It’s easy to get lazy when you’re writing for work. Throw some words down and bam, you’re done. I’m sure to many people, that’s just fine, but you actually want people to take you seriously. You want your communications with your customers, with your prospects, and with the world at large to be clear, concise, and effective. Thankfully, you don’t need to be a Nobel-winning author to communicate effectively with your writing. In fact, the only thing you really need to write well is a brain (and the wherewithal to use it).
So here’s today’s tip: Read your content again.
Yes. Once you’re done writing and before you click “Publish,” or “Send,” or whatever it is you’re going to do with it, read it again.
Maybe you do this already. Maybe you pat yourself on the back for catching a few things that need to be fixed. That’s not what I’m talking about (at least not entirely, because that’s important too, as you’ll see). In my experience, rereading for most people involves racing through their content in an effort to get done as quickly as possible. This isn’t rereading. It’s skimming.
The purpose of rereading is not to just give it a last check but to read what you’ve written from start to finish (probably for the first time) and make sure it’s doing what you want it to. So here’s the trick. If you approach your reread with some specific goals in mind, your editing efforts will be much more successful and your content will be better for it. So what kinds of goals should you have when you reread your hard work? Here are a few to get you started.
Can you find your thesis?
Thesis. I’m sure just saying it brings you back to high school English and five paragraph essays and introductions that end with a thesis statement. That’s good because your high school English teacher was right. Everything you write should have a central point, a raison d’être. I’m pretty sure you knew what that reason was when you sat down to write, but it’s remarkably easy to lose track of what you’re doing when you’re in the middle of crafting that perfect sentence.
So when you’re rereading, look for that thesis, that main point. Can you find it, or does the content you’ve written meander and ultimately do nothing? Remember, one of the hallmarks of good business writing is simplicity and conciseness. You should be able to, at least on a general level, explain how everything you’ve written supports your main point.
Can you be sure your audience will understand it?
Obviously you can understand it. You wrote it, right? But will your audience understand it? This goal is similar to looking for your thesis, but instead of looking at what you’ve written, you’re thinking about how it’s going to be read. Who is your audience? Have you used language that will make sense to them? Will it resonate with them? One example of this has to do with the use of acronyms. We live in a world that is acronym-obsessed. Nobody seems willing to take the time to spell out or say things like “managed service providers” or even “disaster recovery.” There’s nothing wrong with acronyms except for the fact that they only work for people who know what they stand for, and not everyone’s in the in-crowd. So when you’re rereading, consider things like acronyms. Are you creating a barrier to understanding? Am I going to have to constantly be typing acronyms into Wikipedia to understand what you’re trying to tell me. Am I even going to bother?
Acronyms are just one example of what you could be looking for. You might also want to question your level of technical detail (too much? too little?), the appropriateness of your content (are you saying something you shouldn’t?), or your voice (is it too funny? not funny enough? is it offensive?). Remember as well that in most cases, your business itself is part of your audience, so ask yourself if you’re using appropriate brand language, etc.
The key to this goal is get out of yourself. Think like someone else for a while and read your content through that person’s eyes.
Can you find any mistakes?
This really is a no-brainer. Is anything misspelled? Are you using parallelism properly? Have you left anything unfinished? This is something you’re probably doing already, but you’re probably doing it wrong (no offense).
One of the glories of language is that even if you’ve got a bunch of mistakes, we can still usually understand what you’re trying to say. But do you think we’re going to listen to anything you have to say if your content is riddled with mistakes? Okay, maybe, but only if your content is life-changingly good and I’ve yet to read a data sheet or product offering that changed my life.
We’re up against the same thing here that we were in our parallelism discussion. The key to good business writing is to get your information across as easily as possible and if I (as your reader) have to constantly stop to fix your errors in my mind, I’m wasting time and energy on something that’s not your main point. Also, you definitely don’t want me sharing your content because of a hilariously vulgar typo instead of the value of what you’re saying.
So when you reread, force yourself to take it slow. You already know what you said, so it’s easy to skim, but don’t do it! Read carefully and analytically, making sure each sentence, word, and piece of punctuation is right.
I’ve said it three times now in this article, but business writing is about simplicity and ease of reading. Taking time to actually reread (and not skim) what you’ve worked so hard to produce gives you one more chance to ensure your content is doing what you want it to. My suggestions for rereading goals here are not exhaustive. When I reread, I have a wide variety of goals that direct my editing efforts, depending on what the content is. Some are broad, like the ones I’ve shared here, and some are specific. In the case of this article, one of my goals was to see if the order of goals I’m presenting made sense. It didn’t, so I changed it.
The point is to approach rereading as more than just a task to cross off. Have an idea of what you want to accomplish with your rereading and then focus on that.
Curious about business writing? Here’s another great tip that will help your business writing.