I write a lot of emails each day. I spend a lot of time crafting the email, removing excess words etc., so it is as concise as possible.
Once I am done writing the email I then re-read it 2 or 3 times looking for typos or missing words. For example I sometimes type the word “you” when I mean to type the word “your”. Spell checker won’t catch this kind of mistake since both “you and your” are legitimate English words. I always BCC myself so I have a copy of what I sent, and when I look at the copy I get I see misspellings and typos that I somehow missed during my extensive proof reading.
One of the tricks I learned through the years is to read the email from end to start, as opposed to start to end, so I am just looking at the words and not necessarily the order they are in. A second trick is to wait a few minutes before hitting send and re-reading the email one more time looking for issues. But neither of these tricks works 100% of time.
I don’t know if I’m just careless, or I have a mental block that doesn’t allow me to see the mistakes that are obviously there.
Are there any other tips or tricks you know to help me find errors before I click on send?
The mind fills in what it expects to be there. You know what you wanted to write so your eye will see that.
If they’re short emails, you can try reading them aloud. Sometimes that will catch things. Following a finger or pointer as you read will catch duplicate words. Oddly, here at the dope, if I hit preview and read the preview, I’ll find more mistakes.
On the up side, the person reading your email is also likely to miss your mistakes because they’ll be developing expectations as they read each sentence and tending to see what they expect.
Oh, and if it’s something really important, have someone else read it.
The longer you wait before checking, the better. Also, it helps to print the text and read the print. Or at least reformat the text so it looks very different from how it looked when you were writing it.
However, what I find is that 90% of issues get introduced when editing the text that’s already there. So it really helps to get things right from the start so you don’t have to go back in to make changes. Of course this goes completely against the common writing advice to bang things out as a quick and dirty first draft and then edit, edit, edit…
So editors/proof readers must be trained to turn off the auto-fill function of their brains and see just the words that are on the page. If I could learn to do this for my own writing I would be golden.
I’ve done some copyediting before, and it sounds like you pretty much have everything covered. For important things having someone else read it is very helpful, even if they just read through it quickly.
Mainly it takes practice. Especially after seeing what you often miss, you can be more aware of that in the future and check those things more carefully.
But I’d also say don’t be too hard on yourself. You should be very careful with certain things, like dollar amounts and people’s names and other things that could cause huge problems if they are wrong, but if you occasionally mix up their and there in an email, it’s not that big of a deal, and a lot of recipients wouldn’t even notice. If I’m checking over a technical document that’s going to the customer and that will be referenced in how a part is used, I’m doing to be very careful checking that, and will print it out and have someone else review it as well and will want to be 99% sure that I’ve gotten all typos and mistakes out. But if I’m sending an email to a customer asking for clarification on an issue, or saying what the progress has been so far, I’ll read through it and make sure it makes sense, but not spend a huge time making it perfect.
Thanks for the advice Sam. I get embarrassed whenever I misspell a word and send it out. I don’t want people to think I don’t know the difference between there and their. When I am instant messaging I don’t care about spelling mistakes and often don’t correct them. I think it’s the perceived permanence of email that makes me want to get it right. Once I hit Send whatever mistakes are in the email will be there forever.
Look through the emails that others have sent you. Unless you work in an unusual office with a lot of very careful writers, you’ll find that others have sent just as many or more typos than you have. Some otherwise intelligent people don’t even know the difference between their, there, and they’re, so they wouldn’t notice if you got that incorrect. Or even if someone doesn’t make a lot of typos, they might still be a bad writer in not making it clear what they’ve done or what they are asking for in their email.
Also, emails are technically forever, but most emails get forgotten fairly quickly. Some emails get printed and saved and referred to, especially big important ones that are about a project being started or completed or something like that, but most get buried in the avalanche of all the email that’s sent.
I’m an editor and I think it’s more conditioning than training. And it is much harder with your own writing because you know what you meant.
I can’t think of many tips to add, really. Read backwards for spelling/typos (end to start, as the OP mentioned). Write something, then let it sit and percolate for a minute. Get someone else to give it a look. Actually, that happens a lot – editors will back each other up. We also know what our own particular weaknesses are. I have trouble with “ei” vs. “ie” and I can’t be bothered to recite the little mnemonic for myself every time. So I pay particular attention to things like that because I know it’s the most likely place I’ll make a mistake.
I guess I can think of one thing: go through the writing several times, but focus on only one thing at a time. First time, you’re just looking for typos and obvious, egregious errors. The second pass is to focus on punctuation. The third pass might be to look for whatever your personal sticky wickets might be, maybe homophones or whatever your weakness is. I also make a read through pass for tone because emojis aren’t really all that professional.
My how times have changed!
It used to be that emails were the quick and dirty method and mistakes weren’t taken too seriously. It was the typewritten letters that had to be proofed and approved up the chain before mailing.
Someday there will be a quicker way to send messages than texting, and we will start worrying about how our texts look.
I used to proofread part-time for an academic press and there were two methods I used with success. First is reading aloud and second is reversing the color fields - change background to dark and print to white, for example. The simple fact that is looked different to my eye made my eyes work harder and thus were better able to catch the errors.
I also have learned this one neat trick here. The preview usually looks so different from the input box that I catch a lot of “obvious” stuff.
Changing column width can also help a lot. The sentences are sufficiently re-arranged that my internal image of the sentences gets dropped in favor of what I am actually seeing.
When I taught Computer Science, it was astonishing how hard it was to get a student to tell me what they typed and was on the screen instead of what they thought they had typed. E.g., they typed “if (x==4)” but needed “if (x==4.)”. They’d skip over the “.” even when reading it out a character at a time.
Anything to alter your internal image so you can see it fresh helps.
(Any typos appearing in this post are purely for educational purposes.)
On the Macintosh it is easy to high text and have it “speak” the text. I find that having it speak what I’ve written is a good proof-reading method. It helps catch double words, typos and even the wrong word.