EyeDropsThere is an old adage “don’t judge a book by its cover.”  Essentially, this parental favorite means we shouldn’t judge people or things by what they look like but rather how they act and behave since “looks can be deceiving” (another parental favorite).  The same thing holds true for the written word. Have you ever sent an e-mail or published a document only to realize later that it contains a typo or grammar mistake?  Errors such as these can often result in the reader “pre-judging” the content of your messages.  The error has the potential to, at best, distract from your actual message and worse, hurt your professional reputation. When your written documents contain errors, the reader begins to think about the incompetence of you, the writer, and potentially your business or organization if the message is one that represents a broader group, instead of judging the actual content of your message.

The Problem: I’m sure you’ve heard the expression: “Can’t see the forest for the trees.” Even if you proofread your message multiple times, there is still a chance that you may miss a mistake. This results from your familiarity with the material and the document. You are too close to it to see it objectively.  In fact, when a high degree of familiarity with a subject exists, the human brain actually “fills in” missing material and corrects errors that we see.  Knowing what is supposed to be; our mind simply fills in the blanks.  When we proofread our own work, our mind tricks us by reading what we want to read, not what is really written. We read what we expect it to say.

The Solution: To avoid sending out documents with errors in them, ask a co-worker or friend (someone uninvolved in the message) to read over it first. This “fresh set of eyes” is reading the document for the first time and will more than likely pick up on anything that is misspelled, grammatically incorrect, or even just confusing.  The editor may have familiarity with your topic, but having not been involved with the various versions of the document will permit the editor’s brain to read what’s there and not what isn’t there.

Of course, to be of maximum value, your editor should have the skills necessary to uncover your unintended errors; strong grammar skills, attention to detail, and the like.  In my past blog, Top 5 Email Do's and Don'ts, I referred to your elementary teacher who said, “Spelling Counts.” Remember the rules of punctuation and grammar. In today’s digital world, we are using shortcuts everywhere, from text messaging to the spoken word.  However, by ignoring basic grammar and punctuation rules, your message may be misunderstood and it may take more time for the recipient to decode your message.  An e-mail or other official documents are NOT text messages. Use complete sentences and take the time to have your documents proofread before pressing “send.”

A second opinion is often recommended when a doctor has made a diagnosis.  It’s incredibly valuable in writing too.  Even if your second opinion’s fresh set of eyes doesn’t find any mistakes, you will feel more confident when sending out your e-mail or document.  A fresh set of eyes can make all the difference in avoiding unnecessary errors and helping your message effectively come through.

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