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Do what I say - not what I do
Did you read Saturday’s tip no. 9? The one featuring Katherine Hepburn?
Judging by the number of emails I received, gleefully pointing out
my clumsy proofreading error, it seems that most of you did.
So - I hang my head in shame.
What better way to make amends than to change today’s planned
email topic and substitute it for the vexed subject of - proofreading
What on earth happened with Saturday’s copywriting tip? What went wrong?
I composed the email a few weeks before. It took a good hour or so.
The content was, of course, simply stunning! The words were clear, concise and compelling.
And there wasn’t a single spelling, grammar or punctuation mistake. How could there be?
After all, it was written by the Copywriter King!
I checked the copy myself at least three times. Ali, my wife, checked it.
My favourite client, who happened to be dropping by, checked it.
Malcolm from next door, who supplies us regularly with fresh vegetables, checked it.
Malcolm’s dog checked it.
So, we were good to go. It was time to press ‘send’.
It took less than 5 minutes for the first response to hit my inbox.
‘Hmmmm … that’s not bad’, I mused smugly. ‘It usually takes a good hour or so before the compliments comments come winging in.’
But wait … what’s this?
Hi Stephen – Great email but I just thought you should know. You’ve made a spelling mistake.
You wrote ‘pendant’ instead of ‘pedant’ … twice!
Oh calamity! Then ‘ping’. Another email. ‘Ping … ping … ping.’
Email after email joyfully pointing out my fallibility.
I felt a little like the late, wonderful Kenneth Williams – he of ‘Carry On’ fame –
‘Infamy! Infamy! Everyone’s got it in for me!’
I realised I had two options – I could slowly strangle Malcolm’s dog or
turn a negative into a positive and write about proofreading techniques.
Well, my dog strangling techniques are a little rusty,
so I’ve gone for option two.
Four proofreading techniques
There’s no sure-fire way to perfect the art of proofreading.
But here are a few tips to give yourself at least a sporting chance.
1. Do nothing. At least for 24 hours. Leave your words to cool down. Give your brain a chance to move to pastures new.
2. Print out your document. I know, it’s not always practical. But focussed reading from paper is far more effective than on-screen scanning.
3. Read aloud. If you’re in a busy office, you might feel self-conscious, so take your document out of the office.
Find somewhere quiet where you won’t be disturbed. (No, possibly not the loo. You might get funny looks when you emerge).
4. Start with the very last sentence. Read it aloud. Then the next-to-last. And so-on. This will prevent your brain from anticipating what comes next and skimming over mistakes.
A note about spell-check. It’s a great ‘aid’. But you can never trust it 100%.
Here’s a little poem, which contains not a single spelling mistake, to explain why -
ODE TO THE SPELL-CHECKER
Eye have a spelling checker
It came with my pea sea
It plainly marques four my revue
Miss steaks eye kin knot sea.
Eye strike a key and type a word
And weight 4 it 2 say
Weather eye am wrong oar write
It shows me strait a weigh
As soon as a mist ache is maid
It nose bee fore two long
And eye can put the error rite.
Its rare lea ever wrong.
I have run this poem threw it
I am shore your pleased to no
Its letter perfect awl the weigh
My chequer told me sew!
And tomorrow’s error-free(!) Advent Calendar tip?
Be yourself - everyone else is taken.
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