Communication Skills And Effective Writing Must Include Meticulous Self-Editing

This Stuff Just Cracks Me Up

"The little boat drifted gently across the pond exactly the way a bowling bowl wouldn't." ~ High school essay, Springfield, Va.

Yes, I know that hilariously awkward analogies don't exactly fit in an articledevoted to clear and efficient business communications. But I also know that nothing loosens up one of my business writing skills seminars like a good laugh at what a fellow human being can do with the English language, like this from a Woodbridge, Va., student: "His thoughts tumbled in his head, making and breaking alliances like underpants in a dryer without Cling Free."

For an even odder slant, have a look at this:

"Cna yuo raed tihs? Olny 55 plepoe out of 100 can. fi yuo cna raed tihs, yuo hvae a sgtrane mnid too.

"I cdnuolt blveiee taht I cluod aulaclty uesdnatnrd waht I was rdanieg. The phaonmneal pweor of the hmuan mnid, aoccdrnig to a rscheearch at Cmabrigde Uinervtisy, it dseno't mtaetr in waht oerdr the ltteres in a wrod are, the olny iproamtnt tihng is taht the frsit and lsat ltteer be

in the rghit pclae. The rset can be a taotl mses and you can sitll raed it whotuit a pboerlm. Tihs is bcuseae the huamn mnid deos not raed ervey lteter by istlef, but the wrod as a wlohe. Azanmig huh? yaeh and I awlyas tghuhot slpeling was ipmorantt!"

As it says in the intro, 55 percent of us, myself included, can read this straight through and get the point. I have no earthly idea what that says about us. I just found it intriguing enough to share.

But Seriously, Folks...Be A Meticulous Self-Editor

Moving right along -- and in direct opposition to my behavior in the preceding article -- I'd like to say a few words about editing, or quality control. No matter how clever and succinct a writer you may be, you risk blowing it if you don't edit yourself. By edit, I mean proofreading for grammar, spelling, punctuation, etc., as well as revising or rewriting. You can do the latter as you go, or you can let your words flow, then give it several careful reads before hitting the "send" button or printing it out and offering it to your client, customer, boss, vendor, coworkers, etc.

Why? Because that's you on the email or report. As such, assuming you care about your image or reputation, it should look both professional and natural. Or, to put it more tellingly in the words of the great novelist Toni Morrison: "The language must be careful and appear effortless. It must not sweat."

How do you get there? Somewhere along the line, I came up with six rules for careful editing. Read them and some may find that you already follow these rules without being aware of it. Others may find that you're not giving self-editing the attention it deserves:

1 -- Read for the message. Does it say what you want it to say? Do you contradict yourself at any point? Is the message clearly stated within the first two or three paragraphs?

2 -- Read again for organization. Are the paragraphs in the right order? When you change topics are you starting a new paragraph? Are you repeating yourself?

3 -- Read at the sentence level. Are they in the right order?

4 -- Read each sentence for internal construction. Is everything parallel (WRONG: He suggested closing loopholes for the rich and rejection of salary increases for government officials. RIGHT: He suggested closing loopholes for the rich and rejecting salary increases for government officials)? Did you use active voice (WRONG: The touchdown pass was thrown by Tom Brady. RIGHT: Tom Brady threw the touchdown pass.)? Does the sentence make sense?

5 -- Read the words. Replace words that don't convey your message. Avoid repetitive use of any word.How do you find more words in your brain? As Stephen King says, "The only way to be a good writer is to read a lot and write a lot."

6 -- Check for and correct errors in punctuation and spelling and typos. Don't rely solely on spell-check.


Dave Griffiths is a free-lance writer and editor who travels widely to do business writing training and media relations and presentation skills training for clients ranging from the U.S. Coast Guard to the Red Cross to the Department of Homeland Security to the Veterans Administration to senior executives at a variety of federal agencies to businesses that need help with technical writing and written sales proposals. His professional background is journalism, having reported for the Kansas C...

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