We all do it. Regardless of one’s stature in the PR community, whether one’s business card includes the letters “APR”, or the phrase “agency principal”, every flack has to serve as his/her own editor on occasion (facepalm implied).
FULL DISCLOSURE: I’m thinking of getting myself checked into editing rehab for “cerebral flatulence”–or something like that.
I read each blog post at least once before submitting it, and I read my own releases twice. And yet, someone, somewhere always finds that one mistake that makes me feel like I’m just learning to overcome dyslexia. We all miss words because we wrote them, so in our heads everything is peachy.
For you, here are 5 easy tips for proofreading your own work.
1. Change the scenery. Wordpress is really good at this. Its CMS has this button called “distraction free writing mode.” I use it every time to edit only. You can do the same thing with your Word documents or PowerPoints. If the piece is a release, increase the screen size — at least 25 percent. If you have a PowerPoint, consider using notes pages instead of the screen. And for those who are eco-friendly, please look away… (Pssst. It helps when you edit a printed copy of your written work.) This actually tricks your brain to pay attention to the words as they exist on the page rather than how you remember writing them.
2. Know your weaknesses. Like I said, I completely overlook words — entire words in a sentence that I meant to write just vanish like a fart in the wind. I am proud of the fact that I type quickly, but sometimes my brain is still thinking of the sentence while my feverishly dexterous fingers try to keep up. That sucks for me, so I edit s-l-o-w-l-y. What’s your issue? Know it and own it. Give yourself permission to make mistakes — as long as you catch them before the boss reads your document. I’m deadly with a red Sharpie pen, and my own papers often look like the products of a hemophiliac with issues. Try it and be your own worst critic.
3. Backwards it read. Did’ya get that? As strange as it sounds, it works so well. When you edit your own work, you infer syntax and meaning. When you look at only the words, that is all you edit — words. Essentially, your brain hearts you so it autocorrects your work as you read. However, if you know anything about autocorrect, it’s often wrong. Reading your piece backwards will help you look at the punctuation and spelling objectively. It may take a while to get used to, but wouldn’t you rather look like a fool than feel like one when your editor asks, “Did you mean to do that?”
4. Take a break. Yeah, do it. Just turn off the computer. Walk away. Go to lunch. Start something else. Whatever it takes, take a break from this particular project before editing. When you are writing, your head begins to wander toward the finish line, which is why you look over those facepalm moments when editing yourself. Refresh your brain and then come back to the editing process. You won’t look over as much, you won’t read into it as much, and you won’t look like you were watching an episode of ‘Real Housewives’ while typing.
5. Read it aloud. It’s funny what happens when you stop reading and start listening. Much could be said for life, but since I’m not Dr. Phil, I’ll stick to editing. When you read your work out loud, you hear the words as words rather than the meanings you attribute to them. Attempts at fancy language often sound like something a thesaurus barfed up when read aloud. Most importantly, this method will help you to concentrate because, by listening, you can put yourself in the position of your readers–which is always a good thing. Trust me, you will live to write another day this way.
In closing, the great Mark Twain once penned, “In the first place God made idiots. This was for practice. Then he made proof-readers.”
That said, the next time you edit, decide which one of those you want to be, then do it. (And for those scoring at home, I skipped four words. Good thing I preach what I practice.)