We are “devolving” into lackadaisical proofreaders.
Even senior management or professionals with advanced degrees and experience no longer show the stamina or desire to ensure that their written words convey exactly what they are meant to – and our carelessness is coming to a head.
This is compounded by the fact that human beings are being judged more than ever by our word choice. In large part, this is a result of our increasing reliance on written communication to conduct both business and personal relationships.
When writing for a specific purpose – whether it is personal or professional – are there any pitfalls that you should avoid before hitting “send”?
Watch Your Tone.
In written communication, it is especially important to watch your tone. For example, short replies to emails (sure, fine, ok, etc.) may come across as abrupt or angry. Excessive use of punctuation or CAPS LOCK could also suggest excitement – with both positive and negative connotations.
Ensure that every email you send in a professional environment is purposeful and that it includes relevant and actionable information. CAPS LOCK is rarely appropriate, and multiple exclamation points or question marks may send readers the wrong message. Wasn’t it Mark Twain who tried to explain that exclamation points should be used ever so sparingly (as in shouting “Fire!” in a crowded theatre), or omitted from one’s work entirely?
Aside from watching your tone, here are some proofreading tips that can help you to avoid potentially damaging emails:
- Read your email out loud. Even middle school students are taught this strategy. It’s an easy way to catch your mistakes, i.e., typos, and tone down or polish your language.
- Check for clarity. Is your meaning clear? Does your word choice accurately reflect your feelings, or point of view? Don’t write “Call me at once,” if you mean “Please contact me at your earliest convenience. This deal’s important, Joe. Thanks.”
- Check for fluency. Newspapers are typically written at a fifth or sixth grade level. Take a look at Grammarly’s writing acquisition timeline (based on the Common Core Standards) to see what fifth and sixth graders should be writing.
- Organize your thoughts. Does your argument unfold intelligently? Is your word choice persuasive? Do you use a topic sentence, if you are drafting several paragraphs, with evidence to support it?
- Elaborate. Have you explained your position fully to the point where the reader has no lingering questions?
- Proof for mechanics. Mechanics include capitalization, punctuation, grammar, or syntax – the order of the words in your sentence. For gosh sakes, get yourself a grammar book if you don’t have one already, and keep it at your elbow. Writing crisp emails makes you shine. Lean on the latest edition of Strunk & White or the AP Stylebook for support. Either will do.
Strain Your Brain: Conclude with a Powerful Thought
As any great author will advise, your last line should sing. Before writing it, ask yourself, “What do I want to leave the reader thinking?” The answer to that question is the last line itself.