Mistakes, I've Made a Few

29/03/2021
Written by Paul Roberts

Apparently, I think too fast. At least, that’s the flattering explanation Quora offered for my tendency – shared, I’m pleased to say with millions of others – to miss out the occasional word as we type.

But if you don’t have time to think slower (hello, deadline!), then this becomes something of an occupational hazard for a writer. In my case, the offender is normally a lost preposition, so the meaning can be guessed at with a fair degree of success.

 

It becomes slightly more of an issue when writing directions, and it’s not clear whether you’re supposed to turn left before or after the Rose and Crown. Thank goodness we’ll soon be able to pop in and ask them.

Of course, I read through what I’ve written before I submit it. But that’s not a foolproof system for our minds either. Because I know the intent of what I’m trying to say, there’s a fair chance I’ll skip over the missing word without spotting it. I’ll possibly fail to recognise the mild spelling error too, especially if there’s an I next to an L in the middle of a long paragraph, in a long document, at the end of a long day.

Thankfully, there’s always the trusty spell check to put me right. Yet now it’s a jumped-up Editor, it seems more concerned with my comma usage than just alerting me to the howlers. I note too that its strident opinions on style rarely appear to match the exigencies of the tone of voice guidelines I happen to be working to at the time.

So – wait to the next day. Change the font size and colours. Print it out and read it aloud. Yes, all sound advice, but not always possible in a world of urgent jobs and inflexible content management systems.

The bottom line is that the best way to make sure your copy is accurate is to get someone else to read it. Ideally, someone literate, who has access to that style guide you’re supposed to be working to and can make sure you haven’t accidentally left a semi-colon on a bullet because that’s what you had to do on the previous job, for a different client with a different style guide…

Mistakes are easy to make. They’re almost as easy to overlook. And in most cases, even if the marketing director notices them, no one will come to any harm.

But where you’re providing detailed instructions on the safe use of medical machinery; completing an inquiry report; providing potentially sensitive financial information, then it really does matter. Make time in your schedule as writer, as client, for an independent, professional proofread. The project manager might not thank you now, but for your reputation, for your already overworked customer support team and perhaps even for your end customers’ wellbeing, it’s time well invested.