You must proofread your business writing so it is as correct as you can make it for three reasons:
If you send out business writing that consistently contains writing errors, your team members, managers, clients, and vendors may believe you’re uneducated, unintelligent, careless, or incompetent.
Follow these guidelines to proofread business writing for grammar and usage.
1. Set your spelling checker and grammar checker to maximize their benefits
The spelling checker proofreads spelling by comparing words between spaces with the words it has in a dictionary that is part of the word processing system. The spelling checker also checks a personal dictionary containing words you use that are not in the main dictionary, but which you don’t want the system to stop at each time it does a spell check. If the spell checker does not find the sequence of letters in its dictionary or your personal dictionary, it notifies you. That doesn’t mean the word isn’t appropriate or isn’t spelled correctly. It just means the spelling checker didn’t find the letters in that sequence in its dictionaries. You must make the final decision about whether the word is acceptable. You still do the final proofreading.
Follow these three steps to make the most of your spell checker and grammar checker:
- Set your spelling checker and grammar checker to check spelling and grammar as you type.
- Still proofread for spelling to identify words that are misused, but spelled correctly.
- Use the grammar checker for advice, but don’t change everything it identifies. Do your own proofreading using the advice.
2. Proofread business writing with your attention trained on five critical areas in which errors often occur
The second way to proofread your business writing effectively is to focus on the five areas in which errors often occur. Each time you write an email, memo, letter, or report, stop and reread every word carefully. Read the business writing with attention to the following five areas of concern. For very important business writing, proofread in five passes, one for each area of concern.
- Proofread your business writing for content. Make sure you’ve said what you want to say. Is all the information important for the reader to receive in this business e‑mail, memo, letter, or report?
- Proofread for numbers. If you have phone numbers, dates, room numbers, or other numbers in your business writing, double-check them to be sure they’re accurate.
- Proofread for clarity. Will the reader be able to understand every sentence of your business writing? Have you written so clearly the reader cannot possibly misunderstand?
- Proofread for usage. Read for grammar, spelling, punctuation, sentence structure, and word usage to make sure everything is correct. Proofread especially carefully those areas you know give you trouble.
- Proofread for formatting. Edit and proofread your business writing to be sure you are using a consistent, readable format. The format must be the same throughout your document.
3. For very important business writing, print out a copy and proofread it.
If this business writing contains important information, such as a contract offer, print out a copy and proofread the printed copy. Have someone else proofread it also to make sure the figures are correct.
4. Focus when you proofread your business writing. Stop if you are interrupted.
When you proofread your business writing, assume a proofreading mindset. Focus on reading more carefully than you normally read. You will be proofreading your business writing for only a few minutes, so you can expend the extra mental energy.
Turn off the radio or other distraction. If someone interrupts you, don’t continue proofreading. Stop, take care of the interruption, and return to proofreading.
5. If you are having difficulty following your business writing, read it aloud.
If some text is difficult to follow, read it aloud to see whether it contains the content you want it to have. Consider revising it. If you must read your business writing aloud to understand it, your reader is sure to have a problem with it.
6. When you are proofreading your business writing, if you read a sentence and you must read it again to understand it, change it.
Don’t leave text in your business writing that seems unclear, even though you did figure out what it really meant the second time you read it. The fact that you had trouble with it the first time means the reader probably will have trouble with it.
7. Proofread every letter and space in your business writing, no matter where it falls.
Proofread every letter and space in your business writing. Proofread the title, headings, tables, page numbers, and all other parts of the business writing. In the body of the e‑mail, memo, letter, or report, start in the upper left corner of the screen and end in the lower right corner. Do not skip around as you proofread your business writing. Follow it from beginning to end.
8. Follow this procedure for proofreading business writing
Don’t read for meaning when you proofread. To get you out of the mode of reading as you would normally read, follow the procedure in the list of steps below. Imagine you’re proofreading this text:
- Read word by word, including articles and prepositions. Read each word and article or preposition one cluster at a time, like this:
The consultant . . . prepared . . . a report . . . on the feasibility . . . of changing . . . our software . . . system . . . without . . .
- After you finish a line or sentence, backtrack and read phrases. You read the words in the first example above. This is what you would see as you read phrases:
The consultant prepared . . . a report on the feasibility . . . of changing our software system . . . without much expense . . .
This procedure may seem time consuming, but as you become accustomed to it, your eyes will take you to the words and phrases effortlessly, reading the words, then the phrases:The consultant . . . prepared . . . a report . . . the consultant prepared a report . . . on the feasibility . . . of changing . . . our software system . . . on the feasibility of changing our software system . . .
- If the sentence is longer or is complicated, read the entire sentence again looking for sentence errors.
- Watch for unusual or special words you must check twice. You might see “effect,” which is often confused with “affect.” Look twice at it. You might see “manpower,” which might be “man power.” If you have any doubts, look it up in the dictionary. Use your dictionary regularly. In this case, “manpower” is one word.
- Look at punctuation specifically. You might see, “it was possible—but would not guarantee,” with a dash in it. Look twice at that. Is the dash the longer em dash —, or is it just a hyphen -? Is this the appropriate place for an em dash? If you have doubts, don’t use the punctuation or look up the rule in your grammar textbook.
- You might see this sentence: “Her report was an eye opener; it made me think twice.” It has a semicolon. That’s an unusual punctuation mark that causes business writers problems. In this case, the semicolon is used correctly. You must have a complete sentence on either side of the semicolon. Double-check that.
9. Watch for unusual or special words in your business writing that you must proofread twice.
In the example, you would see “effect,” which is often confused with “affect.” Look twice at it. You would see “manpower,” which might be “man power.” If you have any doubts about something in your business writing as you proofread, look it up in the dictionary. Use your dictionary regularly. In this case, “manpower” is one word.
10. Proofread punctuation specifically.
In the example, you see “it was possible—but would not guarantee,” with a dash in it. Look twice at that as you proofread. Is the dash the longer em dash ( — ), or is it just a hyphen ( – )? Is this the appropriate place for an em dash? If you have doubts, don’t use the punctuation, or look up the rule in your grammar textbook.
As you proofread the sample of business writing, you might see this sentence: “Her report was an eye opener; it made me think twice.” It has a semicolon. That’s an unusual punctuation mark that causes business writers problems. You must have a complete sentence on either side of the semicolon. Double-check that.
11. We recommend that you not use dashes, semicolons, ellipses, and other unusual punctuation in your business writing.
You don’t need dashes, semicolons, or ellipses in your business writing. Many business writers don’t understand how to use them or read them.
Read more about using simple punctuation . . .
Proofread every document you send out in this way, slowly and carefully. That is the only way to produce business writing that is consistently correct.