We are “devolving” into lackadaisical proofreaders.
Even senior management and 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, more than ever, human beings are being judged on 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’s personal or professional–think about these three tips before you hit “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 theater), 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. Writing at a sixth-grade level doesn’t necessarily mean you write like a sixth-grader; it just means that a sixth-grader would be able to comprehend what you’ve written. It also means that adult readers will be able to quickly and easily absorb what you’re trying to tell them.
- Organize your thoughts. Does your argument unfold intelligently? Is your word choice persuasive? If you are drafting several paragraphs, do you use a topic sentence for each one and include evidence to support it?
- Elaborate. Have you explained your position fully? Or will the reader have lingering questions?
- Proof for mechanics. Check your capitalization, punctuation, grammar, and 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.