‑mail, memo, letter, or report contains important information, such as a contract offer, print out a copy and proofread the printed copy. Have someone else proofread it also to make sure the figures are correct.
3. Focus when you proofread. Stop if you are interrupted.
When you proofread, go into a proofreading mind set. Focus on reading more carefully than you normally read. You will be proofreading for only a few minutes, so you can expend the extra mental energy.
Turn off the radio or other distraction. If someone interrupts you, don’t continue proofreading. Stop, take care of the interruption, and return to proofreading.
4. If you are having difficulty following text, read it aloud.
If some text is difficult to follow, read it aloud to see whether it contains the content you want it to have. Consider revising it. If you have to read it aloud to understand it, your reader is sure to have a problem with it.
5. When you are proofreading, if you read a sentence and you have to read it again, change it.
Don’t leave text in your document that seems unclear, even though you did figure out what it really meant the second time you read it. The fact that you had trouble with it the first time means the reader probably will have trouble with it.
6. Proofread every letter and space in the e‑mail, memo, letter, or report, no matter where it falls.
Proofread every letter and space in the e‑mail, memo, letter, or report. Proofread the title, the headings, the tables, the page numbers, and all other parts of the e‑mail, memo, letter, or report. In the body of the e‑mail, memo, letter, or report, start in the upper left corner of the screen and end in the lower right corner. Do not skip around in the e‑mail, memo, letter, or report. Follow it from beginning to end.
Procedure for Proofreading
When you proofread, you must approach the text differently from the way you approach it when you are reading for content or reading to edit. Editing and proofreading are two different activities you must approach in different ways. Proofread after you edit.
Follow this procedure to proofread effectively. We’ll imagine you’re proofreading this text:
1. Read word by word. Don’t slide over the text the way you normally read. Focus on each word and the modifiers, articles, or prepositions accompanying it.
The consultant prepared a report on the feasibility of changing our software system without
2. Then read phrases after you’ve read a series of words. This is what you would see as you read phrases:
The consultant prepared a report on the feasibility of changing our software system without much expense . . .
This procedure may seem time consuming, but as you become accustomed to it, your eyes will take you to the words and phrases effortlessly, reading the words, then the phrases:
The consultant prepared a report the consultant prepared a report on the feasibility of changing our software system on the feasibility of changing our software system
If the sentence is longer or is complicated, read the entire sentence again, looking for sentence errors.
3. Watch for unusual or special words you must check twice. In the example, you would see “effect,” which is often confused with “affect.” Look twice at it. You would see “manpower,” which might be “man power.” If you have any doubts, look it up in the dictionary. Use your dictionary regularly. In this case, “manpower” is one word.
4. Look at punctuation specifically. In the example, you see “it was possible—but would not guarantee,” with a dash in it. Look twice at that. Is the dash the longer em dash —, or is it just a hyphen -? Is this the appropriate place for an em dash? If you have doubts, don’t use the punctuation or look up the rule in your grammar textbook.
You would see this sentence: “Her report was an eye opener; it made me think twice.” It has a semicolon. That’s an unusual punctuation mark that causes business writers problems. You must have a complete sentence on either side of the semicolon. Double-check that.
5. We recommend that you not use dashes, semicolons, ellipses, and other unusual punctuation. You don’t need them in business writing, and many business writers don’t understand how to use them or read them.
Proofread every document you send out in this way, slowly and carefully. That is the only way to send documents that are consistently correct.