Proofreading carelessly can spoil a writer’s best efforts. Proofreading is classic evidence that writing looks different to the writer and to the reader. Our brains really think that everything we do is correct, so we have a hard time recognizing our own errors.
To the writer, typographical or spelling errors may not mean all that much. So your finger slipped, or you always put two t’s in “commitment.” For the reader, an unfixed typo can transform the writer from a smart person into a careless writer in the twinkling of an eye.
It is impossible to read about “fist class work” or “shot meetings” without interrupting the flow of what you are reading. It may be unfair that proofreading matters so much, but it does.
If you can put yourself in the reader’s position, you’ll proofread obsessively, gripped by the fear that a mistake will turn you into a laughingstock! Learning some specific techniques, however, will help alleviate that problem as you become better at proofreading and create better documents.
Proofreading errors are different from punctuation or spelling or usage problems, and you fix them differently. Punctuation, spelling, and usage are knowledge problems, and you fix them by learning. Proofreading problems are usually a matter of seeing, and you fix them by learning to look.
The better you read, the worse you’ll proofread, unless you are consciously aware of what you are doing. Good readers and fast readers guess what the words are as they read the text, and they just check in now and again to see if they are right. The more they can guess, the less they have to look and the faster and more efficiently they read.
To be a good proofreader, you have to go back to being a child again, or pretend that you are just learning to read in English. Look at every word as it comes along.
Letters and Memos
Here are some suggestions to make your letters and memos more professional and easier to write.
If your supervisor gives you a letter, notice its components, wording, etc., and use that as a guide for the next letter you have to create. Most companies have templates with their letterhead already inserted so that their brand and message is consistent. As well, many word processing programs come with pre-made templates that you can customize.
Another good tip is to save letters that come to you, even junk mail letters, if their phrasing, closing, etc. work for you. Use appropriate parts when you are creating letters.
Keep memos short.
Memos should only have one subject in them. They are used for internal documentation and are not intended to be sent outside of your organization.
Check and double-check your work.
Don’t rely on spell check to find all your mistakes. Try to have somebody else read your work, or at least set it aside for a while before reading it again so that you approach it with a fresh mind later.
Have a good reference nearby and use it to check those things you are unsure of.