By Rebecca Pay, Regular Columnist.
I am a proofreader, so you may think that my own spelling and grammar is impeccable and perfect 100% of the time. It is not.
Apart from anything else the English language is incredibly complex and there are also a lot of areas of ambiguity, the Oxford comma is a great example of this (if you are interested, read more on it here: https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/explore/what-is-the-oxford-comma)
I have been professionally trained as a proofreader, but I also learn all the time by checking things I am not completely sure about and by completing training courses. I also read, a lot. So, you want to know how you can improve your writing? I have put together some tips which I think could really help.
Accurate writing is important, and no one is perfect, but the less grammar and spelling issues you have the better, plus if you do need to use a proofreader (if you are writing a book, for example) then the better your writing is, the cheaper it should be. I certainly charge more if I have to rewrite sentences because the grammar needs huge improvements. So, on with the tips:
1.) Use Microsoft Word Spell Check
It is pretty useful and even I use it as a first checking device. It will highlight words it doesn’t recognize plus any grammar issues. The spelling is fairly good, although names and places will need to be added to the dictionary. The grammar needs to be taken with a pinch of salt at times, but it can highlight some useful things. Just make sure you have your language set to the correct one, the usual mistake is having it on either US English if you’re in the UK or vice versa and this will highlight words unnecessarily as there are many differences between the two vocabularies with spelling variances etc.
2.) Use a Dictionary
There are some great free online dictionaries, my favorite is https://en.oxforddictionaries.com and it has both US and UK English available. It also has a great grammar section you can use and a thesaurus. Which links to the next point perfectly…
3.) Use a Thesaurus
This can really help you. I copy edit as well as proofread (which is when I suggest rewording where needed) and I will always suggest a rewrite if you’ve used the same word twice in a paragraph. Some niche words are inevitably going to be repeated but it is good practice to try and use a broad vocabulary in your writing. It makes it more interesting. You don’t have to use completely obscure words no one knows but utilize a range, give your writing originality and depth.
Read as much as possible from a range of written works both fiction and non-fiction. You will pick up new vocabulary, new styles and you will form opinions of the types of writing you like and dislike. This will all improve your own writing form. I have to read a lot as I am proofreading or editing a range of texts every week and I am constantly learning and adding to my knowledge all the time.
5.) Read It Out Loud
Not only will reading out loud help you pick up mistakes (much more so than reading in your head), but it will also help you hear whether it flows well. You can listen to the tone of the sentence and the structure of your language will be easier to analyse. I will be reading this piece aloud after I have written it and making adjustments accordingly. And if you aren’t confident in doing this yourself, ask someone to do it for you and tell you what they think. Hearing someone else read it can be a bonus as they may not read it in the way it is intended, and you will realize you need to make a change or two.
The most important thing with writing is to get started!
Get that first draft out of your head and onto the paper/screen and then you can start to create something. Then edit, edit, edit until you are happy, and it is having the impact you want and check it over for spelling and grammar as much as you are capable. If you struggle after using all the above tips, and you need a professional finish, then ask for help. But good luck with your writing and please remember to enjoy it.
Rebecca Pay is a UK-based, professionally qualified proofreader, sub-editor and copywriter. She loves words and has a real flair for writing copy. She runs a business called Pay for Precision that aims to support other small or medium-sized businesses with blog writing/editing, web copy and proofreading. Find out more at: https://www.linkedin.com/in/payforprecision/?originalSubdomain=uk