Proofing Your Own Work? Expect a Few Typos Along the Way

Don’t believe having your work professionally proofread is important? You may change the way you think after reading about one costly error for Macy’s, and the end result.

The upscale chain of stores not only is able to align such stars for its television spots – Taylor Swift, Justin Bieber, Donald Trump, and Sean Combs, to name a few – but thanks to a costly catalog typo, the stars above aligned for a few lucky customers as well.

Costly typo for Macy's

Macy’s costly catalog typo

According to WFAA-TV, the retailer mailed out their catalog to customers advertising a “Super Buy,” and was it ever! A big HUGE thank you to the typo that listed a $1,500 necklace –made of sterling silver and 14-karat gold with diamond accents – for the low, low “Super Buy” price of only … $47.

Macy’s did not fulfill all orders placed for this piece of jewelry, but for the few customers who were lucky enough to take advantage of this mistake, kudos to you!

Look, this isn’t a huge decision to make: a proofreader is vital to clean copy. Have your work proofread, and proofread it again before sending the files to the printer. Then, for good measure, proof the print proof. Because the fact of the matter is, typos happen. All. The. Time. So hire a proofreader to perform this task: don’t expect the copywriter who has looked at his/her own copy a gazillion times, and knows it by heart, to know what the copy should say. Because they will miss something, I can almost guarantee it. No, invest in the services of a proofreader, a fresh set of eyes, to rip through that copy and find every single typo in your copy. And find them they will. Because that’s their job, and oh, how proofreaders love finding copy mistakes!

Unfortunately, this story does NOT have a happy ending: the copywriter who worked on this particular catalog was fired. For not catching her own costly typo.

This would not have happened if a proofreader had been on the project, too. Just sayin’.

It’s. Just. An. Apostrophe.

It never ceases to amaze how so many people not only misuse, but abuse, the poor, lowly apostrophe. It doesn’t have to be that way. Ever.

You see, this is one of the easiest rules not only to understand, but master. Think back. Think way, way back. You may have to reach back to those elementary school days…or ask your kids. You see, we all learned at an early age that an apostrophe is used to indicate a possessive word. And if the word is not possessing anything on God’s green earth, then don’t use it. See? Simple!

Of course, that is the “apostrophe rule” in its simplest form (did you notice that I did NOT use an apostrophe in the word “its?” It doesn’t possess anything).

As with anything in the hardest language in the world (yes, English IS the hardest language to learn in the world, and I should know: I studied both Korean and Russian. Easy in comparison), there are definite rules for its usage. And while there are slight changes in rules of usage with the apostrophe, they are so very frequently misapplied! Seriously?

So, to help those who are “apostrophe” challenged…a list of rules for usage.

1. An apostrophe is used to show the possessive case of proper nouns.

• Allison Jones’ article (one person named Jones)
• The Joneses’ article
(two or more people named Jones)

2. If a singular or plural word does not end in s, add ’s to form the possessive.

• a child’s wants
• the men’s concerns
• the people’s choice
• everyone’s answer

3. Add an ’s if a proper noun or name ends in a silent s, z, or x.

• Theroux’s “The Mosquito Coast”

4. Do not use ’s with possessive pronouns: his, hers, ours, its, yours, theirs, whose.

• The article was hers.
• I have not seen its equal.

5. Use ’s only after the last word of a compound term.

• my father-in-law’s book
• an editor in chief’s decision
• someone else’s problem

6. When showing joint possession with an organization’s or business firm’s name, use the possessive only in the last word.

• the Food and Drug Administration’s policy
• Hammond and Horn’s study

7. Do not use an apostrophe to indicate the plural of a name, an all-capital abbreviation, or of numerals.

• Veterans Affairs
• musicians union
• ECGs
• WBCs
• a woman in her 40s
• during the late 1990s
(1990’s—no, no, no, a thousand times no! This will NEVER be acceptable so please stop the abuse.)

8. Use ’s to indicate the plural of letters, signs, or symbols when s alone would be confusing.

• Please spell out all the &’s.
• She got eight A’s and two B’s on her last report card.

9. When units of time or money are used as possessive adjectives, add ’s.

• a day’s wait
• a dollar’s worth
• six months’ gestation
• two weeks’ notice
(The movie title was not punctuated correctly.)

10. When a word ends in an apostrophe, no period or comma should be placed between the word and the apostrophe.

• The last book on the shelf was the Smiths’.

Easy, right? I know…it is. Now follow the rules. And please, for the love of all things holy, STOP adding an apostrophe to dates, as they don’t possess anything, never will, and own that apostrophe! Any thoughts on the small, but mighty, apostrophe?

For the Love of the Oxford Comma

Okay, so I know this is a point of contention for many a writer and editor: you are either for or against the Oxford, or serial, comma. I make no bones about it: I am definitely an Oxford comma girl. Can’t help myself. It just makes sense to use it. And, to further make the point, I cut my teeth in an industry as an editor where the Oxford comma was king. Please see the Chicago Manual of Style if you need proof.

And to illustrate the difference, double click on the awesome infographic below, also available on


Editing on the Fly

It never fails. Because I write, everyone assumes I am a walking encyclopedia of grammar know-how. A spelling bee know-it-all. All day long it’s “allyah, how do you spell this” and “allyah, how do you spell that.” “allyah, should I use a colon here, or would an em-dash be better?” Okay, that’s not actually what they say: 1) I write under a pen name, and 2) they certainly know how to spell “this” and “that.” For God sake, I hope so.

The point is, I don’t have a computer chip in my head. I’m not a flowing font of information. Sometimes, my brain gets tired. There’s a lot of useless information that I carry up there, and I don’t have time to edit on the fly, sifting through all that garbage to find the one thing that someone needs on the spot when there’s an easier solution: look it up. And yes, it sucks because it takes time and effort, but what’s the alternative? Crappy copy? I don’t think so.

So use your resources, online or in print, and rely on your own brain instead of running to your “allyah equivalent.” Trust me, she, or he, will thank you some day.

There’s Nothing Like a 500-Point Type Typo

Some things never get old.

This an excellent example of why you should always proof your work. Granted, the word is technically correct, so I can understand how this mistake might have been made. Read the next paragraph to discover just where this little typo is.

The shuttle’s name is not “Endeavor,” but “Endeavour;” its British spelling reflects the fact that the ship is named after the HM Bark Endeavour, a 10-gun Royal Navy bark commanded by Lieutenant James Cook on his first voyage of discovery to Australia and New Zealand in 1769-1771.

So this is just your basic typo … printed in about 500-point type. Embarrassing, right?

Endeavor vs. Endeavour

Endeavor vs. Endeavour

I think USA Today may have said it best with their headline: “Houston, We Have a Typo.”

Can a Computer Replace the Skills of an Editor?

At my last job, I was asked point-blank why in this day and age of advanced technology and general access to computers would any company need the services of an editor? I was, for lack of a better word, dumbfounded.

First, why would anyone ask a fellow employee to justify whether his or her position were truly necessary? Second, who could possibly think that a computer could do the job of an editor? Yes, computers can do some pretty wonderful things for writers and non-writers alike. They can spot basic grammar problems and even suggest corrections, find spelling errors, and on occasion spot places where a word may be missed. Not exactly foolproof. But they can’t rewrite poorly written copy, find garbled grammar, and fix word usage problems.

Case in point: The following sentence has a number of problems that your computer won’t identify but will make you look less than stellar. Would you rather rely on your laptop or the eagle eye of an editor?

Thomas ran form the back of the filed and caught the flier but he dropped it when he tipped.

Horrible sentence. I’m embarrassed to even use it as an example. Poorly written — spellchecker doesn’t care. Transposed letters — the words are correct (form, filed, flier, tripped) even though they don’t make sense in this sentence; spellchecker doesn’t care about that either. Missing comma — missed by spellchecker. These are the types of errors you will find in countless documents every day because we as a society have come to rely on spellchecker far too much.

So do you think companies need the services of editors, copyeditors, or proofreaders? I think the example above sufficiently answers that question.

The High Price of Cutting Corners

Some things have to be learned the hard way. But, if you’re a publisher, this is a case of “you should have known better.”

In 2008, Princeton University Press recalled 4,000 copies of Cop in the Hood: My Year Policing Baltimore’s Eastern District, by Peter Moskos, published May 1. It was the entire initial press run, all 4,000 copies. It was discovered that the book was riddled with more than 90 spelling and grammar errors among its 245 pages. Hmm. How could this have happened? After all, this is Princeton University Press. Reputable. Respectable. Dependable.

And evidently, caught cutting corners.

Writers write stories. Editors edit stories. But copyeditors fix mistakes. And if publishers get cheap, the end product suffers and readers pay the price. The press pulled every copy of the book, corrected it, reprinted it, and redistributed it to stores at a considerable cost, but the price of releasing the book to the public with so many errors would have been even more. This entire situation could have been averted simply by paying the wages required by experienced copyeditors to get the job done right the first time.

It simply comes down to money. “According the Peter Dougherty, the press’s director, the manuscript had been given to an inexperienced copyeditor who failed to do the job properly.”

This isn’t a surprise to most of us who work as freelancers in the publishing industry. Publishers have been getting away with paying freelance copyeditors and proofreaders below scale for years, sometimes as lows as the teens or twenties at best. Experienced copyeditors simply won’t work for that kind of pay, and it shouldn’t be any surprise when a publisher pays a copyeditor that kind of rate that they get what they pay for: a plethora of mistakes.

Note to publishers: your end users deserve the best product possible. That’s what they are paying for; that’s what they expect. And it’s your name on the product, so why wouldn’t you want it to be perfect? Pay your staff to make sure it is. Copyediting counts.