Copywriting Curiosities
  The writing tips your English teacher forgot to give you... March 2004  

In This Issue

Proofreading Fun

Proofreading Fun

How's this for proofreading? You may have seen this before -- as far as I can tell, no one has been able to verify the source, so it just might be another bit of Cyber Lore. Still, it shows (quite effectively) how our eyes play tricks on us -- we see things as they should be and not as they really are.

Aoccdrnig to rscheearch at an Elingsh uinervtisy, it deosn't mttaer in waht oredr the ltteers in a wrod are, the olny iprmoetnt tihng is taht frist and lsat ltteer is at the rghit pclae. The rset can be a toatl mses and you can sitll raed it wouthit a porbelm. Tihs is bcuseae we do not raed ervey lteter by it slef but the wrod as a wlohe.

Can you spot the mistakes? 1. Your the best thing that's ever happened to me. 2. I have found memories of watching television with my Dad. 3. Many people would suffer if it weren't for the charity's.

Answers: 1. "Your" should be "You're" 2. "found" should be "fond" 3. "charity's" should be "charities"

Shameless Plug Alert: Check out my article in the supplement "Renovation" in "The Boston Globe Magazine" on April 4th. Or click here for more articles on my website.

   Dear Reader,

Nothing destroys your credibility faster than sloppy writing mistakes. But when you've been staring at a document for hours, you begin to see it the way it should be written instead of the way it is written.

Of course, the best way to catch mistakes is to have a "proofreader" -- either a professional or someone whom you can trust to catch errors (and not just the glaring ones). But what's a person to do when no one is available (or awake -- hey, we all have deadlines)? Simple. Follow my proofreading tips, and you'll breathe a little easier.

  • #1 Print, Stand, and Read
  •    Print the document, stand up, and read it out loud. You're not in front of an audience, so you don't need to make eye contact. Read slowly. Read every word. Take breaks between paragraphs if you have to. You'll not only catch misspellings and grammar gaffes, but also awkward sentences.

  • #2 Avoid Email and "IM-ing" laziness
  •    It's easy to pick up bad habits, so learn to avoid these common mistakes -- even in casual correspondence. Anytime you see an apostrophe ask yourself a question: is it a contraction or possessive? If it's a contraction, mentally turn the word into the two words it replaces and see if they work in the sentence. For example, whenever you write "it's," mentally turn it into "it is." If it works in the sentence, you've used it correctly. If not, get rid of the apostrophe. Same rule for "you're" (you are) and "your."

  • #3 Take a time-out
  •    If you have time, put the document aside for 24 hours. Then, follow tip number one. It's amazing what you catch once you put some space between you and your writing.

  • #4 Try A Backwards Attack
  •    Try reading your document "backwards." Start with the last sentence of the last paragraph and work your way up. You'll suddenly see misspellings or missing words because you're reading the sentences out of context.

  • #5 Beware Of Spelling & Grammar Check Pitfalls
  •    Don't rely on spell check and grammar check. Keep a good dictionary and stylebook handy when you're writing. The spelling and grammar check are fine for a first pass, but YOU need to proof (and be responsible) for what you write. Do you make the same mistakes repeatedly? Look for those first.

    Do not make up for past punctuation "sins" by adding commas, semicolons, and colons at will -- know why you're doing it. If you're not sure, look it up. I recommend good ol' Strunk and White's "The Elements of Style." Another good choice is "A Writer's Reference" by Diana Hacker.

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