The words flash before your eyes, flowing from your industrious, frustrated or titillated mind into an email, text message or post and you press: Send!
For some people, electronic communications comprised of 100 words or less (or 140 characters or less) represent the bulk of their writing for the day. It is truly the land of every word counts, and an error would be critical. With a little Send Zen, you can preserve your credibility in no more time than it takes to inhale, then exhale.
If You Don’t Know What You’re Writing, Should I Trust You?
Errors erode credibility. Yet, Twitter, text, social media and even email seem to be exempt from editing and proofreading. The webisphere is supposed to understand we’re moving quickly and forgive us our grammatical trespasses. The chances are better than winning the lottery that your recipients will understand no matter how you’re spelling your words. But a few very important people are just as likely to say, “He doesn’t know the difference between principal and principle? I’m not sure about this deal.”
I will not write about the common grammatical mistakes you may be making. Plenty of blogs have been written and infographics drawn about common errors (see one from Copyblogger below). My purpose today is to teach you some proofreading skills that will improve your daily stream of communications without slowing you down much.
Moment of Truth
Send Zen occurs in the moment – two seconds – between your last word and the Send button. Before you commit, inhale, and bring your eyes back to the first word you wrote. Imagine one of those stretched-time scenes in Matrix. Read each word you wrote. Don’t worry, just make sure you are happy with what you wrote. As you exhale, with extra peace of mind because you checked, press Send.
The Stations of Send Zen
What are you looking for in those two seconds before Send? You’re fool-proofing yourself, making sure you look smart, and wonderful, like we know you are. Here are the stations of Send Zen:
- Correct Spelling. Most programs will pop a red line under words that don’t appear in their dictionaries, but you may have used a word in the dictionary that doesn’t mean what you intend to say. The spell correction engine will not catch that word – you must use your eyes and brain. I occasionally use a word that doesn’t appear in the dictionary, but it’s a perfectly valid word (like “webisphere” for example). I click “add” when that happens.
- Bad Habits. Take a few extra nanoseconds to linger over your bad habits – my worst writing habit is the overuse of em dashes, which I do not type correctly and are merely lazy ways to avoid proper sentence structure and punctuation. You know what your bad habits are, which words you get mixed up on. Learn the rule once and for all. Make a goal for yourself. For instance, “today I will learn, once and for all, the difference between ‘its’ and ‘it’s’ and I won’t let autocorrect make me use the wrong one ever again.”
- Complete Sentences. Shortcuts are forgivable in the webisphere as long as they make sense. You do not need to make sure everything with a capital letter at the front and a period at the end includes a subject, predicate and object. However, the phrase needs to communicate what it has to say. If you skipped the verb, inferred the subject or omitted an obvious object, the statement might stand clear. And effective. Or not, in which case you need to give it the word it’s lacking.
That’s Send Zen, proofreading for the instant messages of our contemporary human culture. It employs one of the most important practices in the art of communication, which is:
Read What You Wrote to Know It Means What You Intend.
Send Zen is just one proofreading practice. Deeper levels of proofreading should apply to longer emails, blogposts, memos, social correspondence, webpages, reports, publications and other written communications. Every Word Counts will bring those to you in the New Year. As you share your aspirations for 2013 on your favorite public posting place, apply some Send Zen – you may not wish to tell everyone to have a Happy Nude Year.
As for me, this is my favorite public posting place. We survived the darkest night of the year. Let us celebrate enlightenment in all its sacred forms.
San Antonio copywriter gary s. whitford is half of Extraordinary Words, providing effective communications for business and non-profit development. You can find Extraordinary Words on Facebook, LinkedIn and its website. You can read more of gary’s writing on his personal blog and by searching The Rivard Report for “Every Word Counts.”
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