Improve your writing by proofreading

Your first draft needs improvement. After all, it’s unreasonably difficult to decide what you want to say and find the clearest way to express it at the same time. Granted, sometimes it doesn’t matter. On the other hand, if you write to publish anywhere, turn it in for a school assignment, circulate it to colleagues at work, or otherwise send it to anyone who has a right to judge it, set aside your first draft for a day or two. Proofread it and revise it at least once.

Professional publishers in the print world usually have copy editors to catch any mistakes you might have made. But not always. Everywhere else, you’re on your own.

For many generations, people complained about having to know the correct spelling in order to find it. Then came the electronic spell checker. Even the most stripped down text editors underline suspiciously spelled words in red. More sophisticated word processing programs also point out possible grammatical errors and such mistakes and extra spaces with green underlining. You can also find online grammar checkers.

Unfortunately, red does not mean that a word is misspelled, only that it does not match anything in the software’s built-in dictionary. Also, even though the words with no underlining are spelled correctly, that does not guarantee that they are the right words. Beware of homonyms like to/too/two, there/there/they’re, whose/who’s, etc.

Beware also that your word processor tries to anticipate what you mean whenever you mistype something. I love it when it correctly interprets the work of my dyslexic fingers. I hate it when it misinterprets my typo and substitutes a wrong word. When revising, read slowly to be sure that whatever you intended to type is how your draft actually reads!

Likewise, green underlining does not necessarily mean that you have to change anything. The software will usually suggest changes. You can usually accept them, but Microsoft Word’s grammar checker, perhaps among others, contains some hard-coded grammatical errors. In any case, only you can determine whether the suggestions improve your draft or somehow change your meaning. In other words, be grateful for electronic help, but do not let it substitute for your own understanding.
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misspelled sign

From Flickr. The photographer notes, “I hope their ability to spell doesn’t speak of their ability to train.”

¬†And that brings up another point: generations of high school and college students have succeeded in persuading at least some of their teachers that spelling doesn’t matter. Once they graduate, they learn, or ought to learn, that spelling does matter. It matters to prospective employers, to potential clients and customers, and to all manner of people that you can’t bully as easily as your teachers!

Excessive misspelled words or grammatical clunkers betray the author’s carelessness. Readers quite rightly begin to question whether a person who writes that way hasn’t been equally careless in reasoning or fact checking. Will that person’s product or customer service be any better than his or her writing?

I have already posted other things you should consider in your proofreading and revision:

    • Make sure “this” or “that” is not the subject of a sentence
    • Prefer active voice to passive voice (and while you’re at it, substitute an another verb for forms of “to be” whenever you can.
    • Check your apostrophes to make sure you have them everywhere you need them, and nowhere else.

Be sure you have chosen correctly between

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Photo credit: Some rights reserved by Charles Williams.


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