Reader Q&A: Improving Attention to Detail

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Question: 

I just had my semi-annual review. My feedback was generally good, but I was instructed to work on my attention to detail in my written work. Any suggestions?

Answer:

I’m so glad your review went well! Attention to detail is extremely important for many jobs.  At the same time, it’s an area where a lot of people struggle and a very common note for improvement during review time, especially if your job requires a lot of writing.  When you are instructed to improve your attention to detail, you’re really being told to stop making little mistakes. This applies to both the substance and formatting of your work product.  Some tips:

1) Proofread everything: memos, document mark-ups, emails, etc. Figure out a foolproof way to catch errors. That could mean printing out the document and reviewing in hard copy. Or read it from the bottom up, starting with the last sentence. Reading out of context sometimes makes it easier to catch errors. Try out different methods until you hit on one that works for you.

2) Pay attention to formatting: Your memo may include a killer argument, but if you use multiple fonts or font sizes, inconsistent spacing, weird margins, or present a multi-page wall of text without headers, the reader’s eye is going to be drawn to that stuff, not the substance. Ask for sample work product from your supervisor to get a sense for their preferred style and mimic it. Also, your company might have style guidelines you should use for certain communications like newsletters or client proposals. Make sure you follow those.

4) Review markups without tracked changes: If you are asked to turn edits on a document and to make your edits in tracked changes, look at the document without tracked changes showing before returning it to your supervisor.  This will help you catch any typos, formatting problems, or substantive issues, which are easy to miss in a mark-up.

5) Before handing in an assignment: The last thing you should do before turning in an assignment is to look back at your notes from the initial request to make sure you answered the question asked. If you have received edits or feedback along the way, check those to make sure you incorporated all those comments into your final draft.

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