Apps, smart devices and AI tools are taking over every part of our lives. So, it’s tempting to use tech crutch when you have to dash out a blog post, short article or another chapter of your long-delayed book.
While technology can be a great backstop for the mundane aspects of writing, it’s no substitute for creativity and shaping your true voice. Plus, tech tools take everything literally. They can be counterproductive when you’re trying to be literary or literate.
As Lucy Miller noted in Ragan’s PR Daily recently, “Proofreading software and grammar checkers—those blessed gifts from above that highlight embarrassing errors and silly mistakes—are wonderful aids, but they are far from comprehensive.” Amen, Lucy.
If you rely on your proofreading software too much, Miller offers five good reasons to reconsider:
- Grammar checkers go strictly by the book.
Grammar checkers or proofreaders are software programs that understand the binary code version of whichever grammar rulebook was consulted in the development process.
“Writing is not math,” noted Miller. “Language is flexible and subject to change—as are the rulebooks that we adhere to.
- Grammar checkers are outdated.
Merriam-Webster’s dictionary added more than 1,000 words last year. “What a term means today might be radically different from what it meant 20 years ago. Plus, new words and slang are created just about every day,” explained Miller.
- What you wrote is not what you meant.
According to Miller, most proofreading programs are unable to distinguish between similar terms such as effect and affect, or every day and everyday—and forget about correcting misplaced commas. “Most also have a tough time catching nitpicky grammatical issues. Word’s spell checker is blissfully unaware of the following glaring errors:
- Piece be with you.
- She shows such love and infection.”
- Too much tech can make you lazy.
According to Miller, over-reliance on proofreading software can stunt your growth as an author and lull you into sloppy habits and a false sense of security.
“Working without a net forces you to read and edit more carefully, noted Miller. “If you rely on technology to catch grammatical errors, why bother to learn the rules yourself? Tech reliance can cause your writing and editing muscles to atrophy.”
- Editing programs often replace the human touch.
The human eye has more proofing power than any software available today—especially if someone hasn’t reviewed the content before. “It’s amazing what technology can do, but human intuition, nuance, humor, context and experience can improve any piece,” observed Miller. “Proofreading programs certainly are useful, but software shouldn’t be used at the expense of human review.”
Here are some of our own favorites:
- Read your work out loud or better yet, dictate it into your smartphone voice recorder and play it back. You may not like what you sound like, but this technique will prevent from straying too far from your point and from falling into the run-on-sentence rabbit hole.We work with a number of advisors who can get up in front of 5,000 people and give a flawless presentation with little or no rehearsal–but they freeze up like alligators in the Arctic when they have to sit down at the keyboard. We don’t have them write anything for us at first. We just “interview” them with topic-specific questions related to their planned blog posts, articles, even books. Once they see a draft of our “interview” write-up, then guess who suddenly become eagle-eyed editors?7. Walk away for at least an hour. What looked so brilliant before you took your break suddenly stinks looks a garbage dump on a hot summer day. Don’t despair, that’s what first drafts are supposed to do anyway (see #9 below).8. Start with the end in mind. Write the conclusion first, then three or four summary bullet points (i.e. Key Takeaways). What do you really want readers to take away from your article or post? Then play around with the headline (or the cover of your book). You have no choice but to be concise and on point.
9. Write quickly. Just let it flow. Don’t worry about grammar, sentence structure and punctuation. Let it rip! Don’t be a writer—be a story teller—then revise, revise and revise. Blogger Hannah Heath explains why you should let your first draft suck and Vaibhav Vardhan explains why your first draft is supposed to suck.
10. Give it the relevance check. We all have a mental picture of our core audience when we write. We know who are biggest fans (and critics) are. Imagine them looking over your shoulder before you hit the post, send or publish button. What would their reaction be? If it stings, give your piece another tune-up. There’s no charge for parts, just for the labor.
E.B. White said, “writing is hard work and bad for the health.” Perhaps it is, but it’s an essential part of communicating with your followers and being a thought leader. Don’t let perfection be the tyranny of progress. Set a deadline. Go with your best effort, and then revise, revise and revise even after it’s been published. That’s one thing that’s great about publishing in today’s electronic age. It’s never been easier to update.
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TAGS: Proofreading, grammar software, Lucy Miller, Vaibhav Vardhan, EB White, becoming a better writer