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Tips on how to improve your own writing

Leave it alone for a little while and then come back to it.

It’s always a good idea to come back to your writing after a couple of hours at least. That way you are looking at the content with a fresh pair of eyes and you are more likely to pick up on any mistakes.

Don’t rely on spellcheck.

Your computer will not tell you when you have used the wrong word when the word you have used exists. For example, you typed ‘cat’ but you were referring to a ‘cot’. It will not tell you that you have incorrectly used ‘too’ instead of ‘to’.

Go through your writing in different stages. For example, you can:

Check spellings;

Check grammar;

Check punctuation.

Print it out.

When you look at your writing in a different medium, you are more likely to notice typos and other errors.

Read it backwards.

When you read your writing this way your brain is less likely to autocorrect.

Read it out loud.

When you say the words out loud it can help you catch mistakes your eyes may miss.

Make sure you are consistent with names, spellings and certain types of punctuation such as quote marks.

Keep an eye out for variations on spellings and types of punctuation you may have used. Also, don’t forget to check that names are spelled correctly and the same way throughout your writing.

Ask a professional proofreader for help.

A second pair of eyes is always beneficial. Also, a professional proofreader has been trained to find the mistakes and make sure your writing is consistent in style.

What is a style sheet?

Do you need to use one?

If you want your writing to look polished and professional, consistency is key. One way to do this is to create a style sheet. A style sheet is a reference guide that clarifies how you plan to treat certain aspects of writing such as spelling, punctuation, numbers etc. Sometimes there is no right or wrong way but it’s a good idea to decide on one way and stick to it!

What should you include in a style sheet?

It’s totally up to you, but here are a few suggestions of what type of thing to include:

Spelling Preferences

Do you want to use -ise spellings or -ize spellings, e.g.  recognise or recognize?

Do you want to use British English or US English, e.g.  colour or color?

Abbreviations, Acronyms and Initialisms

Do you want to use full stops or not? Usually, abbreviations take a full stop, but acronyms and initialisms leave them out.

Punctuation

Do you want to use the serial (oxford) comma?

Numbers, Dates and Time

Generally, use words for numbers up to and including ten and use numerals for 11 and above.

How do you want to write the date? There are many different formats, and all are correct. You just need to decide on your preferred style. For example, you can write 12 August 1960, 12th August 1960, 12/8/60 (or 8/12/60 if you are in the US).

How do you want to write the time? Again, there are several ways to do this. You can use the 12-hour clock or the 24-hour clock. You can write am and pm or a.m. and p.m. It’s up to you.

There are many other items you can include in your style sheet such as capitalisation and hyphenation. It’s also a good idea to make decisions about the style of your document, such as the type of heading you want to use and what kind of bullet points you prefer.

If it all seems overwhelming, there are many resources online to help you get started. You could also hire someone, such as a proofreader, to devise a style sheet on your behalf.

Remember that consistent spelling, punctuation and formatting demonstrate professionalism and give you and your business credibility.

What is a contronym?

A contronym is a word that has two meanings that are contradictory to each other. They are spelled and pronounced in the same way but can be confusing if used in the wrong context. 

Here are a few examples.

Bolt  
He bolted the door.
He bolted from the shop with the stolen goods.  
Buckle
To fasten
To collapse

He buckled his shoes.
His legs buckled from under him.
Dust
To add something
To remove something

She dusted the cake with icing sugar.
He dusted the furniture.
Fast
Moving quickly
Fixed, unmoving

He ran fast from the house.
The colours remained fast.
Hold up
To support
To hinder

My friend is always there to hold me up.
She was held up by bad traffic.
Off
Deactivated
Activated

The light was turned off.
The alarm was going off.
Screen
To present
To conceal

The film was screened in London, Paris and Los Angeles.
He was screened by the curtain.
Seed
To add something
To remove

The gardener seeded the lawn.
I seeded the tomato so I could add it to the salad.
Stone
To remove
To hit

I stoned the peaches to make the dessert.
They stoned the villagers during the conflict.
Weather
To withstand
To wear away   

The company weathered the recession.
The rock was weathered.

British English versus American English

George Bernard Shaw once said:

“England and America are two countries separated by a common language.”

The English language is spoken widely around the world, however, there are still many variations in the way it is used, none more so than when we look at the differences between British English and American English. Here are a few examples.

Different spellings

British EnglishAmerican English
tyretire
favouritefavorite
colourcolor
theatretheater
pyjamaspajamas
analyseanalyze
neighbourneighbor
jewelleryjewelry
moustachemustache

Different words

British EnglishAmerican English
aubergineeggplant
pavementsidewalk
candy flosscotton candy
crispschips
liftelevator
chipsfries
chemistdrugstore
bagpurse
courgettezucchini

Reasons why you should hire a proofreader

You may think that you can’t afford to pay a proofreader or you see it as an unnecessary expense. It’s understandable, particularly in the world we are currently living in. Maybe you think it is just as easy to look over your written content yourself. Perhaps you think that the spelling and grammar checker on your computer does a good job. Possibly you are happy to rely on a friend to give your writing a quick once-over. You may also think that your writing looks ‘good enough’ and you are happy with that.

All of these are valid points but when you start to realise that ‘good enough’ isn’t enough and when mistakes slip into your writing, it’s time to hire a proofreader.

A fresh pair of eyes is a good idea

It’s very easy to miss mistakes. Our brains often trick us into believing that what should be there is there and that what shouldn’t be there isn’t there. Even the best writers make mistakes because we are all human. It’s so easy to miss an error such as ‘pubic’ when you meant to write ‘public’ or think that ‘hte’ reads as ‘the’. It’s easy to miss out a word, repeat a word or forget to add a full stop.

A professional proofreader will not have read your writing several times over so they will pick up on any errors.

Don’t rely on your computer to pick up on all the spelling and grammar mistakes

Yes, your computer has a function to check spellings and grammar. However, this feature will not pick up on all mistakes. It will not tell you when you have used the wrong word when the word you have used exists. So, if you have written ‘manger’ but you are referring to a ‘manager’, your computer won’t highlight this error. Spell check will not tell you that you have incorrectly used ‘too’ instead of ‘to’. The grammar check function will not pick up on the fact you have used the wrong pronoun. So ‘he’ suddenly becomes ‘we’ further down the page, but the computer doesn’t know this is wrong.

A professional proofreader will pick up on spelling mistakes and will know the grammar rules inside out. They have been trained to look out for spelling, punctuation and grammar mistakes.

It’s better to hire a professional proofreader than rely on a friend to take a look at your writing

At times it may be fine to get your friend to take a quick look at your writing. As already mentioned, a second pair of eyes is always better than one. However, that friend is doing you a favour and your writing is not necessarily going to be high on their list of priorities. This could mean that you miss that all-important deadline. A friend may not be as good as a proofreader at picking up on all the mistakes.

If you hire a professional proofreader, they will save you time. They have been trained to be efficient at their job and will correct those troublesome errors. They will keep to your deadline.

Does a piece of writing that is ‘good enough’ give you an air of professionalism?

If it looks like you are happy to produce written content that is ‘good enough’ with the odd mistake here and there, it can give off an air of unprofessionalism. If you are not bothered about producing an accurate piece of writing, what else are you not bothered about? Your readers or customers may just focus on those mistakes rather than the message you are trying to communicate.

A professional proofreader can help you to convey an air of professionalism. Polished, proofread content can boost your credibility. In addition to checking all those spelling, punctuation and grammar errors, a proofreader will also make sure your writing is consistent. So, if you mention Mr Smith in the first paragraph and he is then mistakenly referred to as Mr Jones in the next paragraph, a proofreader will pick up on this.

So bear all this in mind when you are next planning to publish a piece of writing.