You’re in a hurry and click send (or submit) without really checking your work. You gloss over a couple of paragraphs and consider it done. We’ve all been there. But how often have you read a webpage, an email, or document of any nature, and seen obvious grammatical errors? The word itself may be spelt correctly if used in a different context, hence the reason the trusty in-built spellchecker failed to pick it up. Now, think about your reaction. Did you continue reading without a second thought? Or did this minor grammatical error suddenly consume all your concentration, ensuring you lost the purpose of the item you were reading. What did you think of the author? Chances are they lost a degree of credibility in your eyes.
Often, it’s the little things. I know personally that if I see a webpage littered with simple errors, I question that lack of attention to detail. If the author can’t even get their communications correct, how can I trust the quality of the product or service they provide? Generally, I’ll keep looking for an alternate, even if I really want to like this particular person.
Take it from a different perspective. You’re a manager looking to promote one of the junior members of your team. Both are good at their jobs, demonstrate good work ethic and have promising futures, yet one consistently has grammatical errors in the work she produces. Clearly, she doesn’t proofread her material and either doesn’t know (or doesn’t care) that it’s a problem. The junior who polishes their work shines a little brighter. From a management perspective, she clearly takes greater care of her work and her output is more credible as a result.
Just as with personal grooming, first impressions count. Present a polished image in writing and your credibility is high. Your work must be good. Let a couple of errors sneak in and your hard-earned credibility comes crashing down.
How to avoid grammatical errors
The key to avoiding grammatical errors is the check your work consistently. Proofreading on screen is a skill. It is all too easy to gloss over paragraphs that you are overly familiar with.
Try this strategy, especially for important content:
- Stop before sending or submitting anything. Stand up, walk away from your work station, have a glass of water, stretch and then return with fresh eyes. If you have the luxury of time, take a break of an hour or a day before returning to it.
- Print the document, grab a red pen and move away from your usual seat. Try a different room or sit outdoors. Be sure the area is free from distractions like the television or radio.
- Read it aloud to yourself, word for word. Soon enough, you’ll notice oddities in the text, be it words that are out of context, simple spelling errors (for example, our instead of out), or missing words.
- Use your red pen to correct the errors on paper before returning to your workstation and editing on screen.
For important documents, it is crucial to allow sufficient time for editing and proofreading, ideally by someone who has not been intimately involved in its preparation.
Tip: slow down to avoid grammatical embarrassment. Always proofread your content before distributing, regardless of who you are writing to or for. You never know who may end up reading your words.