How to Proofread and Edit Your Business Writing
Proofreading and Editing Your Business Writing
Many people find the act of proofreading and editing to be a waste of time, yet just the opposite is true. Editing and proofreading your own work is an absolute must for anyone that wants to send professional-looking work out the door. It may not always be easy and it may take a little extra time, but the errors that are caught can save mounds of headaches and/or embarrassment down the road. In this article, you will learn about the process of both editing and proofreading. You will learn how to do it, what to look for, and ways to make the process easier.

Finishing Your Work

After you have created a business letter or document, you should start out by reading it over once. You want to first correct any errors in spelling, grammar, punctuation, and sentence logic. This is to see if it makes sense and if you have included the information you intended to include. Once you have finished that, you should set the letter or document aside for a while. You should not immediately begin to edit the work.

Once you write something, it is very difficult to immediately switch gears and start editing and proofreading. You are much better off taking a break from that particular piece, even if only long enough to take a bathroom break or get a cup of coffee. This will help freshen your mind and clear your thoughts. If the letter does not need to be sent out right away, you may want to consider setting it aside for a few hours or until the next day. You would be surprised at how differently things look when you come back with a fresh pair of eyes and begin to reread what you wrote.

There is not a writer alive that can get away without editing and proofreading his or her work. Even the best writers in the world have to comb over their work looking for things that are not accurate, not clear, typos, etc. There are many people that find the process of editing and proofreading to be daunting. This is where you change your mind about that. Editing and proofreading are part of the entire writing process.

The writing process includes these steps:

  1. Prewriting: This is done before you actually start writing. It is the point at which you start gathering information, details, notes, etc., that you will need to write the draft. It is wise to create an outline to follow along with as you write. You can jot down a brief outline that states topics to be discussed in each paragraph, pertinent information to include, etc. Doing an outline before beginning to write is like having a road map so you know where you are going as you write.
  2. Drafting: This is when you begin writing the draft. You will connect your ideas and write the letter or document you have set out to do. During this stage, it is best to keep writing and not worry about editing or stopping to mull over every paragraph. Just let the words flow and keep going until you finish.
  3. Edit: This is when you go back over the draft with a keen eye for detail. You will be looking for proper mechanics, spelling, grammar, etc.
  4. Proofread: This step should be the last step you do once all the others have been done. In this step, you will read over the document for any spelling, punctuation, or other such minor errors that you have overlooked.

Editing and proofreading are just a part of the writing process. Without doing those steps, your chances of turning in work with errors or unclear thoughts greatly increases. Editing and proofreading are two different steps; they are not the same thing. We will examine each one separately to get a clear idea of what it is, how you do it, and why it is important to producing good business writing.

Editing Explained

When you edit the work you have produced, you are looking at such things as:

  • Structure: This is where you will want to confirm that you have produced a professional-looking document that follows the guidelines. You will want to make sure that your letter is formatted properly and you have the dates, CCs, enclosures, and all other necessary information included. You also will want to look at each paragraph to see if it makes sense and that all paragraphs are in logical order.
  • Content: This includes making sure that the letter or document does what the assignment was to do. For example, if your assignment was to write a complaint letter to another company, did you state what the complaint was clearly, how it can be handled, etc.?
  • Clarity: Editing is the time for checking to see that everything has been written clearly and is understandable. Sometimes when we write and are doing it fast and off the top of our heads, we get ahead of ourselves. It is easy to write things that seem like they are making sense as you think about them; but when you reread the passage, you can see that it does not make a lot of sense. Editing to make such sections more clear for the reader is essential to producing a professional document.
Do not be surprised if, when you start editing your work, you end up rewriting half of it. This happens to a lot of people and it is normal. The goal in writing is to get the words down on paper, and through editing you can go back and reshape them into something even better. However, if you find yourself doing this, pay attention to what you keep editing over and over. Maybe there is a pattern in what you are doing and you can try to avoid it in the future.

Proofreading Explained

The process of proofreading should be the last step in the writing process. Once you have written a draft and edited it to your liking, you are then ready to do a quick spell-check on the computer. Once you have done that, you are ready to proofread the document.

In proofreading, you are looking for mistakes such as grammar, capitalization, typos, and misspelled words. While some people do this on computers today, making changes as they go along, others prefer to do it with a printed piece of paper in their hand. There is no right or wrong way to proofread. It does have to be done on the computer or on paper. Many offices today are becoming more environmentally friendly, which is one reason some would prefer to proofread right on the screen, thus saving all the extra sheets of paper.

To proofread, you will need to read the document very slowly. If it is possible for you to read the document aloud, that is even better. When you can read it aloud and hear what has been written, you are relying on more than just vision and may catch things that do not sound quite right. Some people also recommend reading the document backward, word for word, to catch things that are not correct. Another great option is to have someone else look the document over. You would be amazed at the spelling errors someone else can find even after you have gone over it several times. It never hurts to have a second pair of eyes go over the document if possible.

As you get started with your business writing, pay attention to whether there are errors you consistently make. Then you will know what to be more careful of and can try to avoid in the future.

Proofreader marks may be necessary for some academic or work purposes. While they were more commonly used years ago, before there were computers, some places still routinely use them today.

The task of learning the proofreader's marks and using them may seem daunting at first. However, after you have worked with them for a couple of weeks, they will be like second nature and you will know them well. The document is handy to have printed and readily available in the event someone asks you to proofread and be their second pair of eyes. You could easily use the marks, which are universal in the country, to proofread the document and then return it back to the first proofreader with your suggestions.

Common mistakes to watch for when proofreading:

  • Words that have been spelled wrong.
  • Homophones, or words that are pronounced alike but have different spellings and meanings, that have been used incorrectly; e.g., using "their" instead of "there" or the incorrect version of "to," "too," or "two."
  • Punctuation to ensure that commas, periods, apostrophes, and question marks are in the appropriate place. Also, check to see that words that should be capitalized have been. While checking what is there, you should also check to see if something is not there. It is possible to leave out a word that belongs in the document.

There are other areas that you will need to be aware of and watch for when editing and proofreading, such as using active and passive voice, using numbers, word overload, and using clichés.

Numbers. In addition to using the numbers in a date or phone number, you inevitably will include some other numbers from time to time. There are some rules that should be followed when using numbers in your documents other than dates and phone numbers. Those rules include:

  • Spelling out any number that begins a sentence. If the number is large and requires several words, then you should rearrange your sentence so that the number does not start it.

For example:

Six children left camp early because of having a cold.

There were 102 crayons in the box.

You should have numbers in decimals, fractions, time of day, amounts of money, percentages, scores, statistics, dates, addresses, and numbers followed by measurements or symbols. Two-word numbers should be written in numeral form. All plural numbers should be written out (e.g., the eighties were a time of pop music.)

Interested in learning more? Why not take an online Business Writing course?

Incorrect: There were one hundred and thirty books on the shelf.

She lived at twenty four Elm Street.

87 people lined up for the free immunizations.

She is going meet us at twelve fifteen for lunch.

The speed limit was forty five m.p.h.

She earns five seventy five per hour.

Correct: There were 130 books on the shelf.

She lived at 24 Elm Street.

There were 87 people that lined up for the free immunizations.

She is going to meet us at 12:15 for lunch.

The speed limit was 45 m.p.h.

She earns $5.75 per hour.

When it comes to percentages, you will use the % symbol for business writing purposes. However, you will see percent often written out. Some people, like most journalists, follow the Associated Press guide to style, which requires that the word be written out instead of a symbol being used. You should also always use numbers for chapters, page numbers, volumes, and line numbers.

Active and Passive Voice

In most of the writing you will do, you will want to use the active voice. Documents that are written in passive voice tend to be scientific in nature. They can be unclear and cause confusion. Unless otherwise preferred for your type of position, you should aim for using active voice when writing your documents.

In passive voice, the subject is acted upon. In active voice, the subject clearly is performing an action. Active voice is considered direct, personal, and clear. Passive voice can often hide important details. In active voice, the subject is doing something (e.g., cleaning, cooking, writing, walking, etc.). You need your writing to be doing something, which means that the verb needs to be active. When writing the sentences, keep in mind that the subject (doer) comes first and is performing the action (verb).

Active voice examples:

Lisa paints the room.

Donna makes breakfast.

Lisa washes the car.

Passive voice examples:

This room is painted by Lisa.

Breakfast is made by Donna.

The car is being washed by Lisa.

Being Too Wordy

There is a tendency by some people to add fluff or flowery language or to be too wordy with their writing. Regardless of what term you use to refer to it, you should try to avoid it. Adding in words that are not necessary makes a document too wordy. When you are editing your work, you may notice that in removing some of these words the sentence still stands alone and may even become more concise. Here are some commonly used unnecessary words that can be trimmed out of your document to keep it from being too wordy:

  • Just recently
  • Basic fundamentals
  • Very unique
  • First and foremost

A common problem with the above examples is that two words are being written to say the same thing. If something is unique, then "very" is not necessary. Extra wording like this adds to a document and can make the message become lost or unclear. The reader has very limited time to spend on the document you have prepared. Aim to say the most with the least amount of words.

Avoid the Clichés

When you are writing, it is a good idea to try to avoid clichés. They are phrases that have been overused and people have grown tired of or find annoying. Some common clichés include:

  • Do not put off until tomorrow what you can do today.
  • There is no place like home.
  • A chain is only as strong as its weakest link.
  • Don't throw the baby out with the bathwater.
  • Kill two birds with one stone.
  • All talk and no action.
  • All's well that ends well.

This all may seem like a lot to think about when you sit down to write something. However, the more you write, the more it will become a part of your writing process.