Distance is said to make a heart grow fonder—it also makes a writer more perceptive.
Ideas that seem crystal clear when you initially write them may not make as much sense after you spend some time away from them. That’s why it’s so important to set aside your important business writing before submitting it.
Time and distance away allow you to approach your work with fresh eyes, and those fresh eyes will help you make critical improvements.
How long should I stay away from my initial draft?
- For important documents, give yourself 24–48 hours before returning to your writing. This time will help you recharge and see the writing anew.
- For important emails and other time-sensitive responses, take a short break away from your screen. Do a quick mental reset.
How can I do a quick mental reset?
You can use a number of tricks to reset your brain:
- Do something physical. Get up from your desk. Stretch. Breathe. Look out the window. Recenter yourself before diving back in.
- Focus briefly on a completely different task. As the saying goes, “A change is as good as a rest.” Using your brain on some unrelated job helps you see your writing anew.
- Pass through doorways. When you enter a new setting, your brain does a little reboot. It’s why you often go into the kitchen and wonder, “Why did I come in here?” Step through doors, reorient your brain, and then return to your writing.
- Change locations. If you wrote the document on your desktop computer in your office, see if you can review it on your laptop computer in the lounge. By shifting locations (and devices), you force yourself to adopt a new perspective.
- Get another opinion. Talk to someone about what you wrote. Explain it briefly. Answer any questions. Often, by verbally discussing your ideas with another person, you realize what you should have written.
- Think from your reader’s perspective. You probably wrote your document expressing what you know. Now think of what your reader needs to know. How can you express those ideas most succinctly up front?
- Use a checklist. A checklist requires you to focus on your document in a new way, looking for issues you might not even have considered. Your Write for Business Guide provides checklists for many business forms, such as emails, letters and memos, reports, proposals, and résumés.
All right, then what?
Whether you’ve taken a real break or done a mental reset, you should then critically reread what you’ve written, preferably out loud. Watch for anything that trips you up. Any word, sentence, or idea that now seems fuzzy to you will likely seem even more confusing to your readers.
Your fresh eyes helped you spot the problem; now you can work to fix it.