An Ounce of Prevention: How to Confidently Proofread Your Business Documents

womanCommunication is vital for any business. The ability to be clear, approachable and professional when sharing information or conversing with both clients and business partners can add money to your bottom line and years to your company’s life.

But, chances are you didn’t get into business because you’re a communications expert. So, how can you improve your skills at written projects for your company? Here’s a handy guide to proofing your work to make it really shine.

Always Proofread

There’s probably not a writer in the world who can write perfectly without going back over their work. It’s a key step in the writing process, so schedule time to re-read and edit any of your communications. Even the smallest of written projects – emails, coupons, mailers, or business cards – deserves a second look.

And, certainly, anything that will be sent to a printer for mass reproduction should pass through more than one proofreader before heading out.

How to Edit

Start by putting your work aside for a few hours or a day in order to give yourself some breathing room from your efforts. Then, read the material different times to look for different errors (more on that below).

Some writers need to print a hardcopy in order to really capture the key details when re-reading. Others don’t like to waste the paper. Some people use tricks like reading a sentence backward to make misspelled words stand out more. And many find that having a “buddy system” to proofread one another’s work is good practice. Whatever works for you, use it.

Read for Clarity First

After you finish writing something, read it over to get the “big picture” perspective about the communication within it. Look at the physical formatting to make sure it looks symmetrical, paragraphs are not too long and headings are all in the right places. Do pictures fit the space well, and do they convey the idea you want?

Once you have looked at the format, read the material through to see if it makes sense. Ask yourself if the sentences make sense and carry the meaning you intend. Is the wording clear, or is it either too general or too complex? Should you break up long sentences? And does the overall material meet the fundamental objectives you had in mind?

You may also want to think about the tone of the piece. If you’re writing to a bank for a loan, for example, you’ll likely want to project a much different “voice” than if you’re preparing a flyer for your big sale. It often helps to read the written work aloud or have a coworker read it as well.

Then, Focus on Details

Once you’ve worked out the way your project should sound and appear, it’s time to read it with a view toward the small details. Read each sentence slowly and look for small errors like misspelling, misplaced words within a sentence, basic grammar problems and missing punctuation.

Remember that spell-check features in many word processing programs are useful but not infallible. While they may help catch many spelling and some grammar issues, there are many mistakes that they can’t catch. Don’t leave it all to the computer.

If you’re not sure if something is misspelled, consult a dictionary (they’re plentiful online if you don’t keep a printed one handy). A few moments spent looking up the correct version of commonly confused words like “faze” and “phase” will save your reputation when it comes to professionalism.

While you’re checking on things like spelling and punctuation, be sure to take a moment to double-check any facts, quotations or numbers in the document.

By following these few steps, you’ll help ensure that not only do your company’s business documents look great, but you’ll save money fixing errors and clarifying communications. Then, you can get back to the important work of running your business.