That is, the overall presentation and appearance will make a specific impression on the reader. If the writer is wise, he or she will do everything possible to ensure that the impression is a positive one.
One obvious, yet sometimes not-followed exercise for adding the necessary spit and polish, is proofreading.
Proofread your work!
Read It Backwards
There exist a number of ways to look objectively at your work, catch errors more easily and gain an outsider’s perspective.
For instance, a detail-oriented proofreader sometimes reads the text backwards. That way, it’s easy to look at each word without regard to the words surrounding the one that—at least for an instant—is getting the attention.
However, this approach may seem somewhat drastic. Don’t be discouraged; there are other tools in the toolbox.
Read It Out Loud
Read your writing out loud. When you do, you’ll hear what it will sound like to the intended reader. You’ll catch words or phrases that are out of place or have been used already elsewhere in the text. You’ll hear if the writing sounds stiff and awkward, silly or confusing. Some words may sound preposterous to you when you hear yourself say them. Throw them out. Get out your pen or turn on your on-line tracker; then mark your changes as you go along.
When you read out loud, you’ll catch small mistakes, such as a word that is typed at the very end of a line and then appears again—due merely to a typing oversight—as the first word in the next line. Little words such as “it” and “the” tend to be the most guilty. If you merely skim your writing, you might not even notice this sort of thing.
Print It Out
Proofread from a hard copy rather than from a computer screen. The computer screen plays tricks on your eyes. I haven’t quite pinpointed what they are, yet I know the accuracy of your proofreading will be higher if you read from a printed copy.
When you print out a piece, for the purpose of proofing, double-space your text. It’s easier to see where changes need to be made, and it’s easier to mark these changes in the blank lines between the type.
Read It Over Again
Read your writing two to three times. By just proofreading it once, you may overlook mistakes. Proof it. Print it. Read it. Now begin again. Proof your new copy. Mark it up and print it out. Read it again.
Often, when you fix one error, you throw in another. Think of plugging up holes in a dike with your finger. You fix one hole, and the dike springs another leak. Keep fixing mistakes until your writing is “leak-proof.”
Give It a Break
Put your writing aside and come back to it later. If you’ve already stared at it for too long in one sitting, it may become too familiar to you, in which case you won’t “see” what’s wrong with it. Go away and come back to it in an hour, a day or a week.
If you are capable of beginning your projects early enough, you’ll give yourself this type of allowance for time. If you are a hopeless procrastinator and can’t ever get yourself to start a project until the last minute, well then, I’ll keep my fingers crossed for you that a last-minute proofing job does the trick for you. For me, I can’t work that way, yet I know some people can’t work anyway but.
Call in the Troops
Have someone else proofread your work for you. No matter how good a writer you are, how careful you intend to be, it’s easy to miss the most obvious faux pas.
I once handed a manuscript for a book that I’d written to a friend of mine. She was the publisher at one of the largest publishing houses in San Francisco. Starting at the beginning, she looked at the first page after the table of contents, which was to be a “Foreword.” Except that I had written “Forward.” We both got a laugh out of it, yet I was glad to have her objective eye stalk down mistakes such as this one; I would have been mortified if one of the publishers whom I planned to send it to had linked this error with their perception of what my IQ must be.
It would have killed my credibility.