June 25, 2020 § Leave a comment
A client gave me an ebook to proofread the other day. In one sense there was NOTHING wrong with it. In another, there was SO MUCH wrong with it.
I could see straight away that it had gone through a spellcheck. There were tons of mistakes but each one, in itself, wasn’t a mistake.
For example, there were THREE Chapter Twos. ‘Chapter Two’ was spelt right every time so the spellcheck had done its job. The spellcheck doesn’t care that you’ve made a massive error, repeating the same chapter title three times. It cares that you’ve spelt Chapter Two properly. The spellcheck isn’t worried that your mistake has made you look amateurish and impacted on the index, knocking all pages out of order.
Customers will make up their own mind about you when they see the quality of your copy – even if writing has nothing to do with your business.
There was a variety of its and it’s, sprinkled throughout the text, randomly used wrongly – but, as far as the spellcheck was concerned, the words were spelt right every time.
Then there were the theres, theirs and they’res and the you’res and yours.
Most plurals were denoted by apostrophes – as in ‘client’s’ when it should have been ‘clients’. An apostrophe never, ever, ever – no exceptions – pluralises a word.
All language was Americanized even though this was a London-based company wanting to appeal to London-based customers. That’s also down to the spellcheck because many people use it without setting it to the right language.
I could go on but let’s just say punctuation and grammar left everything to be desired. There were few spelling errors but words were used in the wrong contest (I know that last word should be ‘context’ but I’m giving you an idea of where the spellcheck says ‘OK’ because it is OK as far as spelling is concerned.)
When I talked to the client about the extent of the damage, he said that it was probably a result of staring at the copy for so long to make sure the message was right.
I get that. The last person you should rely on to check and knock your copy into shape is YOU.
November 20, 2018 § Leave a comment
I was trained by a fierce, scary editor and now I’m a fierce, scary editor. These are my Top Ten writing howlers and when I see them in print, I want to scream.
- You’re and your. This easily makes the number one slot because the words are not interchangeable and the mistake is made so many times by so many people. ‘You’re’ is the shortened version of ‘you are’ and ‘your’ means belonging to you. Most people know that but many still get it wrong when they write it.
- Apostrophes. An apostrophe is used to indicate either possession (e.g. Harry‘s book; boys’ coats) or the omission of letters (e.g. can‘t; he’s). An apostrophe is never, ever, ever used to suggest a plural (e.g. 1960’s; BBQ’s). Let those words be and write them like this: 1960s and BBQs. I’m not the only one to get heated about the misuse of apostrophes, the Apostrophe Protection Society was formed ‘with the specific aim of preserving the correct use of this currently much abused punctuation mark.’
- So. There are times that ‘so’ is a useful word and times that it serves no purpose whatsoever. This seems to be a modern invention, as in: ‘So I went down the road.’ Read that sentence without the word ‘so’ and it makes perfect sense.
- Capital letters. We all learned the rule for capital letters in school: proper nouns and the beginning of sentences. And then we grew up and many of us threw it away. For example, you may have only one mother but there are many mothers so mother does not take a capital letter. It is not a proper noun. Your mother’s name, however, does.
- Thing. I put this down to my fierce and scary training. I was told that there’s always a better word than ‘thing’ and using it is lazy.
- Hey. This is American. We’re British, writing for a British audience.
- Who’s and whose. This is like you’re and your. Think of who’s as ‘who is’ and you’ve got it.
- Could of and could have. This can also be ‘would have’, ‘must have’ ‘should have’ and becomes a mistake because people write it as they say it. Drives me crazy.
- Commas. ‘I like cooking dogs and kids.’ Don’t be a psycho – use commas!
- Bingo. B4 and U2, for example – write English not bingo.
February 13, 2017 § Leave a comment
- Clunky headlines: Don’t try to get everything, including the name of your company, in the headline. The name of your company is a turn-off anyway. Keep it short, sharp and to the point.
- Written in the first person: You’re verging on the advertorial if your press release is a ‘Me, me, me’ or ‘We, we, we’ document. Think about how you’re adding value to the reader’s life.
- A press release with no news: To be fair, what can the press do with that? Journalists are looking for something newsworthy and meaty that they can their teeth into.
- Full of jargon: You may have news but it might be buried under jargon that is industry speak but alien to journalists. They’ll bin a press release like that.
- Grammar and spelling mistakes: Journalists receive tons of press releases and reject those that look unprofessional. Anything that’s badly put together with spelling mistakes, grammatical errors or typographical howlers is not going to get their attention. Proofread, proofread and proofread again.
- No quotes to back up the news: If you’re going to suggest that doing such-and-such saves money, for example, get someone to explain how they made it work. Again, it’s all about getting away from the advertorial slant and making your story proper news.
- Too many exclamation marks!: There isn’t a place for them in the serious world of hard news.
- Sending to the wrong media: This usually means a bit of extra work for you because you’ve got to tailor your press release to fit and can’t send a blanket release to a bunch of titles. But in the long run it’s a bigger waste of time sending exactly the same release to Nursing Times as the one you’re sending to Construction News – for example.
- Bad timing: It can make or break a story. Talking about Easter in August isn’t going to find many takers – an extreme example, but you get the point.
- No follow-up: What a waste of time if you’ve done all the right checks but then sit back and never find out what happened to all that hard work. Having been a journalist on many titles, I can let you into a secret – it’s all too easy to overlook a press release particularly if a zealous PR person isn’t on your back, checking whether you need more info/more pictures/more quotes/more figures/more anything, frankly, just so they can make sure you use their story. That’s what you need to do.
February 7, 2017 § Leave a comment
We make the biggest effort to check complicated words that are tricky to spell but so often overlook the little ones that have drifted from, say, ‘or’ to ‘of’. We’ll have been concentrating our proofreading efforts on more challenging words – take something like ‘accommodate’. We’ll make sure we’ve got two ‘ccs’ and two ‘mms’ because we know that’s an easy one to get wrong.
Or if we mention McDonalds, we’ll double-check that spelling, knowing you can buy a Big Mac from the place although there’s never been an ‘a’ in the company’s name. It’s a helpful hint for getting the spelling spot-on.
But…and take it from someone who proofreads every day, the mistake we make time and time again is to forget to check the easy-peasy tiny words we can spell in our sleep/with our eyes shut/without even thinking about them.
And we’re so focused on making sure the body copy reads perfectly the howlers sometimes appear in the headline of the piece. It’s a fact of writing life: people tend to overlook headlines, subheads and captions when they proofread.
Much as I’d like a proofreader to be hired for any job that involves words I can see it isn’t happening. That being the case it’s wise to write your content, save it as a draft, walk away, have a cup of tea and read it again 30 minutes later. You’ll be surprised what you discover and your copy will be all the better for it.
Always – but always – be wide-eyed and alert when you see words like:
To name a very few…
November 24, 2016 § Leave a comment
I’m surprised I even had to write that headline – I thought everyone knew. Spellchecks are helpful – I use them as a guide – but if I left it at that, it would be corporate suicide.
I was chatting to a friend about this the other day and her reaction was: “Yes, you couldn’t afford any errors – being in the ‘words’ game.” That’s true. If I made mistakes people would be quick to point them out.
On the other hand she’s a gift retailer and her communications output is critical to her business, particularly at this time of the year when customers will be looking for Christmas presents.
She always sends an invite to a list of her customers with a message that says something like:
- Come along for an evening of wine, mince ties and a chance to buy gifts for your nearest and dearest, hopping at leisure.
Although only something like that because it actually reads:
- Come along for an evening of wine, mince pies and a chance to buy gifts for your nearest and dearest, shopping at leisure.
The point I’m making, is that a spellcheck wouldn’t have picked up any spelling mistakes in the first sentence because there aren’t any. The sentence just doesn’t make sense and it takes a human brain to work that out, not a computer.
In short, a spellcheck can tell you when a word is spelt incorrectly but not when it’s used incorrectly. Use it but know its limitations.