8 tips for error-proof copy

It takes more than just running the spell-check program, but given that your credibility is at stake, it’s worth the time and effort.

Whether you’re interviewing for a job, trying to woo a first date, selling your work on the Internet, or submitting a query to an editor, you can never make a second first impression. It’s just one of life’s hard facts.

To sell your article, novel, product, or yourself, you need to work on that crucial first impression—and a surefire way to make a bad impression is to present poorly edited work. All the hours of researching, outlining, and writing are squandered if the final version of your content is not tightly written and error-free.

How can you possibly convince someone that you can produce a great product when there are errors in your queries, on your website, or in your marketing materials?

Let’s look at ways to error-proof your work:

Editing cures more than typos. Proper editing fixes not only typographical errors, but also inconsistent statements, ambiguities, poorly written sentences, and weak word choices. Appropriate attention to these aspects of writing makes all the difference between mediocrity and excellence.

Spelling and grammar checks. Standard spelling and grammar checks are available to you, so use them. Remember, though, they won’t catch everything.

Print your work. Print a copy of your manuscript and whip out the red pen. Generally, you will find mistakes you weren’t able to detect when reading on the monitor.

Let it simmer. Put your copy away for a period of time so that you can look at it later with fresh eyes. After the established time period, print another copy of your work, and again pull out the red pen. Tighten your sentences, examine your word choices, and hunt down errors you didn’t find before. I find this step invaluable.

Ask a friend to read. It’s helpful to have friends look at your work. They’ll see it with a new perspective, which in turn will help them find things you may have missed. But remember, non-writer friends may not always know what to look for. Friends may also be shy about correcting you. You need dead-honest criticism, so if you feel you won’t get it from a particular person, don’t ask him to read.

Join a critique group. Peer critiques can be a terrific way to get feedback on your work and to offer feedback on the work of others. As an added benefit, there’s a lot to gain from correcting others’ mistakes. There are many online critique groups. Find one that works for you, and then submit and critique as needed.

Read books. There are many good books that can teach you to become a better self-editor. Check out a couple of them. Also, make sure to keep a style guide handy. One good one is Strunk and White’s “The Elements of Style.”

Hire an editor. A good editor will be able to discover hidden mistakes and will ensure that your best possible work is being submitted. There are many editors who will gladly take your money, so be careful when choosing someone with whom to work. Ask friends for recommendations. If you’d like my recommendation, Writer’s Break works with a fantastic and super-affordable editor who owns BookShelf Editing Services. I cannot recommend her highly enough for editing articles, novels, or Web material.

Remember, few things undermine credibility as quickly as work that contains errors. On a positive note, also remember that there are many actions you can take to avoid them.

Jennifer Minar-Jaynes is the author of the bestselling suspense thriller, Never Smile at Strangers. She blogs at www.ProjectJennifer.com.

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