Your Spell Check just bounced: 3 tips for copy editing

Language errors can be embarrassing. Here are some useful ways to avoid these awkward situations.

Copy editing is a tough business. You have to know every grammar rule or suffer the wrath of hundreds of emails flooding your inbox, warning you of the misplaced comma in your article. At times, it’s worse than just a missing comma; sometimes, one typo can give your message an entirely different feel. Staffers for the Rick Santorum campaign will back me up on this. An email went out with one missing letter in the subject line, and it changed the entire tone of the message. Usually, when there is a minor typo in your press release or your email, you can simply resend a corrected email. The typo below was less fortunate. It quickly appeared on social media sites and then spread to news sites.

Both of these mistakes can be avoided in the future with three simple tips. 1. Read your story backwards. Often, it’s easy to miss a typo when you’re reading a sentence because your mind will fix it for you. You know what the sentence is suppose to say, such as:

Mary had a a little lamb

When you first read the sentence, it can be easy to miss that the letter “a” appears twice. If you read the words backwards one at a time, the extra “a” becomes apparent. Spell Check is a great tool, but it only catches words that aren’t actually words. Pubic is a real word, so Spell Check won’t catch that you meant to say public instead. If you start at the end of the story and read backwards, these kinds of words stand out like a sore thumb and can save you a lot of embarrassment. 2. Read something else. When you write a story or a press release, you know what it’s about so it makes sense to you. It can be hard to see it through the eyes of your readers. Step away from the computer for a minute, pull a book off a shelf and read a chapter. This will help you come back to your writing with fresh eyes and help you see the parts that aren’t explained well enough or that might be confusing to your readers. 3. Do the math. If your article has a pie chart, percentages, or any other quantitative mathematical numbers, take a pen and paper and make sure everything adds up. Just like a spelling error, a math error can take the focus away from your message. Chad Padgett has worked in military PR since 1999. You can read more from Padgett on his blog, What they should have said, where a version of this story first appeared. (Image via)

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