So you’ve written a draft. You’ve revised and edited, rephrased and re-ordered. You’re pleased with your work. You want the world to read it and then start sending loads of love your direction. You’re ready to click “publish”.
But is it really ready to go?
Below are some tips on what to look for in that one last check before you post to your blog or have thousands of copies printed at Color Inc. You might be surprised what you find.
First of all, wait. If you have some time, put your writing aside for a day, or a week if you can. There’s no scientific reasoning behind this suggested length of time (in case you’re wondering.) It’s not really important exactly how much time you leave, but rather that you leave it long enough that when you return to your writing, it’s like reading something new. It’s easier to pick up errors in a piece of writing when you read it with fresh eyes. When you read your own work you often “read” what you intended to write, not what is actually on the page. That’s why it’s easier to find mistakes in other people’s writing, and why having someone else proofread your work is so helpful.
Read your work out loud, even if it’s a piece of writing that is not intended for speech. Listen for places where the words “catch” in your ear. You’ll be amazed at how many improvements you’ll make to your writing this way. You’re aiming for “euphony”, which just means that your writing sounds good. In the process you’ll be making your writing clearer and easier to understand.
Check for agreement
Make sure that the noun and verb in the sentence “agree”. They must match in number and in person (e.g. first person “I”, third person “she”, etc.). Some examples will help here:
There are a few things Jodi can teach you about using Photoshop. Have a look at the great articles on her blog.
(A few things is plural, so the verb must be “are”. It is incorrect to say “There’s a few things…”)
A collection of magnificent photos has been published on the Flickr stream. Have a look and be inspired!
(Even though there are many photos, ‘a collection’ is singular, so it must be ‘has been published’. It is incorrect to say “A collection of photos have been published…”)
Cut out as many extra words as you can. Remove unnecessary words.
Every word must add to your writing. If not, out it goes! For example:
Photoshop actions can save you a lot of time when editing your photos.
Photoshop actions cut editing time.
Sydney Harbour is a beautiful place.
Sydney Harbour is beautiful.
Sydney Harbour is a great place to take photos.
Sydney Harbour makes a great backdrop.
Watch out for “qualifiers”
Qualifiers are words like ‘seem’, ‘sort of’, ‘quite’, ‘rather’, and ‘a little’. They make your writing sound weak. Delete them and your writing will have authority. Look at these examples:
It can be rather annoying to find a stray hair across someone’s face when you pick up your large canvas print from the lab.
It is annoying when you find a stray hair across someone’s face when you pick up your large canvas print from the lab.
Mismatched socks are kind of cute.
Mismatched socks are cute.
Avoid the word ‘very’
‘Very’ is a qualifier used by writers to bolster weak adjectives. A better approach is to replace both words with one strong adjective. See below:
The photographer was very embarrassed when she realised she had forgotten her spare battery.
The photographer was mortified when she realised she had forgotten her spare battery.
There was a very cold wind blowing.
The wind was icy.
I had the pleasure of photographing this very beautiful family today.
I had the pleasure of photographing this gorgeous family today.
Check your punctuation and grammar
Have you used apostrophes correctly? Is your punctuation correct, and does it help make your meaning clear?
That’s right. Backwards. Obviously this technique won’t work if you’re writing a novel, but for a short blog post or promotional piece reading from the end to the beginning can help you find typos and spelling errors. Why? Well, because reading backwards stops your mind doing that ‘predicting thing’ where you read what you think is on the page. Predicting is a useful skill in real life reading. It helps us read fluently. When checking for typos, though, reading fluently can cause us to skip over mistakes. When you read backwards, your reading is stilted and you focus on each and every word. Give it a try.
Have someone else read your work before you publish
Once you’ve checked through your work yourself, ask a trusted friend to read it through one last time. Like many of you, my writing time is late at night, after the kids are in bed, the dishes are done, lunches packed, and benches wiped over, so I realise it’s not always feasible to have someone else read your work before you hit ‘publish’. When we write late at night, though, there’s a higher risk than usual of missing simple errors. If you can find people who will proofread for you, use them. Maybe you could team up with another blog writer and reciprocate. I know wordpress now has a way to put a draft out for review by other wordpress writers. That’s a big pool of writing talent just begging to be used!
Having another set of eyes read your work is especially important if you think people might misread the intention behind your piece. I had a close friend read through a post on my experience as a new school mum because although I thought it was funny I was concerned it might sound too whiney to other mums from school.
Most people will forgive the odd typo on your blog or your facebook page (after all, who would have ever thought ‘gr8’ would be an acceptable spelling of ‘great’?). It is vital, though, to have someone read through anything that you are having press printed, such as price menus, what-to-wear guides and the like. I have a friend who refuses to eat in a restaurant if it has errors in its menu. “How careful will they be with my food,” she wonders, “if they can’t bother to get their menu right?” I would hate you to miss out on an opportunity to work with a great client simply because there was an apostrophe out of place on your promo pieces.
Remember, “there is no great writing, only great rewriting” (Justice Brandeis). May your blogs, websites, and newsletters sparkle so much that your readers click “share” as much as you click “publish”. Happy writing!
Jennifer Taylor is a Sydney child and family photographer who also holds a PhD in Early Childhood Education specialising in literacy development and bilingualism. When she’s not taking photos, spending time with her family or teaching yoga, she can be found standing outside real estate agents’ windows, red pen in hand.