Whether you’re interviewing for a new job, trying to woo a love interest on a first date, selling your work on the Internet, or submitting a query to an editor, you can never make a second first impression.
To sell your article, novel, product, or even yourself, you need to work on that very critical first impression–and a surefire way to make a bad impression is to present poorly edited work. All the hours of researching, outlining, and writing are squandered if the final version of your manuscript is not tightly written and error-free.
How can you possibly convince an editor, agent, or customer that you can produce a great product when there are errors in your queries, on your web site, or in your marketing materials? The answer is, you can’t.
Like you, I lose trust in what I’m reading once I’ve seen more than one error. In some cases (e.g., a web site for an editing service) even that one error is enough.
Here are 8 ways to error-proof your writing:
1. EDITING CURES MORE THAN TYPOS
Proper editing cures not only typographical errors, but also inconsistent statements, ambiguities, poorly written sentences, and weak word choices. Appropriate attention to these aspects of writing makes all the difference between a mediocre piece of work and an excellent one.
2. SPELLING AND GRAMMAR CHECKS
Standard spelling and grammar checks are available to you, so use them! Remember, though, they won’t catch everything.
3. PRINT YOUR WORK
Print a copy of your manuscript and whip out the red pen. Most times, you will find mistakes you weren’t able to detect when reading on the monitor.
4. LET IT SIMMER
Put your manuscript away for a period of time so that you can look at it later with fresh eyes. After the established time period, print another copy of your work and, again, pull out the red pen. Tighten your sentences, examine your word choices, and hunt down any previously overlooked errors. I find this step to be invaluable!
5. ASK A FRIEND TO READ
It’s helpful to have friends look at your work. They’ll see it with a new perspective which will help in finding things you may have missed.
But remember, ‘non-writer’ friends may not always know what to look for and may also be shy about correcting you.
You need dead-honest criticism, so if you feel you won’t get it from a particular person, don’t ask him to proof-read your work.
6. JOIN A CRITIQUE GROUP
Peer critiques can be a terrific way to get feedback on your work, as well as offering feedback on the work of others. As an added benefit, you will learn that there’s a lot you can gain from correcting the mistakes of others.
There are many online critique groups—one place to look is Yahoo Groups. Find one that works for you, then submit and critique as needed.
7. READ BOOKS
There are many good books that can teach you to become a better self-editor. Check out at least a couple of them. Also, make sure to keep a style guide handy. One good one is Strunk and White’s, “The Elements of Style.”
8. HIRE AN EDITOR
There are many editors who will gladly take your money, so be careful when choosing someone with whom to work. Ask your network for recommendations.
Remember, few things undermine credibility as quickly as work that contains errors. But, on a positive note, remember that there are many actions you can take to avoid them.