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Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Proofreading Tip: Checking It Twice

This month, I received a newsletter that had an author's book entitled Get Client's Now! (The book's title is Get Clients Now! by C. J. Hayden. No apostrophe.) Check the source--that's an important proofreading tip. People don't like their names misspelled, and I'll bet authors don't like their book titles misspelled either.

Checking the source is worth the effort; and that's true for company names, addresses, phone numbers, dollar amounts, and numbers in a list.

Judy Beaver, The Office Pro
National Proofreading Day

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Business Writing Tip: I Hear Voices

March 8 has been approved as an official holiday for National Proofreading Day by Chase’s Calendar of Events. This holiday was founded by Judy Beaver. The National Proofreading Day Web site has been updated with a monthly proofreading survey. (Please click here to take the proofreading survey!) What do the first three sentences have in common besides shameless promotion? They’re written in passive voice.

Do you know the difference between active and passive voice? According to William Zinsser, author of On Writing Well, “The difference between an active-verb style and a passive-verb style—in clarity and vigor—is the difference between life and death for a writer.” He’s right; the first three sentences are boring! And, active voice is easier to understand than passive voice because the reader knows who’s doing what. Active-voice sentences are written in subject-verb order.

Use active voice to keep your writing strong and concise for business. However, if you write in passive voice, revise the passive-voice sentence by changing to subject-verb order. Ask: who did what to help identify the subject. Sometimes you know the subject; it follows the word by. Otherwise, you may have to add a subject. So, what’s the subject in the first sentence of this newsletter? (Who did what?) Chase’s Calendar of Events. Here’s the sentence written in active voice: Chase’s Calendar of Events approved March 8 as the official holiday for National Proofreading Day. Still boring? Perhaps, although it’s active voice!

Microsoft Word can identify your passive-voice verbs so you can improve your writing. Then, you can decide if you want to change the sentence to active voice. To be sure Word places the green zigzag line under passive-voice sentences, follow these steps:
  1. Click the Office button.
  2. Click the Word Options button.
  3. Click the Proofing link (left side).
  4. Click the Settings button.
  5. Scroll down to Style category (under the Grammar and style options list); select Passive sentences to place a check in its check box.
  6. Click OK two times.
Even though active voice is the preferred writing style, you can use passive voice for certain situations. Use it to place emphasis on someone other than the subject (Laura was honored vs. We honored Laura) or to avoid placing blame on someone (The program couldn’t be installed vs. Joe couldn’t install the program). See the difference?

Judy Beaver, The Office Pro
Founder of National Proofreading Day

Monday, October 31, 2011

Business Writing Tip: Text Speak

Last week a Wisconsin teen won $50,000 for the 2011 LG U.S. National Texting Championship. The contestants competed in several challenges, ending with the “Text Attack” challenge. The finalists had to type as quickly and accurately as possible. Accurately? By whose standards?

I think vanity license plates are easier to figure out than text messages. Earlier this month I wrote about corporate speak and its readability problems, although is text speak any easier to understand?

awgthtgtta degt b/c i’m awltp
What the heck does that mean? Translation: Are we going to have to go through this again? Don’t even go there because I’m avoiding work like the plague.

Spell check obviously has problems with the spelling of that text message; however, the Flesch Reading Ease Scale gives it a score of 100, which means it’s easy to read. Really? Dr. Flesch didn’t figure text speak into the formula.
Erik Qualman, author of Socialnomics: How Social Media Transforms the Way We Live and Do Business, writes that while there are many positive aspects of social media, Generations Y and Z have difficulty with writing and face-to-face interactions. Even though these groups are writing more, they’re not following grammar, punctuation, and capitalization rules. Plus most words look like typos.
So, is text speak appropriate for business communication, including blogs and e-mails? Remember, you want to write a document so your audience understands it.
What do you think? Will text speak become the new standard? What did you think when OMG and LOL were added to The Oxford English Dictionary? Do you think that’s the death of language?

Judy Beaver, The Office Pro
Founder of National Proofreading Day

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Proofreading Tip: How Easy Are Your Documents to Read?

Have you ever read something that makes no sense? Contracts? Reports? Proposals? Do you quit reading the document because it gives you a headache? You're not alone.

Corporate speak, legal speak--call it what you want; it's not easy to understand. Furthermore, people are too busy to read a document more than once to figure out what someone is trying to say. The writer needs to write in plain English!
Dr. Rudolf Flesch created a readability formula that measures how easy something is to read based on the average sentence length in words and the average word length in syllables. The calculation results in a number between 0 and 100. The higher the number, the easier the message is to read.
He applied his formula to several publications; the scores are averages from random samples:
  • Reader's Digest: 65
  • The Wall Street Journal: 43
  • Standard auto insurance policy: 10
  • Internal Revenue Service: -6
The minus six makes me laugh every time! Of course, you want to write a document so your audience understands it. But does anyone understand a message written with a readability score of minus six? Dr. Flesch's advice: "If it's too hard to read for your audience, you shorten the words and sentences until you get the score you want."

But who wants to count words and syllables? The good news is you don't have to calculate the readability formula. Let Word and Outlook do it. Here's how to set it up in Word 2007:
But who wants to count words and syllables? The good news is you don't have to calculate the readability formula. Let Word and Outlook do it. Here's how to set it up in Word 2007:
  1. Click the Office button.
  2. Click the Word Options button.
  3. Click Proofing link (left side).
  4. Under When correcting grammar in Word, be sure Check grammar with spelling and Show readability statistics are selected.
  5. Click OK.
In Word 2003, select Tools | Options from the menu bar. Click the Spelling & Grammar tab. Be sure Check grammar with spelling and Show readability statistics are selected. Click OK.

According to Dr. Flesch, "the minimum score for Plain English is 60." Remember, the goal is to have your readers understand your message.

To help you improve your writing, I recommend reading Why Business People Speak Like Idiots by Brian Fugere, Chelsea Hardaway, and Jon Warshawsky. The authors conduct studies and give pertinent examples to back up their claims that "bull has become the official language of business." They write in an easy-to-read, humorous style that helps you learn how to update your business writing and speaking skills, so people understand your message.

Judy Beaver, The Office Pro
Founder of National Proofreading Day

Friday, September 23, 2011

September 24 is National Punctuation Day

Happy National Punctuation Day! Today is the eighth annual celebration of this holiday. Jeff Rubin is the founder of National Punctuation Day. Check out his Web site: You can enter a Punctuation Paragraph Contest (entries are being accepted through September 30), learn about punctuation, and more.

What are you going to do on National Punctuation Day?

Monday, August 29, 2011

Proofreading Tip: E-mail Subject Lines

People form an opinion within seconds of meeting you--and you don't have to say a word! So you have to wonder, do people judge you by your e-mail subject lines? They're easy to overlook, although that's your reader's first impression of the e-mail and you.

I've received some interesting ones lately:

"Hot of the presses...see what's new!"
"Five tings you didn't know about the Paris Opera Ballet!"
"Your licence expires in 15 days"
"Truley Pivital"
"Come have diner on us tonight..."

Yikes! These messages are from reputable organizations. My husband, Beaver, forwarded that last one to me--good catch!

If you use spell check, it will check the subject line. However, sign, of, tings, and diner will pass that test because they're words. Just the wrong words. That's why we need to proofread--especially the subject line. Too bad Outlook's AutoCorrect (see last month's post) doesn't work in the subject line.

The subject line is the most important part of your e-mail message because its goal is to get the e-mail opened and read. Your message might be misconstrued if the subject line has an error. A friend received an e-mail with a subject line that said something about "signing"; the sender meant to type "singing." Oops!

So, take time to write an informative and grammatically correct subject line. After all, it's a first impression.

Judy Beaver, The Office Pro
Founder of National Proofreading Day

Friday, July 29, 2011

Proofreading Tip: Word's Typo List

Are you familiar with Word’s typo list (a.k.a. AutoCorrect)? Microsoft has a feature that automatically corrects commonly misspelled (or mistyped) words; and this feature works in Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and Outlook.

Here’s how it works. If you type t-e-h for the, Microsoft changes the misspelled version to the when the Spacebar or Enter is pressed, or a punctuation mark is typed. Words typed without a space are also part of this list; for example, witha, forthe, and ofthe conveniently correct themselves to with a, for the, and of the while you’re typing. Microsoft helps you and me to become more accurate typists!

You can personalize this typo list for words you consistently mistype. That way, you don’t have to correct them ever again. For example, my fingers have a mind of their own; I consistently type select as s-l-e-c-t. So, I’ve added this combination to my list.

To add the typo and corrected spelling to the list from a document, follow these steps:
  1. Right-click the misspelled word (the one with the red zigzagged underline) and select AutoCorrect.
  2. If the correctly spelled word is displayed, select that word. That misspelled word has now been added to the typo list with its correct counterpart.
  3. If the correct word is not listed, select AutoCorrect Options. (The AutoCorrect dialog box displays.)
  4. Be sure there’s a check in the Replace text as you type check box.
  5. Type the incorrect spelling (slect) in the Replace text box.
  6. Press TAB key to move to the With text box.
  7. Then, type the correctly spelled word (select).
  8. Press ENTER two times.

The instructions are the same for 2003.

Another way to use this feature is to create speedwriting words. Have you created your own abbreviations or shorthand words (the olden-day version of texting) when you write in longhand? Consider the possibilities: shortcuts for frequently used company names, cities, technical and medical terminology, hard-to-type words, short phrases, and even multiple-line addresses! There is a 256-character limit, though. Finally, “texting” can be put to good use--or professional use.

With the help of AutoCorrect, you can use those same shortcuts when typing. Here’s how in 2007:
  1. Click the Office button.
  2. Click the Word Options button.
  3. Select the Proofing link on the left side of the window.
  4. Click the AutoCorrect Options button. (The AutoCorrect dialog box displays.)
  5. Follow steps 4 – 8 above, substituting the shortcut word for the incorrect spelling.

For version 2003, replace steps 1-4 with Tools from the menu, then AutoCorrect Options. Continue with step 5.

One thing to consider--don’t use abbreviations that are words themselves. For example, deter can’t be a shortcut for determine because deter is a legitimate word. This same rule applies for misspelled words. If you mistakenly type you for your, don’t use you as your misspelled word because it’ll change it every time.

One more thing--to use the abbreviation rather than the longhand version, click the Undo button or use the Undo keyboard shortcut, CTRL+Z, immediately after the word changes; then, the longhand version goes back to the abbreviation.

To delete a word combination from the AutoCorrect list, follow these steps:
  1. Follow steps 1 – 4 above (to open the AutoCorrect dialog box).
  2. Begin typing the misspelled or shortcut in the Replace text box.
  3. Click to select the combination in the list.
  4. Click Delete, and then click OK.
Isn’t technology wonderful? Just remember, when you’re typing on somebody else’s computer, you can’t use your shortcuts! Please post what shortcuts you create or have already created.

Judy Beaver, The Office Pro
Founder of National Proofreading Day