As a PR consultant, I spend a lot of my time writing, and almost as much time proof reading and editing other people’s writing. Whilst everyone’s writing styles are different, there are some common areas that seem to cause consternation among the writers whose work I see – and cause my red pen to make an appearance!
So once you’ve written your masterpiece and you’re reading back through it, what slips should you be looking for?
1. Repeated words
Have you used the same word more than once within a sentence? The most common culprits are adverbs and adjectives – is there a synonym you could use instead?
2. Non-essential, redundant words
Following on from the previous point, we have a habit to wax lyrical when we are passionate about something, but do you really need all of those flowery descriptions? Are you using several words that all say the same thing, ie delicious and tasty?
3. Adequate punctuation
How long are your sentences? Try reading them out loud, can you get all the words out in one breath, or do you have to stop to breathe? If that’s the case, use punctuation to break up the sentence. You don’t want sentences to run over more than two lines, certainly not a whole paragraph.
4. Jargon, abbreviations and acronyms
Always type out the full words when you first use them, before abbreviating and using acronyms for any future references, that way you know everyone is on the same page and understands the references you are making. Limit the jargon and use simple words to make your writing as easy to scan and understand as possible.
5. Consistent styling
Ensure a consistent style for dates, time formats, numbered bullets, addresses, phone numbers, references (surname, first name), job titles, captions/headers, titles/subtitles. Also think about your spacings and capitalisation – keep it consistent all the way through your text.
6. Autocorrect spellings
Be careful with your autocorrect… What language do you have your spell check set to – US or UK English? The default is American and this often catches people out as the words are autocorrected to the US spellings. Check your language setting if you rely on spellcheck to support your writing. Also watch out for common typos where a simple letter swap actually creates a valid word and therefore doesn’t get picked up on spellcheck (ie trial, trail) and for instances where names may have been changed to different words.
We’ve all made them before, and I’m sure we’ll continue to make typos into the future too. The worst offenders being:
- Homophones (words that sound the same, ie allowed/aloud, complimentary/complementary, to/two/too, advise/advice)
- Articles (a/an, the/this/that, there/their)
- Typing ‘would of’ instead of ‘Would have’
This little checklist includes the majority of repeat offenders I see when proofreading. Any more to add? (I’m sure there are plenty more I could have included, but let’s keep this a succinct checklist in the hope it’s easier to follow!)