I don’t dream much, but I do have a recurring nightmare that I’ve published a piece for the world to read…only to find a typo in the opening sentence. (Phew, that was close!)
We live in an always-on world where constant communication through texts, posts, tweets, and everything else is becoming expected. Unfortunately, our collective grammatical competency hasn’t kept pace. So while off-the-cuff texts may make sense among friends, forgetting punctuation or misspelling words in business weaves distrust among colleagues, partners, and customers. It can mean the difference between selling and becoming a viral joke.
The good news
There’s no need to wait for another grammar tragedy to strike. This simple checklist will set you in the right direction.
- Keep a dictionary and a thesaurus within reach
I start my writing process, like most people, by outlining my main points. This process is prone to mental obstacles, but often the simple act of reading a relevant list of words sparks new and stronger ideas. Not to mention, double checking the meaning of words you think you know and want to use can either validate your choice or help you find more appropriate words.
- Make time to step away before reviewing your own work
If you’re driving down the highway, you wouldn’t suddenly shift into reverse. The same goes for writing and reviewing your own work. Spell check functions and even more advanced offerings like Grammarly can be very helpful, but they don’t always grasp the context you have in mind. Stepping away for a short walk, a cup of coffee with a friend, or to play an embarrassingly-addictive game on your phone gives your mind time to reset. From here, you can better assess not just the words you used but how they’re structured, whether you provided the right context, and if your main points stand out.
- Invest in a strong editor
Crafting copy that sells or compels takes a lot of mental energy, so by the time you’ve finished your draft it can be tough to let someone else poke holes in it. Every writer needs someone who isn’t as close to their work to play devil’s advocate, and who you choose depends on what kind of editing you need. Do you need formative, developmental thinking to make sense of version 1? A thorough, technical copy edit to validate terminology and process information? Even if you’re lucky enough to know an all-around savvy editor, tell them what kind of edit you need. It’ll save you time in the long run.
These aren’t the only ways to ensure top-notch copy, but they’re a great start, especially if you’re trying to develop your writing style. In the words of wordsmith Nikki Elledge Brown, “While some grammar rules are meant to be broken, correct spelling always matters.”
Next time, I’ll tell you about my idea for a mobile snap-and-edit app: Insta-grammar.