“Look over your work before you turn it in!”
Generations of teachers have spoken those cautionary words. A fundamental lesson for young students, the instruction remains relevant throughout life and applies to any “work,” certainly our written communications.
When deciding what will pass as a solid assessment of our written content, however, let's be clear:
Proofreading is not simply “looking over” the verbiage. Serious proofreading, in fact, occurs in stages and over multiple rounds.
What Every Professional Proofread Needs
One of the most informative yet overlooked stages of proofreading is the start-to-finish review. The need applies to all professional content, including extensive reports and full-blown books. Granted, the more material, the more commitment it’ll take to complete your assignment, but giving your undivided focus to long manuscripts, which beg for this treatment, always pays off.
To note, reviewing for a while, leaving for some period to get involved in who-knows-what kind of activity, and then returning, picking up where you left off, is not the idea. Aside from taking short breaks for life’s necessities, your goal is to keep going until you reach the end. Ideally, you’ll isolate yourself from every distraction and read through your entire draft.
The intention is to focus on reading, not editing. Consequently, rather than cleaning up problems, for the time being, you’ll only highlight the areas to address later and move on.
What does a start-to-finish review accomplish?
A start-to-finish review of your content allows you to keep track of where you’ve been, where you are, and where you’re going to answer the following questions:
Does the presentation have a cohesive beginning, middle and conclusion? Aside from establishing that all components support the theme, install logical transitions that help readers enter each new section. Your readers should find ease in accompanying you, not feel yanked and pulled from here to there.
Does each section convey a unified voice? Establish a consistent writing style throughout. An example would be to choose between a formal or personal tone. Presentations can become disjointed when multiple writers have contributed, or when one author develops the content in phases. Either way, a lack of harmony detracts from the message.
Is any of the material in the wrong order? Validate that each detail surfaces at the right moment. For instance, if you must provide definitions of terms, introductions to people, background for events, etc., then make sure the context always appears the first time you mention the word or name—not twenty pages later to the frustration of readers.
Was any item tossed in the mix that doesn’t belong? Make sure all subject matter is relevant to the communication’s purpose. Although the information might be valid in some other context, content that veers too far off the topic or contradicts your main points could cause you to lose and/or confuse readers.
Is any material missing? If you’ve directly or indirectly promised something to your readers, then fulfill their expectations. Also, look for any gaping holes, such as where explanations or examples would be helpful.
Do any points need to be pinned down? If you’ve mentioned a key point only in passing, add substance with additional facts and/or commentary. Otherwise, your readers will likely breeze over the item and miss a principle takeaway.
Is any material repetitive? Avoid beating readers over the head by belaboring points. Also, look for repetitive sentences, paragraphs, etc. Writers often decide that the content they have in one section would be more effective in another place, but after cutting and pasting the material, they forget to delete it from the original spot. Readers don’t appreciate those déjà vu experiences.
Are words and phrases overly used? You possibly favor certain expressions and vocabulary, but don’t overuse them. Find appropriate synonyms and seek alternative phrasing. Otherwise, you’ll tempt your readers to make a drinking game of your serious effort to communicate!
A world of diversions and responsibilities work against spending an extended period of time on any one activity.
So many excuses!
If your communication can potentially deliver high returns if it succeeds or big losses if it fails, then find the time and discipline to complete an all-important, all-in-one session of proofreading.
My best to you,
Sallie W. Boyles, a.k.a. Write Lady
Thoughts or questions? Please contact Sallie Boyles, owner of Write Lady Inc., to exchange ideas about effective communications and gain from professional writing and editing services. Receive monthly tips and insights by subscribing at WriteLady.com.