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Senior Correspondent

I find it extremely distracting when I am reading by typos, incorrect use of words or phrases, and inconsistencies. Be it a book, article, blog post, or email, I find myself stopping to mentally correct the mistake and it takes away from both the content and the message.

Recently I read a book on mentoring, an entertaining business fable, which unfortunately contained several overlooked grammatical and spelling errors. I read the author’s impressive credentials so it was clear that the mistakes in the book were ones that someone just didn’t catch (actually you catch balls not mistakes). On one page a minor character was called Stephen and a few pages later Steven. Lily Herman, a writer, editor, and social media manager, wrote in a recent article: "Make sure that your writing is consistent throughout, especially if you’re using numbers, symbols, or contractions. For example, do you say "coworkers" and "co-workers" in your work? Decide on which one you’d like to use. Are you using "%" or "percent" to talk about stats in your resume? Neither is wrong, but it’s important to pick one and use it consistently throughout."

Don’t rely solely on the spell check function on your computer. Keep in mind that your computer often will not capture these errors, since the problem is one of incorrect word choice rather than misspelling. "Overall people feel more negative when they encounter typos than grammatical errors (i.e. your/you’re or there/their/they’re)," says Robin Queen, the Arthur F. Thurnau Professor of Linguistics at the University of Michigan.

In a book with the same title as this article, the author Paul Dickson provides numerous examples of incorrect word usage. His book is based on the work of Ambrose Bierce, an American editorialist, journalist, and writer. "Good writing is clear thinking made visible. It is attained by choosing the word that accurately and adequately expresses what the writer has in mind, and by exclusion of that which either denotes or connotes something else."

Of course, some mistakes are funny. There are many examples of resume and cover letter bloopers on the web. Here are two examples:

  • "Skills: Strong Work Ethic, Attention to Detail, Team Player, Self-Motivated, Attention to Detail."
  • "Reason for leaving last job: maturity leave."

Proofreading or editing. What’s the difference? According to the Writing Center at UNC-Chapel Hill editing is what you begin doing as soon as you finish your first draft. You reread what you wrote to see, for example, whether the expression of your thoughts is clear and well-organized and the transition between paragraphs is smooth. Proofreading is the final stage of the editing process, focusing on surface errors such as misspellings and mistakes in grammar and punctuation. You should proofread only after you have finished all of your other editing revisions.

To help you check your own writing, utilize these tips:

  • Give yourself some time or distance from what you just wrote. (Especially if you are angry or in an emotional state.)
  • Read your work backwards, starting with the last sentence and working your way in reverse order to the beginning. (This is particularly helpful when proofreading your resume.)
  • Read your work out loud. (It helps amplify perspective and voice)
  • Ask someone else to read it. (Often, when we review our own writing, we see what we want to see rather than what we have actually written. Someone else will look at it with fresh eyes.)
  • Avoid distractions. Find a quiet place to work. (Careful editing requires concentration. Although I am writing this while listening to the radio. This is a case of do as I say not as I do!)

And finally, when it comes to email

  • Look over what you have written before hitting send.

If you are proofreading the work of others, be respectful. Avoid overcritical or insensitive comments. You may want to phrase your remarks in the form of suggestions or questions, i.e. "I would suggest clarifying this point so that your reader fully understands it." Point out something positive about the writing. Make your praise as detailed and extensive as your most in-depth criticism.

To my editor: Before publishing, please read carefully!

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