How to Banish Typos, Misprints, and Other Writing Disasters

Posted: March 26, 2015 in Writing advice
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If you are a one-person writing crew, it can be a lonely place when it comes time to editing your work. We all know how a single undetected typo can destroy an entire document, set a client or boss into fits of rage, or even have the lawyers banging down your door. So what is ONE person to do?

When it all falls on your shoulders, the first thing you need to do is to put on your editor’s hat before you submit your copy. Here are the top editing tips to help you avoid those pesky mistakes and keep your copy clean:

Take your time. Speed is fine in a marathon, but not with first-rate writing. Settle in, read slowly, once for typos and once again for sense and flow. A slow initial editing helps capture the bulk of your mistakes.

Print is your pal. Onscreen proofing is okay for quick fixes, but if you really want to see the errors in their sharpest resolution, print it out.

Say it out loud. Reading writing aloud will often reveal holes in composition, grammar gone awry or convoluted sentence structure

Don’t be spellbound by the spellchecker. As we all know, software grammar and spellchecker tools are often real dummies, clueless about how humans write, offering corrections where none is needed. And they don’t flag homophones, e.g., “to,” “too” and “two,” nor see a “you” when a “your” is needed. Don’t give them your 100% trust.

Don’t assume anything. When it comes to dates, addresses, telephone numbers and peoples names, verify that you have the correct version, then check out that the version you have in your copy matches.

Stash it away. Now it’s time to give it a rest. If you can, put the document away for 24 hours. That way your “blind” spot, that is the familiarity you have with the text, will go away and a fresh look will have those undetected errors jumping off the page at you!

Let’s wrap up with some cases that will have you laughing or cringing but illustrate just how frustrating it can be to produce “perfect” copy”

Typo Tales & Tactics courtesy of  Marcia Yudkin, weekly email newsletter, The Marketing Minute.  (Subscribe to it, free, now.  Copyright 2004-2015 Marcia Yudkin.  All rights reserved.)

Typos are not just a 21st century plague. In 1631, English royal printers Robert Barker and Martin Lucas reproduced the 783,137 words of the King James Bible with only one typo.  For this achievement, they had their business license yanked and had to pay a fine of £300 (equivalent to about $50,000 today). Why? They printed the seventh commandment as “Thou shalt commit adultery.” Only 11 copies of the so-called Wicked Bible survive today. Most were burned.

“To be or to be.” That’s how one of the most famous sentences in the English language began several years ago in a new edition of Shakespeare’s “Hamlet.” Six professional proofreaders failed to catch the mistake, which received national publicity and gave the publishing company a red face. (Great example of the “blind spot”:  you’ve seen that phrase so often, the wrongly written one appears to your eyes as you always see it.)

In late March 2008, Arkansas governor Mike Beebe called the state assembly into special session partly to deal with a typo in a 2007 law that had mistakenly allowed girls of any age (even infants) to marry with their parents’ consent. A special session costs taxpayers about $25,000 a day.

Here is a comment Marsha made and I see this on websites from amateur personal ones to corporate big ones:

“Occasionally I encounter marketers who insist spelling or typos don’t matter. ‘No one really cares,’ their argument goes. ‘It humanizes the copy, and besides, everyone knows what we mean.’

Oh, really? A spell-check service whose motto is ‘no more embarrassing errors’ itself uses ‘then’ where ‘than’ is correct. Will potential clients really laugh this off?”

Indeed, it isn’t easy to proofread your own copy. But if you can’t engage a “second pair of eyes” apply these tips to achieve at least 99% accuracy. To err is human so be aware that an error will slip in eventually. Just make sure it isn’t someone’s name, corporation, phone number, or an amount of money!

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