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How to proofread your emails

Do you struggle to proofread your own emails? These top tips from the Comma Chameleon proofreader will help you nail every communication you send out…

Proofreading marks on a graphic of an email interface.

Ever get that sinking feeling after hitting ‘send’ on an email, when you notice an epic typo just as the email whooshes out of your Drafts folder? We’ve all done it. Let’s face it, most of the emails we send at work are being typed hastily in response to a query that’s landed in our inbox while we’re halfway through our to-do list. When the average office worker receives 121 emails per day, we generally just want to get the query answered and crack on with our actual work.

But sometimes we find ourselves composing emails of greater importance. To our boss, for instance. Or a prospective client. Or even one that’s going out to everyone in the company’s contacts list. These ones, you need to nail. These ones, you need to proofread.

So what’s the best, most foolproof way of doing that?

Before we get down to the top tips, there are a few important basics that you absolutely must get right.

 

Email interface on smartphone showing top tips for proofreading.Don’t be a d*ck

There are certain things you simply can’t muff up if you want to be taken seriously. Like the name of the person you’re emailing. Check the spelling, hyphenation and capitalisation however you can, but just get it right. The same goes for the name of the company they work at. It’s not Buzzfeed. It’s not Buzz Feed. It’s BuzzFeed. Get either the name of the person or the name of the company wrong and, at best, you’re going to cause eyes to roll. At worst, you’re going to look rude and uninterested, and the message you’re trying to send is going to be drowned out by the silent rage of the person reading it.

Another thing that’s going to mean the difference between your email being embraced or unceremoniously deleted is the tone you use. There’s a massive difference between ‘I’ll look forward to chatting with you’ and ‘I’ll be expecting your call’. One is friendly and positive, the other sounds like a thinly veiled threat. Try and get somebody else to read your email before you send it on its way so they can tell you how it sounds. If there are no willing guinea pigs, simply read back over it yourself – this can often flag up instances where you’ve struck the wrong chord.

Once you’ve nailed those all-important basics, get down to the nitty-gritty of proofreading your email with these simple tips:

 

1. Write. Stop. Read

When you have to edit and proofread your own writing, it’s a good idea to take a break between typing and reading. If you’ve still got ideas and sentences flying round your head from the writing process, the chances are you’ll ‘read’ something that’s not actually written. Your brain needs a bit of time to forget what you just wrote, so go and grab a brew, read something else, make that phone call you’ve had hanging over your head for a week. Whatever. Just take a break. When you come back to your email to start proofreading, it’ll be easier to cast a critical eye over it and see your work from the perspective of the recipient.

2. Go big or go print it

Changing the look of the email you’ve just written can help you spot mistakes. Change the typeface or font size to make the text sit differently, or better yet, print it out and proofread it on the page. You’ll spot loads more mistakes when the text looks different from how you’ve become used to seeing it.

3. Read it aloud

Don’t p*ss off your desk buddies by doing this from the screen, though. Nobody likes an office murmurer. Print it out and take it to a quiet corner to read aloud. This will immediately help you spot areas that are hard to understand or jarring to read. Sentences that are too long will soon have you gasping for air, so you can go back and rework those. And if you find yourself stumbling over your words in certain places, your reader might struggle there too – see if you can rewrite them to be a bit clearer.

 

Nobody likes an office murmurer. Print [your email] out and take it to a quiet corner to read aloud. This will immediately help you spot areas that are hard to understand or jarring to read.’

 

4. Back it up

If spelling and typing are generally where you come unstuck, reading your document backwards can help. Start at the last word and work your way to the beginning, one word at a time. This will help you concentrate on the individual words rather than the topic, and misspellings and repeated words will jump out at you.

Graphic of man proofreading on paper.

Printing out your email will help you spot errors you might miss if you only read it back on screen.

5. Use your finger

The trick to effective proofreading is to read slowly. Very, very slowly. If you’re a naturally fast reader, it can be surprisingly difficult to rein it in and really examine every letter and word of text. Try using your finger to point at each word as you read it – this will help you slow right down and look at everything you’ve written.

6. The book of shame

Nobody likes being reminded of their mistakes, but keeping a list of your linguistic and typing nemeses can prompt you to check them more carefully every time you use them. Maybe you mix up your there/they’re/theirs, or maybe you can’t ever seem to get your fingers to cooperate when typing a certain word (‘market’, or ‘makret’, in our case). Write these pitfalls down as you come across them and keep a list near your computer so you can easily refer to it whenever you’re writing.

 

Do you hold a meeting in the office? Or do you hold it at the office? Keep a dictionary handy if you aren’t sure about the meaning and correct usage.’

 

7. Double check prepositions

In, to, on, from, about. It’s not always obvious which you should use when. Do you comply with a request? Or do you comply to a request? Do you hold a meeting in the office? Or do you hold it at the office? Keep a dictionary handy if you aren’t sure about the meaning and correct usage. Or drop us a message on Facebook – we’re always happy to point you at the right direction. (Ha! See what we did there?)

8. Scan for unclear pronouns

It and they are danger words when it comes to conveying precise meaning. Scan your email for them and check it is clear what those words are referring to. Look at sentences like this: ‘It always boosts productivity when we do it after lunch.’ What boosts productivity? When you do what after lunch? Rewrite sentences that don’t convey precise and exact meaning.

 

So, as you can see, there are loads of ways to make sure your email is as close to perfect as it can be. Of course there are always going to be times when a typo sneaks through. But that happens to everyone, and therefore most people are fairly forgiving. If nothing else, just make sure your email is clear, polite and conveys your intended message.

And of course you can always outsource the proofreading of REALLY important communications to our SfEP-trained team – we are ready and willing to get it done for you.

 

Cheers

The Comma Chameleon team

 

 

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About Comma Chameleon

Comma Chameleon is a Manchester-based team of copywriters, editors and proofreaders, with decades of experience. We work with clients throughout the UK to bring colour to content and clarity to messages, no matter the size, format or platform. We simply love words, whether they’re yours or ours.

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