Years ago, when my children asked me to review their papers for school, I always responded with the same question:
Did you already edit it?
In the beginning, they always insisted they had.
And then I proceeded to circle simple typos and grammatical errors that I know they could have caught themselves — had they invested a few minutes.
Simple things like:
- beleive instead of believe
- their when it should read they’re
- Semicolons that should be colons
- Commas that should be periods
- Lengthy sentences that demand punctuation to help the reader
- Repeated words, like: I would not not like to attend the wedding.
- Using singular verbs with plural nouns, such as: The man and woman works at the factory.
They learned over time what I was trying to teach them:
The brain can play tricks — it sometimes sees what we think we have written, rather than what we have actually written.
Don’t let your brain trick you!
Surefire Tip: Read your draft out loud while you are editing
By engaging your voice — and not just your eyes — in the editing task, your brain must employ different abilities.
So instead of your brain tricking you… you turn the tables and trick your brain.
Look at every word and read slowly.
You will know whether your writing both looks and sounds right.
You will catch many, many errors.
Though you will likely feel awkward the first few times you do this, push those feelings aside. It’s a small price to pay to instantly improve your writing.
A Tip for Writers of Every Age
Mistakes are normal. I believe they’re a function of the pace of our schedules, rather than a writer’s ability.
However, when readers come across our mistakes, they may not give us the benefit of the doubt.
They may judge us harshly.
And to be fair, we should pay attention to the details. Readers are kind enough to read our work. We can at least make sure our writing is free of errors. (I really hope I have caught all my errors in this article!)
Whether it’s a notecard or a novel, an email or an editorial, a postcard or a proposal…
Take the time to edit.
Read your draft out loud.
Your readers will focus on your message, not your errors.
And isn’t that what you really want?