Four Steps to Ensure Accuracy in Your Written Communications
Think of written materials like a shop window—the transparency a well-put-together document affords a company is most likely the best advertisement they can get. However, any mistakes that are not caught and get into print or published online reflect badly on not only the writer, but on the entire organization or publication as well. When a document has inaccuracies, readers tend to distrust everything, including the statistics, opinions, and facts.
But the term “accuracy” implies several things. Not only is accuracy about checking that the text is factually and grammatically correct, but also that all the style guidelines have been adhered to. As a writer, one of the most important ways to communicate your expertise in writing is to ensure accuracy. Consider the following four ways to ensure accuracy in your written documents.
1. Check Your Facts
As you might expect, one of the most important things that you'll need to consider in whatever you write or edit is the factual accuracy. You can have eloquent, grammatically correct prose, but if you've got the facts wrong, then your reputation and professionalism will suffer. Double-check any statistics, numbers, dates, names—especially spellings—and other facts with a reliable source or two.
2. Use Spell-check, but Don’t Rely Solely on It
Many, if not all, people who work with text would be unhappy if they didn’t have their onscreen spell-checker to refer to. Spell-check can indicate and even automatically correct typos and other misspellings that would be time-consuming to find otherwise. Running spell-check when you’re done writing is an important step to ensure accuracy. Still, relying completely on the spell-checker that you've got built into your software can be risky.
Although spell-check is handy, it will not be able to help you with a complete and thorough analysis of the document. Spell-checks often fail note small things that can make a big difference. For example, my spell-check doesn’t pick up when I’ve left the “r” off “your.” It sees “you” and recognizes the spelling as correct, even when the sentence reads incorrectly. In others cases, they often don't make appropriate spelling and grammar distinctions. The names of people, places, and organizations are among the first things you'll need to check manually. Number, dates, sections, and page numbers also need to be looked over carefully, and of course punctuation and grammar will need special attention.
3. Use a Style Guide
A style guide is a reference that you can use to ensure style consistency in every document you produce. These books cover everything from how to reference states (for example, using the postal abbreviations, spelling out the whole name, or another abbreviation) and other proper nouns, to whether or not to use the serial comma. These are the often-overlooked details that give your documents a professional edge. The key to using a style guide effectively is to simply choose one and stick to it—using it to check everything you write, every time.
4. Find an Objective Reader
The fourth way to ensure accuracy is to have someone else—an objective outsider—check over your work. As the writer, it can be hard to detect ambiguous statements because you know what your intended meaning was. Adding someone else to read your text is the best way of ensuring your intended meaning is clearly communicated to your readers. The ideal objective reader will also know proper grammar, punctuation, and style.
Ensure Accuracy Every Time
You want your written materials to communicate your professionalism and expertise, so don’t let errors of fact, style inconsistencies, misspellings, or grammar mistakes hurt your image. When you use these four steps to ensure accuracy in your written communications, your readers will know you’re a pro.
Have a question for Melinda? Ask or leave a comment below!