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Proofing your own writing

by on 26 Mar, 2011

Have you ever counted up how long you spend writing each day? I’m guessing it adds up to quite a sizeable chunk of time.

People may talk about the death of print, but many of us spend our working days generating far more text than ever before.

Jess Cartner-Morley’s piece in the Guardian about the death of the telephone got me thinking about it.

I’ve noticed that I spend a lot less time on the phone than I used to (although my bill is just as high, and apparently about to get higher when BT puts up its rates).

It seems the same thing is happening in offices of all sizes everywhere. The main sound is the tapping of keys. Ironic, given that outside of work, people never seem to be off their phones!

This puts more importance than ever on writing skills.  As a writing trainer you would expect me to say that. But consider the evidence: a little  grammatical slip up, a poorly chosen word –  in a conversation they’re soon forgotten. Not so in an email. They’re there to haunt you forever.

Which is why it is hugely unfair that it is so difficult to proof your own writing. Our treacherous brains see what they want to see. So, no matter how many times you check, something always seems to get through.

My big tip on this is to rest whatever you are writing. Minimise it on the screen, do something else and then take a fresh look. Hopefully mistakes will stand out.

Check out our course on proofreading for lots more tips.

What do you do to make sure your emails don’t disgrace you? (And how many mistakes did you spot in this?)

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From → Emails, writing

3 Comments
  1. You’ve got a valid point! Proofreading our own words always causes quite a challenge. I agree with your advise; it’s always best to let things sit for a while as you focus on something else. That way, when you come back to it, you read it for what it is, not what you thought it was.

  2. Good piece. When I first read it through, I didn’t notice any mistakes. But when you threw down the gauntlet to find some I went back and read it again. I think I spotted one real error and five other things that a pedant (for I am such) would call an error:

    * First sentence – “long” should be “how long”. That’s the real error
    * “Offices of all sizes everywhere” is, to be picky, a tautology. Offices everywhere will have a tendency to be “of all sizes”
    * “Ironic” should not be preceded by a full stop, but by a semi-colon or a dash, because what it starts is not a sentence (and so it should not be capitalised therefore). Same complaint about “Not so in an email”
    * There’s a superfluous comma after “outside of work” unless you put one before it as well
    * “As a writing trainer you would expect me to say that”. But *I* am not a writing trainer. The clause does not apply to the subject of the verb.

    Much of these comments are super-picky because the post is (rightly) intended to be conversational in tone, and would probably be stilted if phrased in “perfect” grammar. But I stick the little flags up anyway and invite people to tell me whether I’m right or wrong, whether I’ve missed any and what solecisms I myself have committed in this comment 🙂

    • margaret@contentetc permalink

      Thanks Steve, for picking up the error in the first sentence. I’ve corrected it now. And I tried to read it SO carefully! I can’t help feeling it would be ungracious to pick apart your other useful observations. I’ll leave that to someone else!

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