Brown Shoes with Blue Suits: Edit Your Wardrobe

brown-shoesIn graduate school, when we students were required to give a speech, we were also required to wear a suit. In addition, we were warned that if that suit was navy, we were never to wear brown shoes with it. The rule was: No brown shoes with blue suits. Black would do. Women could wear blue.

The A and C (Analysis and Communication) professor also pointed out that if we were told we would each have a finger cut off for breaking this rule, he was sure we would follow his recommended dress code. He cautioned us to act as if we actually would face this penalty; we were to think about it when we got up in the morning and donned our speech-making attire. (The U.S. penalty was to get an “F.”)

The point was that being almost perfectly groomed was not enough; it did not count.

As a business and financial editor and writer, I have had the opportunity to read and edit my share of white papers, technical reports, requests for proposals and other forms of business communication. And I am surprised at how often these high-end professional “blue” documents appear to be wearing brown shoes.

That is to say, when they are submitted to their respective readers, they are done, yet are just 95 percent of the way finished. They have been researched and written, sweated over and rewritten, vetted by experts and scoured by attorneys, yet lack the final polish that a good editing job will imbue upon them.

First impressions count, and minor errors, misspellings and misplaced modifiers are likely to jump out and make themselves known. They draw negative attention to themselves and to the written piece like water being absorbed by a dry sponge. They detract from the credibility of what might be a powerful message, as well as from the credibility of the writer who wrote it and the organization for which it was written.

Moral: Before submitting a document to its prospective reader, check to see if your writing is all dressed up in a blue suit, but is wearing a pair of brown shoes. Edit, copyedit, proofread and review your writing. Put in the final five percent to fine-tune your communication. Spit polish your prose.

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