In the likely case that your company doesn’t have an editing and proofreading budget, some advice for keeping your copy clear of errors.

As online communications become more and more prevalent, self-publishing makes self-editing a much more critical skill to master in business writing. Errors in spelling, grammar, and punctuation may seem minor, but could dissuade potential customers from moving forward with business. Moreover, mistakes can be distributed globally with just the click of a mouse, multiplying the error over and over again. Proofreading is a skill that can take years to master, but these three tips will help create copy that is virtually bulletproof, compared to the errors in the competition’s written materials.

Proofreading Should not be the Writer’s Job

The reason why professional proofreaders and editors exist is because errors are far more likely to be spotted by anyone but the writer of the document. The writer who has spent hours poring over a proposal or business plan isn’t not going to be able to see that the comma on page 6 really should have been a semicolon. Handing off the document to an employee, partner, or family member to look over will yield surprising results: even those untutored in editing may spot glaring errors that the original author missed.

The high-paced, budget-restricted business world that makes professional editing rare likewise can make it feel strange to have one’s writing checked at all. Any business writer that appears to feel threatened by this new level of oversight should be assured that proofreading isn’t a professional threat so much as it is a competitive advantage.

Grammar and Spell Check

Most word processing programs will flag not only spelling errors, but potential grammar problems as well. The grammar function is less likely to be correct, but if it flags something, it’s worth looking at the passage again to make it says what it’s supposed to say. Typically, words that the programs doesn’t recognize will be underscored with a red squiggly line, while passages where the grammar is questionable will be highlighted with a green-colored squiggle underneath. There still isn’t a perfect substitute for human knowledge, but a word processor can at least nudge writers in the correct direction.

Reading Backwards

An old proofreader’s trick is to read a passage or paragraph backwards, one word at a time. It certainly won’t make as much sense, but the separation of the words allows the mind to divorce itself from the intended meaning and focus on what was actually written. It is limited to the reader’s own knowledge, however; misuse of “their,” for example, won’t be noticed by someone that isn’t clear on the difference any more than a spelling error could be. Giving this trick a try will yield many more mistakes, all identified before the client sees the finished product.

Editing business writing on a shoestring is possible, but care must be taken not to cut so many corners that the value can no longer be seen in the document.