October 7, 2020 § Leave a comment
I tell people time and time again that the worst person to read and check copy for mistakes is the person who wrote it. It’s good advice and I’ll always stand by it.
However it does beg the question that if I’m writing copy – one of several services I offer – who checks it for me?
The quick answer is: nobody.
So do I employ the advice I’m happy to hand out? Honestly…no.
There are reasons for that though
Number One: I wrote this blog the day before I posted it! As random as that sounds, it plays a big part in getting words right. It’s an absolute fact that, as you write, you tend to read what you think you’ve written. However if you take a break and revisit the words an hour or a day later, you’ll spot errors you wouldn’t have otherwise seen. Today I didn’t see mistakes in the blog but edited sentences that I realised were unnecessarily long.
Number Two: Writing is my job. It may sound obvious but, of course, it’s true. While you may have spent years training to be, for example, a counsellor, I spent years training to be a journalist and many more years honing my skills to edit other people’s work. The written word, grammar and punctuation is what I’m an expert on. Using the counsellor example again, I may be able to dish out advice but there’s no way I could ask for payment for it in the same way a trained counsellor could.
Number Three: I know (among other stuff!) to check little words. The likes of ‘in/it/is/if/on/has/had’ are some of the tiddlers that often get away. They’ll pass a spellcheck because they’re spelt correctly – it’s up to you to make sure they’re used correctly.
If you’re 18 and starting out you could have a go at Number Two. More helpful to more people will be Number One. Whatever stage of your career you’re at, Number Three is essential.
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.
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…
October 14, 2015 § Leave a comment
There are 10 typos in this piece of text. Can spot them?
How Names Became Words
Bloomers: Baggy womens undergarement, originally an entire costume with lose trousers gathered at the ankle. Amelia Jenks Bloomer (1818-94) was a New york postmistress who’s championing of women’s rights included there mode of dress. The outfit, designed by Mrs Elizabeth Miller, the daughter of a New York congressman and introduced in 1894, was not a success. The innovation was much derided. Previously, Bloomers was a big draw as a speakers and published a magazine, Lily, to propogate her views on feminism and temparance.
Check your answers here
November 13, 2014 § Leave a comment
That may sound a bit (outrageously even) harsh but I’ve just had an email that’s prompted this outpouring. I haven’t even checked the supplier’s work – it may be fabulous and well-priced. But since they couldn’t manage to spell their introductory email to me properly, I’m not going to be able to find respect for them.
‘Words’ is an area I understand so I can spot their mistakes but they’re offering a data provision service that is much more difficult to check and I would only buy from a supplier who had earned my respect. They managed to trash that in their first sentence.
I know people think I bang on about stuff that isn’t critical in the ‘real world’ of commerce (where do they think I live, by the way…) but how you say what you say speaks volumes about you.
I don’t confine my rants to grammar – but that message is spot-on
So let’s clear up some myths:
- If you’re in sales/ recruitment/ finance/data provision…should you also be expected to produce word-perfect marketing copy or client communication?
- Answer: Absolutely yes, if you want to be seen as a professional and top of your game. Children can be forgiven spelling mistakes, you can’t.
- What if the error has no direct bearing on your offer? Say, the price and other info are essentially right but spelt wrong.
- Answer: Would you visit a client if you were looking scruffy? Obviously not so don’t send them sloppy communication that suggests you overlook detail.
And the persistent offenders:
- There (place); they’re (they are); their (belonging to them);
- It’s (it is); its (belonging to it);
- You’re (you are); your (belonging to you);
Apostrophes have nothing to do with plurals, for example:
- More than one RT are RTs (not RT’s)
- If there are four Emmas in a class, that’s how you write it;
- The 20s, 30s, 40s etc. simply take an ‘s’ and don’t also need an apostrophe;
The tone of your communication is also really important because if people find it easy to read they are much more likely to do so. If it’s full of jargon and goes over their heads they’re unlikely to invest much time trying to work out what you’re saying. Often you’re too ‘close’ to your company to read what you write objectively and you need feedback from people outside of the business before you sign off any written word about it.
And – probably this sounds politically incorrect but it’s worth saying – if you outsource any part of your work to overseas companies or any of your staff have English as a second language, make sure you have a good look at the language they’re using when they’re writing to your customers. Non-native speakers have turns of phrases that don’t really work. As customers, we worry that you’re looking after the detail.
To some extent, corporate literature and websites can be the easier pieces of communication to get right because you’ll invest time and, almost certainly, money in getting them together. Watch out for the emails that are fired out from your company or the text messages that staff are sending to customers.
Next time I receive a ‘Hope your ok’ message I’m going to name and shame!