During a recent business-writing class, a young woman told me, “I don’t proof my emails until after I hit send. I just want the email off my desk. It’s too nerving-racking otherwise.”
I was startled. After I thought about her comment for a moment, however, I realized that she was not unique in this behavior. Others in my writing classes have expressed similar sentiments, though they may not have phrased them quite so bluntly. “Proofing after sending” is a pointless exercise, but it’s only one of the reasons that people have mistakes in their writings that could be fixed easily.
1. Forgetting that you are writing an email, not a text. After a job interview, one woman wrote her thank-you note on her phone, but at some point she forgot it was an email and used text shortcuts. She was later told that she didn’t get the job as a result. In business, you generally do not want to use text shortcuts in email.
2. Typing and walking. If you don’t want to run into walls, people or traffic, you need to concentrate on your surroundings when walking. It is difficult to look where you are walking and type an email at the same time, so it’s tempting to skip any proofing.
3. Not paying attention to spelling and grammar suggestions provided when writing email. Spell-checkers and grammar guides available on your computer or phone do not replace your good brain, but they may catch many of your errors.
4. Ignoring the corrections made by autocorrect. One man meant to say “Sorry for the inconvenience,” but autocorrect changed the sentence to “Sorry for the incontinence.” Big difference!
5. Not realizing the impact mistakes can have on your career or reputation. Just about everyone makes mistakes occasionally, but if your emails routinely contain errors, your reputation will suffer, and the professional consequences could be serious. One young man wrote to me that his project was taken away from him because he consistently had typos on his posts. He was shocked that the quality of his writing mattered.
One simple solution
To catch your errors, you should read your message out loud syll-a-ble by syll-a-ble. If you read the words slowly, you are more likely to notice any missing words, wrong words, misspellings and wrong tenses of verbs. The reading should be done slow-ly, so you really pay attention to each individual word. If you speak quickly, you may get caught up in the meaning of your words, and can miss the mistakes. As one engineer in my class said, “Unless I read slowly, I am reading what is in my head, not what’s on the screen.”
This suggestion will add only seconds to the time you spend on an email. Isn’t your reputation worth those few moments? I think so. There are, of course, numerous additional ways to proofread, but this one suggestion will help you to catch many of your errors.
Additional information on business writing can be found in my book, The Essentials of Business Etiquette: How to Greet, Eat, and Tweet Your Way to Success.
Pachter & Associates provides seminars and coaching on business writing. For additional information, please contact Joyce Hoff at email@example.com or 856..751.6141.