“Let’s eat grandma!”

“Let’s eat, grandma!”

Looking at the two sentences above, the only visible difference is the addition of one little comma. But forgetting that one little comma drastically changes the meaning from an untimely demise for grandma, to an invitation extended towards grandma to eat.

We asked Charlie, our resident proofreader and avid Oxford comma user, to tell us a few steps she recommends taking before sending or posting anything, from an email to a proposal to a blog post.

(This might have been a bad idea, because we couldn’t get her to stop talking about it for three days.)

She was able to finally contain her excitement for the written word and come up with a few tips to remember the next time you’re stuck.

Don’t rely entirely on spell check

Spell check programs are not to be trusted. Well, you can trust them… for the most part. Seriously, though, how many times have you had that little red squiggle underneath of your own name, only to mutter under your breath, “I can assure you my name is spelled correctly…”? Ok, maybe if your name is Jim or Gail you haven’t experienced that, but we’ve written things internally where “Brian” had the dreaded red squiggle and an auto-suggest for “Bryan”.

Spell check has a limited dictionary, and it’s a great start for editing your work, but it shouldn’t be the only step before hitting the send button.

Take a break and revisit

After you’ve finished writing something, grab a cup of coffee and let your writing sit for a few minutes. Sometimes when you’re writing something, you can get tunnel-vision and become blind to disastrous errors such as “She made a good cat!”, when you meant to write, “She made a good catch!” It’s very common to glance over your errors if you attempt to proof and edit while writing because you’re so familiar with the content.

Coming back to your writing after taking a break helps you gain perspective, whether it’s an insanely important email, groundbreaking white paper, or the copy for your next email blast. So take a walk to the kitchen for the fresh cup of coffee you’ve been thinking about (hopefully Rachel didn’t drink that last cup…), then come back to your editing task.

Get another set of eyes

Ok, not literally. Grab a friend, colleague, or the new intern and have them read over your work before it’s published. Having someone check your work who isn’t familiar with the writing could help point out potential errors (before it reflects negatively on you or your brand).

If no one is around, reading your work aloud is an alternative option, because then you can hear the mistakes, if there are any.

Take it one at a time

It’s a common phrase, “Pobody’s nerfect”. Err… “Nobody’s perfect”. Even old pros at proofreading have an off day from time to time. The trick, however, is to take it one type of error at a time. This will allow you to focus on the problem you’re searching for. If you try to account for five different potential errors at once, chances are, you’ll miss something. Read through your document, focusing just on spelling. Then read it again, this time focusing just on grammar. Now, read it again, but focus on formatting.

This sounds like it wouldn’t be a very effective use of time, but you’ll find that this process doesn’t usually add any time to your overall editing. In fact, checking one issue at a time can actually help streamline your process, because your brain won’t be trying to digest every possible error at once.

Sometimes, less is more

Whether you’re extremely passionate about a subject, or just happen to have an immense knowledge of something, we’ve found you can just write and write and write… and write. While it’s great to include detail, it can be daunting to receive an email that looks more like a dissertation.

According to Tony Beshara’s book, Unbeatable Resumes, “The screen-based reading behavior is characterized by more time spent on browsing and scanning… while less time is spent on in-depth reading and concentrated reading.” So, chances are, your receiver isn’t even reading everything you’ve put into a lengthy email, and if they are, information is too easily lost within the body.

To help get your point across, you shouldn’t “bury the lead” (a journalism term meaning hiding information). State exactly what you need up front, without using “business” phrases or sayings. Simple, direct language is more than likely available to use, and this will eliminate any room for misunderstanding or confusion. It’s helpful to use bullet points to keep yourself in check, because you generally won’t go into long detail with bullet points.

Checking your work to ensure proper spelling, grammar, and punctuation will not only save grandma’s life, but it can help you land a sale from a potential buyer (who also happens to be a Grammatic Fanatic).

Advanta has a strict process for reviewing work before we send anything to print, publication, or client. From multiple rounds of Quality Assurance testing to proofreading done by our experienced and detail-oriented admin team (of which one is an active member of ACES – the American Copy Editors Society), you can rest assured knowing that Advanta will treat every job like it’s our only job.