Oct 12, 2017

I’ve Got a Spell on You

Tips on self-editing

By Stu Slayen     

I once read an article in a newspaper that described a memorial service. One prominent guest was so overcome by emotion, the paper reported, that he broke down in “teats.” I’m glad I wasn’t there.

Spelling errors typically aren’t that embarrassing, of course, and we’re all human so mistakes happen. That said, I know that when I see errors in an important organizational document, I call the organization’s attention to detail into question. If they don’t know the difference between “there” and “their”, how can I trust that the statistics and citations are accurate?

Ideally, all copy should be edited carefully (dare I say professionally?) before it’s published – not just for spelling, but also for style, clarity, and consistency with your objectives. I realize, of course, that time and resources don’t always allow for that. So, when you can’t hire an editor, try one or all of these techniques for improving your copy:

1. Will you still love it tomorrow?

Let some time pass and re-read your text carefully another day. The passage of time will make the copy feel fresher and you’ll be better able to spot problems.

2. You’re out of order!

Often when we re-read something we’ve written, we start from the top and work our way down. When we do that, there’s no way that the last paragraph gets the same attention as the first. Try reading your text in a random order. And don’t forget to check off each paragraph after you’ve read it so you don’t leave anything out.

3. Loud and proud

Read your text out loud…ideally when no one else is around. Reading out loud forces you to pay very close attention to your words. And if you have to take a breath in the middle of a sentence, it’s time to shorten the sentence (or see your doctor).