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How to Find Not-So-Obvious Writing Errors
American journalist, author and grammarian William Safire once said, “If you re-read your work, you can find on re-reading a great deal of repetition can be avoided by re-reading and editing.” Mr. Safire’s tongue-in-cheek comment makes the need for editing obvious. The problem for many writers, however, is finding the not-so-obvious errors. Here are some common writing issues and tips to help you overcome them.
Problem: You proofread your work but still overlook errors.
Solution: It is difficult to proofread your own work and find all of your spelling and grammatical errors. It’s even harder to catch lapses in the logical flow of ideas because you understand what you are trying to say. Before you edit your work, put it aside if only for a few minutes. It is easier to catch mistakes with a fresh eye. For important documents, ask a colleague to read your work.
Problem: You don’t remember the rules of grammar that you learned years ago so you don’t always know when you are writing something grammatically incorrect.
Solution: Many writers cannot cite rules of grammar but intuitively know if something is grammatically incorrect. How? They are avid readers. You can increase your grammar skills by reading well-written newspapers such as The New York Times or The Washington Post. Get in the habit of reading books. When in doubt about punctuation or word usage, consult a style book or dictionary.
Problem: You use the “spell check” function when writing but spelling errors still creep into your work.
Solution: Spell check is a helpful tool but should be only one of the ways you check your writing for errors. The spell check function can overlook subtle mistakes. For example, if you use the wrong word but spell that word correctly, the spell check feature may not bring that word to your attention.
Problem: You have difficulty spelling words correctly.
Solution: Improving your spelling skills does not have to be a tedious process. Playing Scrabble and doing crossword puzzles can help. Reading is another solution. Get in the habit of using a dictionary.
Problem: Even after proofreading an email, you inevitably find a spelling or grammatical error after you push the “send” button.
Solution: If an email is an important piece of correspondence, proofread it on paper rather than on your computer. If that one extra step saves a string of emails explaining what you meant to say in the first place, it is time well spent.