Read It LOUD (That Is, ALOUD)

Mistakes. Mistakes. Mistakes. We all make them, even when we think we have proofread our documents.

Some mistakes are worse than others:

  Written: The rent will be $200 per month.
  Intended: The rent increase will be $200 per month.

  Written: You have a credit of $2,500.
  Intended: You have a credit line of $2,500.

  Written: Use a truck to move those containers.
  Intended: Use a hand truck to move those containers.

If misunderstood by the reader, each of these sentences missing a word can cost money, time, and aggravation for the company, its customers, and employees.

The best way to avoid mistakes like these is to proofread out loud. Reading out loud helps us read what is actually there–not what we think we typed.

Reading out loud helps us recognize whether content flows logically. It helps us notice when words are missing. It forces us to slow down and wake up.

Many years ago I worked at a medical journal called The Reviews of Infectious Diseases. Because our journal was essential reading for physicians just learning about AIDS and other infectious diseases, it was critical that we make no mistakes. Proofreading was done in pairs: one person would read the edited copy aloud while the other followed along silently to be sure the printer had made all the changes. It was an excellent way to stay awake and catch errors. Once, in a particularly dense scientific paragraph, we found the sentence "This job sucks but I need the bucks." Apparently a disgruntled typesetter had inserted the phrase, thinking his proofreader would catch it, laugh, and remove it. Alas, his proofreader snoozed through that section and missed it. Luckily we caught it before going to press.

When your finished document is important, proofread it aloud. Even if all you can do is whisper in your cubicle, do it. Never mind the possible embarrassment–that’s minor compared to the embarrassment an overlooked mistake can cause.

Note: Please send me any spectacular mistakes you have made or missed. Participants in classes will laugh out loud when I share them (anonymously), and your blunders will fill the world with joy.

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Lynn Gaertner-Johnston has helped thousands of employees and managers improve their business writing skills and confidence through her company, Syntax Training. In her corporate training career of more than 20 years, she has worked with executives, engineers, scientists, sales staff, and many other professionals, helping them get their messages across with clarity and tact. A gifted teacher, Lynn has led writing classes at more than 100 companies and organizations such as MasterCard, Microsoft, Boeing, Nintendo, REI, AARP, Ledcor, and Kaiser Permanente. Near her home in Seattle, Washington, she has taught managerial communications in the MBA programs of the University of Washington and UW Bothell. She has created a communications course, Business Writing That Builds Relationships, and provides the curriculum at no cost to college instructors. A recognized expert in business writing etiquette, Lynn has been quoted in "The Wall Street Journal," "The Atlantic," "Vanity Fair," and other media. Lynn sharpened her business writing skills at the University of Notre Dame, where she earned a master's degree in communication, and at Bradley University, with a bachelor's degree in English. She grew up in suburban Chicago, Illinois.