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Respect your peers: Self-Checklist before you ask for help

I was having lunch with a good friend over the weekend and we got on the subject of reviewing things for people. Now this was somebody I’ve actually sent quite a few things to review and I know I’ve been guilty of violating his pet peeves from time to time. He had an interesting take on things and it’s definitely something I’m going to apply to my life so I’d like to share it. One of the things we talked about was how frustrating it is to get something from somebody with the caveat of, “Don’t worry about spelling or nit nats, just take a look at the content.” Now this is something that I’ve actually said on a few different occasions so maybe it was a subtle message to me but the more I thought about it, the more it made a lot of sense. His take on it is that there are three things that everyone should have to do before they send a draft out to someone. They don’t take that long, they make the editor’s job immeasurably easier, and they greatly enhance the appearance of professionalism that you put forwards.

  1. Run spellcheck. It seems obvious but I know that I’ve been guilty of forgetting to do it myself.
  2. Read it at least once and preferably out loud for grammar. I know how easy it is to quickly dash something out and send it across for somebody to check over. You don’t ask for much, you just want to see if you’re headed the right direction or if this is the right approach. While this doesn’t seem on the surface to be to harmful, his take on it is that everyone has time to read something at least once. You shouldn’t send anything from your desk that you haven’t at least read and I have to agree. If you don’t read it and you’ve got some glaring grammatical errors or you’ve made some really obvious mistakes, even if you’re an otherwise an excellent writer, it takes away from the appearance of professionalism that everyone should try to put forward. It often unnecessarily increases the effort required by the editor to do the work. This may be fine if you’re paying a professional editor and it’s on your dime but if you’re asking for a peer review, or particularly if that person is in anyway involved in reviewing you from a professional standpoint, you may want to think twice about what you send across, even if that content is early stage draft.
  3. Lastly, you should always include a simple line that says what you’ve done to ready your work before sending it across to them. Again I think this is something that I hadn’t necessarily thought about but I kind of agree that it’s important. It sets the stage for the person that you’ve asked to review or edit to understand where in the writing cycle this work is. I know that I’ve had quite a few things dropped on me where when you open it up you think, “Wow, this looks like it’s in a really early stage or really unformulated.” That uncertainty makes it hard to gauge how you should phrase your response back.

So I thought those were three pretty good tips for anything that you’re trying to get edited by somebody, get reviewed, or even if you’re crafting a simple letter out to somebody. Following through those simple steps increases the appearance of professionalism that you put forward to other people. Running a spell check and correcting simple and obvious grammar mistakes shows you being respectful of their time in not making them waste time on simple unnecessary corrections. Finally just conveying what type of document you’re putting across to them frames what you’re asking much more clearly. Just some things to think about next time you ask a friend to look over something for you. I’d appreciate your thoughts as always.

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