Sunday, November 20, 2011

The Perils of Careless Proofreading

Though Katherine's article is meant primarily for business writers, I couldn't help noticing her advice could also apply to fiction and non-fiction. Hope you enjoy.

© Katherine Swarts

Blame the growth of text messaging; or the modern ease of copying messages as opposed to the old “retype the whole thing” approach; or today’s rush-rush mentality; but people just aren’t proofreading the way they used to. Though no one expects e-mail memos to conform to Pulitzer Prize standards, even professionally published books are now laden with typos any third-grader should have caught. As for proofreading standards applied to the average business brochure: I have considered going into professional expos with twenty-five $10 bills and offering one of those bills to anyone who hands me a brochure I can’t find a misprint in. I’d be willing to bet I could go to every booth without losing the whole $250.

Following is a top-ten sampler of the funniest typos I sighted in 2008-2009 alone (italics added):
1. Online form error message: “In valid Web site format.”
2. Writer’s market guide: “You will find a dollar sign ($) in front of the periodicals that ate paying markets.”
3. Daily-trivia calendar: “Lightening starts more forest fires…”
4. Ripley’s Believe It or Not! book: “…more members than theUntied Nations.”
5. Inspirational reader: “The early bird gets the word.”
6. Major writers’ newsletter: “…favorite books… whether they are classics or more recent tiles.”
7. Online writing-articles database: “For some, walking slowly and methodically allows them to think things through, while for others, too slow provides too much distraction…. On the other hand a very rapid face can leave you out of breath…”
8. Major nature magazine: “…avoid undo exposure to predators.”
9. Business e-newsletter: “was generating over $10 million per month in gross review…”
10. Rendering of Bible quote by major religious publisher: “Codopposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.”

And as a bonus, my all-time favorite, still fresh in mind years after first sighting:

Voter’s guide: “…ten years in pubic service.”

It’s funny when someone else makes the mistake, but do you really want your business to be best remembered for such a gaffe?

Failure to proofread can also have results that definitely aren’t funny. First, it can leave a decidedly negative impression of your business. People will overlook one mistake; but if your written communications average 10 typos per 100 words, how long will it take potential customers to start wondering if you’re as careless with your primary services?

Sloppy proofreading can also lead to serious and costly inconvenience. The seminar announcement that reads “we will meet at 7 a.m.” instead of “7 p.m.”; the business address listed as “1001 Richmond” instead of “10001 Richmond,” or even as “Norwalk, CT” instead of “Norwalk, CA”; the Web link that leads nowhere because the address was mistyped—how much time is wasted annually because people take such messages as they are written?

However great a hurry you’re in, never think of proofreading as a waste of time. Carelessness here can hurt you and those whose opinions you value.

Despite what many would-be novelists think, good writing is not easy. It is, however, vital—especially when your reputation and customer relationships are riding on it. Don’t steal time from your business’s primary mission to struggle with written communications. Contact Spread the Word Commercial Writing today and learn how professional help can save you time and frustration!

“Anything Worth Writing Is Worth Writing Right”™

Katherine Swarts is a professional copywriter and journalist, founder and owner of Spread the Word Commercial Writing in Houston, Texas. Spread the Word is certified by the Women's Business Enterprise National Council.

Since 1993, Katherine has published over 50 articles in numerous periodicals, including Carus Publishing's AppleseedsFaces, and OdysseyChildren's Writer(on which see comments in next paragraph); and Christian Home & School.She has also prepared two anthologies for Thomson Gale.

Katherine has a bachelor's degree in English from Austin College in Sherman (TX), and a master's degree in written communications from Wheaton (IL) Graduate School. She has also studied with the Institute of Children's Literature, which publishes the monthly newsletter Children's Writer; two annual market guides; and an annual writer's yearbook.


  1. I'm still laughing about some of these howlers, but it isn't a laughing matter when I find a typing error in something I have published! Argghhh!!

  2. I know what you mean, Carole. It's gotten so I expect errors in my work. What's bad is when it's someone else who finds them.

    Happy Sunday.

  3. Katherine, terrific article, and I can personally attest to the perils of lack of proofreading. My day job is a computer software engineer, and early in my career I left a SPACE before a COMMA and deleted an entire data set instead of a single member of it. After that, I made myself read everything through until I went through twice without finding any errors.

  4. Thanks for sharing your story with us, Margaret. It's encouraging to hear. Hope your Sunday's nice.

  5. I'm not so nice. I have an upcoming post on errors in published books. It's really more a rant than a post. I need to look at it again to 1) check for typos and 2) determine if it's too insulting.

  6. Great post. It's so true, today there is a decline in 'good' proofreading in just about everything. I've even seen errors in the descriptive information for TV shows.

    Thanks for sharing.

    Karen Cioffi Writing and Marketing

  7. Honestly, Marva, I learn faster if my mentor doesn't treat me to badly for my mistakes. Because, yes, I'm one of those who thinks "you" and writes "him", or thinks "he" and writes "you". I still don't understand why. But reading my copy backwards doesn't find those mistakes. My editor found a lot of "you've" when I meant to write "you're". But worse, when I read my copy I see the word I intended and not the word I actually wrote. It's embarrassing because as I get older it seems to be getting worse.

    So, if you're of the mind, I'd love the correction without subtlety. Oops, I meant with subtlety.

  8. Hi Karen. I'm with you. One can't help but wonder what's the editor doing? Probably smooching with the copy-editor in the supply closet.

  9. As someone who owns a computer keyboard that keeps sidestepping as I type, I have to proofread everything I write. I also transpose letters, oen of teh faults I can't balme on teh machine.

    gwew ur fiwa shsom! here it goes again!

  10. Chris, LOL, point well taken. I think.

    Hope you're enjoying your Sunday.

  11. Great post. I'm constantly re-reading my stuff, scared I'm going to let an error slip by me. Sometimes they still do.

    I agree everyone's being much less cautious in this area. I can't believe some of the things that make it to print.

    I've read over my comment three times. Did I miss anything? :)

  12. Perfect, Cher. I think if a person's as passionate about writing as you, proofreading and editing is essential to their success. And I see success for you, Cher, for years to come. Thanks for commenting. And thanks for the gift.

  13. I work for a newspaper. Two or three people are supposed to proof each page, and the whole staff is supposed to look at the front page. Still errors creep in (somtimes in the headlines). I hate it most when it's one of my stories, of course.

    (By the way, the one that was "The early bird gets the word" may be more true than you'd think - which is why I get up at 5 a.m. every morning to write. I wonder if they were trying to turn a cliche on its head?)

  14. Hahahaha! Great post! I read that a romance writer recently was embarrassed by a typo. Instead of "she felt him shift under her" she wrote "she felt him shit under her." Totally ruined the mood of the scene, from what I read. ;)


  15. LOL Those are funny!
    This is a good reminder for me. I'm so impatient and hate proof reading!

  16. @Kimberly, I was wondering the same thing when I read that line. The new approach these days seems to be to create new cliches by adjusting old ones. So, you could be right. Thanks for stopping by.

    @Adriana, that is too funny. And there are a lot of hilarious examples out there. Love em! But, yeah, you'd think it would make us want to be more careful.

    @Amanda, glad you liked them. Okay, if you're confusing, I guess I should too. I dread proofreading, especially if it's something I've already read 22 times.

  17. absolutely. between text messaging, emails, and my editing, I feel like I'm speaking three different languages. texting I do take shortcuts, but in emails, i try to keep in the habit of doing it right and unless it's a chat where I'm rushing, I proof before I send. Now if I just got to where I did them without mistakes, I'd be happy.

  18. You and me both, Larion. I guess we'll figure it out in 20 years when we look back and see how our language evolved. Maybe by then there will be a secret to catching errors before they leave our heads. Wouldn't that be nice.

    Thanks for stopping by, Larion, and leaving a comment.

  19. Hi Joylene and Katharine - Thankfully we can laugh - but what a terrible thing to do 'in pubic' so to speke ...

    Love these .. and know I do them too .. cheers Hilary

  20. Amen...just..amen.
    Thanks for the reminder!

  21. @Hilary, I don't believe for one moment that you speke in pubic. LOL.

    @Amen back at you, Carol, who I know never makes mistakes either! LOL

    Thanks for the chuckles, ladies.

  22. While it is very funny to read, it's actually kind of sad, that we don't care enough to be really careful and read what we're putting out there.

    Then again, I can read something 10 times and not catch the error until I've sent it out. Sometimes, our eyes see what we want them to see.

  23. I think we're making light of it in this post because most of us are embarrassed. Nancy, you're right though. Proofreading is a sign that we respect the language and ourselves. But what to do when the eye and the mind don't cooperate? Yes, that's the problem.

  24. I blame writing gremlins. They sneak into my MS while I'm sleeping and toy with all the words. Sneaky things, those gremlins... ;)

  25. Oh that's nasty. I'll send the gremlin police to save you, Carrie. They're in this window and as soon as you read this they'll be released into your atmosphere. After that you're on your own. LOL

  26. Just shaking my head - this is so true. Our local newspaper has a regular column entitled "Pardon Us". Well, not really, but with all the typos, they should consider it. Appreciate this post, and so glad to know there are others who notice this stuff too! :)

  27. Karen, LOL, what a great idea. You should send them an anonymous suggestion. Thanks for stopping by.

    Keep meaning to ask, who's your favourite hockey team?

  28. L O, R U O K? Sorry, that was my attempt at text messaging. U C what I mean? Anyway, B4 I go, tipos, I mean, typos, can lead to some hilarious results. And of course, American English is a typo! :)
    C U Later A :)

  29. I didn't understand a word you just said, Gary, but I appreciate it. LOL.

    And yes, American English is a typo. LOL. That should sit well with all my southern friends.

    Later dude...

  30. Hi Joylene and Gary .. while I have conneshin .. I vill translaaate ... someone living at Cluculz Lake really should be able to decipher this ...?!

    From Gary: "Hello, Are you OK? ... You See what I mean? Anyway, Before I go .... and see you later Alligator" ... and a big grin I guess?

    Now I can comment normally I'd better get on .. byse bye .. cheers Hilary

  31. LOL, thanks, Hilary. I did kinda know what he was saying, really I did. But you helped. Though I still don't see the alligator. LOL

  32. Hi Joylene .. thought you probably did .. but the See You Later, Alligator .. is a saying we have in the UK from Bill Haley - a popular catchphrase .. still going per Gary!

    Cheers Hilary

  33. No, I grew up with the saying "See you later, Alligator. After awhile, crocodile." But I was looking for those words in Gary's texting and couldn't see them. I have a strange sense of humour, Hilary. Pardon me for not explaining. LOL. And now I can't think of anything cute, except what my dad used to say:

    "I'm off like a pair of bride's pyjamas."

  34. It's not exactly in the proofreading category, but in the watch what you say category. A nearby grocery store was out of eggs yesterday, and the sign on the empty shelf said, "Due to unavailability, eggs are unavailable." Ya think?

  35. I'm looking to break into editing and proofreading. Any suggestions on who to contact or how I go about it? I'm located way up north near the Canadian border, and would have to telecommute.

  36. Crnbrryctg, contact me using my email addy, add your contact info and I'll see what I can do.

    cluculzwriter at yahoo dot ca

  37. Whenever I think about rushing through the proofreading/editing phase, I remember this HUGE blunder by fellow writer, Susan Anderson. It is the typo of all typos and it makes me edit my work again and again. I've copied her explanation about it:

    "I wanted to give you all a head's up on a killer typo in my digital edition of Baby, I'm Yours and apologize for page 293, where it says:

    He stiffened for a moment but then she felt his muscles loosen as he shitted on the ground.

    Shifted--he SHIFTED! God, I am so appalled, not to mention horrified that anyone would think that's what I wrote. I'd really appreciate it if you would forward this to your romance reading friends just in case they bought the ebook, which is on sale for $2.99 at the moment so has likely been selling even better than usual (trust me, usually that's a good thing). Please assure them that I'm on it and it will be fixed asap."

  38. OMG, thanks for sharing that. You're right, I'll never look at proofreading the same again! I feel for her.

  39. As an author and an editor I assure you - everyone needs a good proofreader - even those who edit for others! My most common errors are often letter reversals, but it is the insidious and sometimes inexplicable word replacements that kill me!

    Nancy Cassidy

  40. I was talking about that very thing just the other day. There's no cure, and so you're right. We can't manage without our editors. Thanks for stopping by, Nancy. Happy Thanksgiving.

  41. These are all good ones.

    Oh yes, I'm well acquainted with typos. Funny how our mind reads things the way we think it should be instead of the way it is. Enjoyed the post. I hope there are no typos in this. lol!

  42. Laura, I used to worry so much about typos that it actually stopped me from blogging until 3 years ago. Thanks for commenting. Happy Weekend.

  43. Thanks for all the comments; wish I had time to write each of you a detailed personal reply! I, too, have been in the position of "I proofread it five times; how could I have missed something so obvious?" Usually, it's because I was in a hurry to finish and didn't want to let it "cool off" for several days so I could see it with fresh eyes--or to seek out someone else to do a backup proofreading.

    Although the original post predates most of the current economic woes, one of my e-contacts blames mass layoffs for an even greater increase in typos since: "My local newspaper has tripled its typo-printing record since it laid off 30% of its staff--including, I suspect, all its proofreaders."

  44. I don't believe it--not five minutes after reviewing this post I saw the PUBIC error repeated in our local birding club's newsletter.

  45. Katherine, jobless sounds credible. But I've noticed a decline in everyday use. I saw an error on the flashboard at the bottom of the network news yesterday. I think people are in a rush. It's as if they believe they're missing something if they don't rush into the next action. I even feel that way too often. My mother was forever saying, "Slow down and smell the roses."

    Duh, took me way too many years to realize what she meant.

  46. Hi Joylene and Katherine - I'm sure a great many typos are down to poor education and disinterest. Your Birding Club will be having a few laughs ....?!

    But - re the news flashboards .. they're getting them wrong here on the tv - it's computerisation .. yes that dreaded predictive aspect .. or the word is right, but actually completely wrong -the computer doesn't pick it up as the word is right.

    Yesterday someone's name was spelt with an S on the first line and a Z in the title underneath?! Tv flash up.

    Give up - bye .. I need coffee!! Cheers Hilary

  47. LOL, thanks for that, Hilary. You're absolutely right about computers. Shame on the little dickens.

    Hope you're having a lovely weekend, Hilary. Blessings to your mama.

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