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’.

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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?

“I” Before “E” Except After “C” …

I LOVE breaking writing rules if they make my writing better. But I also love find writing rules often considered tried-and-true, can-always-be-counted-on rules. So let’s start with the “i” before “e” except after “c” rule. It’s such a good one!

I know people who swear by this one, but the fact of the matter is it simply can’t be used across the board. Need proof?  Here’s a list of words where that rule simply does not apply:

  • Beige
  • Cleidoic
  • Codeine
  • Conscience
  • Deify
  • Deity
  • Deign
  • Dreidel
  • Eider
  • Eight
  • Either
  • Feign
  • Fein
  • Feisty
  • Foreign
  • Forfeit
  • Freight
  • Gleization
  • Gneiss
  • Greige
  • Greisen
  • Heifer
  • Heigh-ho
  • Height
  • Heinous
  • Heir
  • Heist
  • Leitmotiv
  • Neigh
  • Neighbor
  • Neither
  • Peignoir
  • Prescient
  • Rein
  • Science
  • Seiche
  • Seidel
  • Seine
  • Seismic
  • Seize
  • Sheik
  • Society
  • Sovereign
  • Surfeit
  • Teiid
  • Veil
  • Vein
  • Weight
  • Weir
  • Weird

Know some other “i” before “e” except after “c” rule breaking words? Drop me a comment and share!

How to … Write Your Articles Faster and Better

Writing can be a tedious activity. Don’t fool yourself. No matter how good you are, there is NOTHING easy about it. Think about it: How many times have you been faced with a blank page and nothing, nada, zip to say. Writing easy? I don’t think so. And article writing can be the most tedious of tasks, even for seasoned writers. So, if you are writing articles and want to have them see the light of day, and get PAID for it, you need to write faster and better. Here’s how:

SHORT ARTICLES Plan on writing a lot of articles? If so, it’s a good idea to keep them short. Quick reads. When writing, keep these articles to 300-400 words. And if you have a lot to say about your subject, break it into more than one article. Think of your blog posts and use that as a guide.

GREAT TITLE If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a THOUSAND times: Write a strong headline!!! This is the first thing your readers will see, so it HAS to be an attention-grabber. Hint: Place at least one main keyword in your title because it is the subject that readers will search under; and, if you publish online, it will help you move up in the search engine rankings.

MAKE IT SCANNABLE Simply put: Make your articles easy to read. Keep paragraphs no longer than two or three sentences. Print and proofread your article. Then send it out to be published.

How to … Write Like an Expert

So you want to write an article, a little something for your local newspaper or maybe a regional or national magazine, but you either can’t come up with an idea (we’ll tackle that in another post) or you don’t think you have the credentials to back you up to get it published.

Not true. All you need to get your article published is a great idea with an even greater hook or angle (again, look for a How to in another post!) and the following: impeccable research; proper format; authoritative writing; and careful proofreading. These are the the four key areas that will make what your writing sound as if you ARE an expert.

RESEARCH IT Research doesn’t have to be hard; it just has to be good. You certainly don’t have to spend hours on end on the Internet or in a library pouring over your subject. First, create a title for your article then Google it. Look through the hits you get and select only those sites that come from reputable sources. Skim through three or four of the top sites and come up with three to five points for your article. Rewrite each one in your own words and NEVER plagiarize.

USE PROPER FORMAT Sloppy writing, just like sloppy research, will kill your chances of getting published. Want to get noticed? Make sure your article has: An introduction, body, and conclusion. These are your foundations.

  • Introduction: Keep it short. Get to the point of your article in 50 words or less, then move on.
  • Body: Lay out the context of your article, point-by-point. Consider your audience and write to them. A mass market piece shouldn’t talk over their heads. For this audience, take no more than three or four sentences for each point and back up your claims with facts or data.
  • Conclusion: End your article with a summary and, this is important, keep your opinions to yourself.

AVOID ADDING FLUFF Get to the point of what you want to say; don’t be wordy! Fluff gives your article a passive tone … the exact opposite of what you want as an “expert” – an authoritative tone. This stye of writing is not only easier to read but it makes a statement, and your readers will react positively to this.

PROOFREAD If you solely rely on spellcheck to check your writing, you are making a HUGE mistake. It won’t catch words spelled correctly but used improperly, i.e. from/form, affect/effect, etc. The most effective way to proof your work: Print it and read it out loud. Your ears will hear any awkward sentences and you’ll probably catch one or two homophone typos or complete mix-ups.

So now you know how to write something that makes you sound like you are the expert: Research your topic. Use proper format. Leave out unnecessary words. And print and proofread by reading out loud … the secrets to writing an engaging article on any topic you choose.

Is Proper English Becoming Obsolete?

Is proper English becoming obsolete? Going the way of the typewriter and liquid paper? OMG, I hope not. But wait! I just short-handed in my own blog, so maybe there is something to this story …

Short-hand via texting and instant messaging is quickly replacing the way we “write” and that lingo is not only creeping into our everyday writing, but in the way we compose our business emails and quick correspondences. Are you serious? Yes. And not only am I serious, but sad to say, I am guilty of it too.

Oftentimes I end a quick internal email to a co-worker with three little letters: Thx. I got into this nasty habit when I started receiving emails from another coworker that signed off in the very same way. Insidious! Then there’s the evil “K” as in “k?” or “k.” Is it really too hard to write “ok” or better yet, “okay?” We have shortened an already short word to one lone letter. And yes, I have to admit that I have done this as well. Shameful.

But this is the danger of short-handing it. It’s quick. It’s easy. And it creeps into our business writing where it has no business. Use short-hand where you should: instant messaging and texting. And maintain the purity of proper English in your written work so you maintain your stellar reputation as a professional who actually has a handle on the English language.

Jargon: Tired, Overused, and Abused

I hate jargon. I really, truly despise it. And when it shows up in my writing, I just want to scream. It’s really easy to slip into using jargon when you’re searching for something to say. Believe me, we’re all guilty of it. But, it’s never a substitute for content. The best defense: edit yourself and revise your writing so that you eliminate jargon before you publish anything. Otherwise you will suffer the consequence of embarrassment, and that can last forever.

Check out this list of tired, overused, and abused clichés and avoid using every single one of them. Believe me, you’ll thank me for it later.

Core of my being — If you run across this in written form, just click the back button and close the book on that one. If you actually hear the phrase spoken aloud, exit the coffee shop you’re in immediately and make sure the woman wearing the Sylvia Plath t-shirt isn’t following you.

Think outside the box — If you can’t think of another phrase to use, you should be stuffed inside a box.

Quantum leap — Unless you’re a physicist, you really have no business using this word at all. Avoid it, period.

Paradigm shift — Finding a new way to shaft the consumer is not a paradigm shift. That’s business as usual. If and when you actually encounter a paradigm shift, then, by all means, feel free to use the term.

Granular — If someone says a report needs to be more granular, don’t hesitate, just kick them in the, well, you can imagine where you should kick them. Granular is a word used by corporate weenies because they think it makes them sound more … intelligent.

Confidence is high — If you’ve ever used that in a sentence, you were the one who was probably high.

Manage expectations — What this really means is: “We don’t know if this will work, so let’s make sure that if we fail, we can say that we expected this might fail.” What? Just say what you mean. Let people manage their own expectations.

Credibility gap — Political speak for calling any one group a bunch of bloody stinking liars. Seriously? They’re politicians. They lie for a living. Oxymoron.

Critical mass — Again, unless you’re a physicist, stay away from their lingo.

Irregardless — WTF? This isn’t a word. Never was. Never will be. I still don’t know why people try to use that non-word in a sentence. Just don’t use it.