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    Buffing Out the Scratches

    Wednesday, March 17, 2010

    There's a time when checking for correctness makes the most sense. And that time is near the end of the writing process after you've made sure that your thoughts and ideas are clear: Think content before correctness, always.

    If you pay undue attention to the spelling of every word and the placement of every punctuation mark too early in the process, you may overlook or even ignore what's really important - the quality of the information you are sharing. And you don't want to do that.

    Checking for correctness is like buffing out any smudges and scratches on a car after it has been painted. The buffing is certainly important, but it becomes so only after the main work - the actual painting - has been completed.

    I'm not trying to be cavalier about correctness. Far from it. In fact, this blog entry is meant to help you edit for accuracy. I just what to make sure that you understand at what point it becomes important.

    When editing, what you're really doing is checking for surface elements, or elements at the sentence and word level: Does this sentence need a comma? Is that word spelled correctly? Is there or their the correct word in that situation? To help you with the editing process, I've reviewed a number of Web sites to see what advice the experts offer.

    Here are some of the best tips I came across:

    • Get some distance between yourself and your writing before you begin.
    • Edit first thing in the morning, after one cup of joe.
    • Edit in short blocks of time, especially if your document is long; otherwise, you're sure to miss something.
    • Work on a printed copy so you have a record of the changes you make.
    • Separate your text into sentences. Changing the look of your work should help you check it more carefully.
    • Check one element at a time, perhaps spelling first, punctuation next, and so on. (And don't forget to check headings and page numbers.)
    • For spelling, start at the bottom of the page to force yourself to look at each word.
    • For punctuation, try circling all the marks to force yourself to look at each one. Pay special attention to your apostrophes.
    • Understand the limitations of a spell checker. It won't catch usage errors or wrong words.
    • Also understand that grammar checkers work with a limited number of rules.
    • Double- and triple-check names and facts.
    • Double-check little words: of, or, it, etc.
    • Ask a trusted colleague to check your work. If this person is agreeable, try reading the text back and forth out loud, noting any errors as you go along.

    Your Turn: Please share with us some of your own editing strategies. Perhaps you have favorite resources handy when you edit. What are they? Maybe you keep a personal list of errors. What's on it? Or maybe you read your work out loud, in a different voice. We're open to any suggestions.

    - Dave Kemper