Thursday, October 29, 2015

Avoiding Typo Embarrassment: 4 Easy Ways to Try

This is the last of this month's re-postings of pieces about writing. This one first appeared on this blog in February 2015. 

If you type “embarrassing typos” into any Internet search engine, opportunities to read some doozies will pop up. Some are hilarious, some are cringe-worthy, with reader responses ranging from "Ouch!” to "Wow, I wonder if someone will get fired for that one!" 

Not every typo or error is a doozy; plain, ordinary mistakes . . . happen. (And by the way, I give those writers who have to develop TV news crawls on the fly a pass.) But here is a fact: 

If readers notice an error it at least momentarily halts their absorption of whatever message is being put out there.

Yet those mistakes can also most often be avoided if only someone would . . . try.

I am not saying anyone has to go nuts ensuring everything they post on Facebook and Twitter is perfect (though memes are especially hard hit, if you ask me!). You can use any or all of the four steps below if you want, but don’t slave over perfection on social media as an otherwise sane and smart and educated and careful person. 

I am saying, however, it is a good idea for anyone who communicates professionally with the written word—including those producing material in marketing, PR, and sales endeavors and those who manage professional websites—to consider the value of making an effort before pushing Post or Publish.

Here are the four easy steps anyone can take, with material that is professional, or not:

1.     Really, run spell check. The fact that you know it will not catch 100 percent of errors is not a good excuse to skip using this tool. Spell check catches too much to dismiss it. And if you send professional emails, consider setting your preferences to spell check before a message will send.
2.      Look up proper names on the Internet.  Not everyone realizes his name is spelled Gandhi, not Ghandi. Or that Cincinnati has only one t. But the Internet knows, which means you don't have to depend on your own memory!
3.     Reread what you wrote after at least a short break. Errors are more likely to jump out at you when you allow distractions between writing and rereading. If you can, read out loud. Your cat or dog will enjoy it, and it will especially help you notice missing or repeated words.
4.     Ask someone else to read what you wrote. Even anyone over the age of maybe eight (as long as the material is suitable for all ages) can help if you have someone like that around. Fresh eyes can make an amazing difference! (No, your pet cannot read no matter how much you wish he could!)

Depending on how professional what you put out there needs to be, consider having someone with proven editorial skills review every piece. Not everyone knows when to use the word compose versus the word comprise. Not everyone gets each subject and verb agreement right. But an editorial professional should know or, if necessary, look it up.

Yes, I know there is never enough time. Yes, I know even these simple steps sound like a pain. Yes, I know you have a hundred other places to spend money if the only people with editorial skills you know use them to make a living. But sometimes “no pain, no gain” could have as much validity for your written communications as the pain of visits to the gym. 

And there is that embarrassment issue. Don't believe me? Again, ask Google for "embarrassing typos." See? 

As long as it is clean, feel free to share a funny typo you have seen lately. Typos provide some great laughs as long as they are not at the expense of someone who only goofed!

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