Business Writing Courses

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Proofreading and Editing

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Self-Study Courses with No Instructor Access or Record Keeping

    BWC21 Business Writing Skills

    BWC35 Writing Clear, Effective Email

    BWC80 Basic Business Grammar



Proofread every e‑mail, memo, letter, or report you send out.

Correctness is very important:

  1. It ensures you are sending the message you wanted to send.
  2. It lets readers know you are careful, detailed oriented, and on top of things.
  3. It shows readers you are educated and intelligent.

If you send out writing that consistently has errors in it, your team members, managers, clients, and vendors will judge you harshly: they'll believe you're uneducated, unintelligent, imprecise, careless, and incompetent. On the other hand, if your writing is consistently clear, well organized, and correct, they'll assume you're educated, intelligent, precise, careful, and competent.

After you write an e‑mail, memo, letter, or report, stop and reread every word carefully. Read it in four passes:

  1. For content. Make sure you've said what you want to say. Is all the information important for the reader to receive in this e‑mail, memo, letter, or report?
  2. For numbers. If you have phone numbers, dates, room numbers, or other numbers, double check them to be sure they're accurate.
  3. For clarity. Will the reader be able to understand every sentence? Have you written so clearly the reader cannot possibly misunderstand?
  4. For usage. Read for grammar, spelling, and punctuation to make sure everything is correct. Look especially at those areas you know give you trouble.

For very important e‑mails, memos, letters, or reports, print out a copy and proofread it.

If this e‑mail, memo, letter, or report contains important information, such as a contract offer, print out a copy and proofread the printed copy. Have someone else proofread it also to make sure the figures are correct.

Focus when you proofread. Stop if you are interrupted.

When you proofread, go into a proofreading mind set. Focus on reading more carefully than you normally read. You will be proofreading for only a few minutes, so you can expend the extra mental energy.

Turn off the radio or other distraction. If someone interrupts you, don't continue proofreading. Stop, take care of the interruption, and return to proofreading.

If you are having trouble following some text, read it aloud.

If some text is difficult to follow, read it aloud to see whether it contains the content you want it to have. Consider revising it. If you have to read it aloud to understand it, your reader is sure to have a problem with it.

When you are proofreading, if you read a sentence and get the wrong idea from it, so you have to read it again, change it. Don't leave it even though you did figure out what it really meant the second time you read it. The fact that you had trouble with it the first time means the reader probably will have trouble with it.

Proofread every letter and space in the e‑mail, memo, letter, or report, no matter where it falls.

Proofread every letter and space in the e‑mail, memo, letter, or report. Proofread the title, the headings, the tables, the page numbers, and all other parts of the e‑mail, memo, letter, or report. In the body of the e‑mail, memo, letter, or report, start in the upper left corner of the screen and end in the lower right corner. Do not skip around in the e‑mail, memo, letter, or report. Follow it from beginning to end.

Procedure for Proofreading

When you proofread, you must approach the text differently from the way you approach it when you are reading for content or reading to edit. Editing and proofreading are two different activities you must approach in different ways. Proofread after you edit.

Follow this procedure to proofread effectively. We'll imagine you're proofreading this text:

The consultant prepared a report on the feasibility of changing our software system without much expense and with little interruption. She assured us that it was possible—but would not guarantee its effects would cause no disruption. The reason is that such changes can cause unanticipated disruptions and may result in more manpower requirements than we had anticipated. Her report was an eye opener; it made me think twice.

  1. Read word by word. Don't slide over the text in gulps. Read each word one at a time.
    The consultant    prepared    a report    on the    feasibility    of changing    our software    system    without . . .
  2. Then backtrack and read phrases after you've read a series of words. This is what you would see as you read words, then backtrack to read phrases:

    The consultant prepared a report    on the feasibility of changing    our software system    without much expense . . .

    This procedure may seem time consuming, but as you become accustomed to it, your eyes will take you to the words and phrases effortlessly, reading the words, then the phrase:

    The consultant    prepared    a report    the consultant prepared a report    on the    feasibility    of changing    our software    system    on the feasibility of changing our software system . . .
  3. If the sentence is longer or is complicated, read the entire sentence again, looking for sentence errors.

  4. Watch for unusual or special words you must check twice. In the example, you would see "effect," which is often confused with "affect." Look twice at it. You would see "manpower," which might be "man power." If you have any doubts, look it up in the dictionary. Use your dictionary regularly. In this case, "manpower" is one word.

  5. Look at punctuation specifically. In the example, you see "it was possible—but would not guarantee," with a dash in it. Look twice at that. Is the dash the longer em dash —, or is it just a hyphen -? Is this the appropriate place for an em dash? If you have doubts, don't use the punctuation or look up the rule in your grammar textbook.

    You would see this sentence: "Her report was an eye opener; it made me think twice." It has a semicolon. That's an unusual punctuation mark that causes business writers problems. You must have a complete sentence on either side of the semicolon. Double-check that.

    We recommend that you not use dashes, semicolons, ellipses, and other unusual punctuation. You don't need them in business writing, and many business writers don't understand how to use them or read them.

Proofread every document you send out in this way, slowly and carefully. That is the only way to send documents that are consistently correct.