Tell me if this sounds familiar: you’re breezing your way through a blog post or another document you’ve been tasked with writing. You’ve got meetings to get to, 179 emails to clear out of your inbox, phone calls to return, and everywhere you go, you’re putting out fires. Writing a blog post might not get your full attention, but you need to get it done and out of the way.
So you tap-tap-tap away, and maybe a half an hour later, you’ve got 400 or so words. Good deal. Let’s go ahead and just hit ‘publish’ on that so we can get on to the next…
Whoa, whoa, whoa! Not so fast.
If you just wrote anything and you’re submitting it cold, you’re asking for trouble. Remember back in school when your teacher told you not to rush and to make sure you always double-checked your work before submitting it?
If you don’t have time for a full edit (a topic I’ll cover another day), there are three things you can do relatively quickly to help you avoid the embarrassment of publishing sloppy work. That’s your personal brand (or your company’s brand) on the line, after all.
1. Read and Read Again
Sure, you could go ahead and publish as soon as you’ve typed the last word. But what if you made simple mistakes? Everyone does it. We think faster than we type and end up forgetting words or leaving out letters. If you’re really pressed for time, re-read your work as soon as you’ve finished writing. If time allows, however, put it aside for a while and come back to it. You’d be surprised what you notice when you read something with “fresh eyes.” Reading out loud can also help you hear any mistakes.
2. Check Your Punctuation
For as important as it really is and as much as it can change the meaning of a sentence, too many people undervalue punctuation (spoken like a true nerd, I know). My inner English teacher can’t be contained. She’s dying to give you some punctuation pointers.
- Use a period at the end of a sentence. Period.
- Don’t overuse exclamation marks. In fact, use them as sparingly as possible, and never more than one at a time. Use them too often and you start sounding like a 14 year old girl with front row tickets to a Justin Bieber concert.
- Commas are tremendously important and frequently misused.
- Use them before conjunctions, not after.
- Use them when you’d naturally pause in a sentence.
- Use them to set apart clauses.
- Use them before you address someone. This can make a world of difference in the sentence. Take this classic example:
“Let’s eat, Grandma” as opposed to “Let’s eat Grandma.”
Like I said. World of difference.
- Do not use them to separate two sentences. When you do that, you create a comma splice. “Mildred listens to AC/DC, it’s her favorite band” is a comma splice. If you remove the comma from a comma splice, you’ve got a run-on sentence. “Mildred listens to AC/DC. It’s her favorite band” is one way to fix it.
That’s enough of the punctuation lesson. It might bore you to tears, but those mechanics can make or break your writing.
3. Check Your Spelling
If spelling isn’t your forte, consider asking someone else to look over it for you. When you make simple mistakes, it detracts from the quality of your writing — especially if you make them repeatedly. Homophones seem to be especially problematic for lots of people. Make sure you know the difference:
- your/you’re — this is a big one!
And so forth. There are hundreds of ways to confuse homophones. Check your spelling!
While all of those pesky little rules you learned in school might seem too cumbersome to deal with while you’re writing, making editing a part of your writing process pays off immensely. If people can’t understand what you’re saying or get frustrated with your errors, you run the risk of losing them as members of your audience. The more you practice re-reading and checking your spelling and punctuation, the more naturally it will come to you as you go.
We all make mistakes, but most of the time they’re absolutely fixable. Editing is a part of writing. If you don’t have time to edit, you don’t have time to write. Don’t depend on others to do it for you. Instead, make your work the best you can from the start. Follow these three steps and you’ll be on the road to more polished writing.
What steps would you add to polish your writing? Brave enough to share your most embarrassing “careless error” (as teachers used to call them)?
Image Source: Matt Hampel/Flickr