Everything you write is a chance to make a good impression. Yet companies lose business every day because they submit proposals that contain grammatical, spelling, or punctuation errors. The written word is one of the most effective tools for projecting an image that reflects credibility. Conversely, a letter, report, proposal, or press release that is poorly written will crumble your image. Here are a few tips to help you shine on paper.

Write well. Purchase a how-to book on grammar and business writing, a good dictionary, and a practical guide to punctuation. Tap the resources available online. For example, yourDictionary.com offers self-help tools to help you improve your grammar and vocabulary (a "Word of the Day" can be sent to you daily via e-mail). Avoid writing, if possible, when you're emotionally or mentally preoccupied. Clear writing is the sign of a clear mind, and those who capture their ideas on paper stand out as fluent, confident, and persuasive.

Proofread thoroughly. Avoid embarrassing mistakes with a four-step proofreading method. Use the first reading to look for obvious problems. On the second pass, read your document aloud to check for awkward sentences or words. Look for factual errors in the third reading, and finally, check for layout and consistency in your document.

Hire a professional. For a significant proposal or your Web site content, hire a writer. A business writer will be experienced in generating a strong professional image for you. Always request a disk copy of the work, so you can recycle words from it for other documents you choose to do yourself. For help in finding a writer, visit the Editorial Freelance Association Web site: http://www.the-efa.org.

Additional resource: Writing That Works: How to Improve Your Memos, Letters, Reports, Speeches, Resumes, Plans, and Other Business Papers (Harper Mass Market Paperbacks) by Kenneth Roman and Joel Raphaelson.

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