Sunday, July 1, 2012

Avoiding Tpyos

This recent article is a reminder of how difficult proofreading can be. 

A similar incident occurred when I was in law school.  The assistant in the career services office sent out an email to the entire student body about the Pubic Sector Career Fair.  I did not initially notice the typo, and do not believe many of my fellow students did either, until some smart-ass hit the "Reply All" button and pointed out the error.  Needless to say, the secretary was mortified and quickly sent an apology email.

While typos and grammatical errors happen, even to the best of us, these tips can help writers avoid embarrassment:

1.         Do not try to proofread on a computer screen.

It is much easier to find typos and grammatical errors when you proofread a document on paper as opposed to a computer screen.  I have never read any explanation for this phenomenon, though I suspect it is because people read more quickly off a screen than off paper.  You will be amazed how many errors escape detection on screen but are easily caught when proofreading from paper.  It also is much easier to catch formatting errors and font discrepancies on paper than on a screen.  

2.         Turn off any "auto correct" feature. 

I once had a client whose last name was Voit.  Every time I typed his name, my word processing program would attempt to change Voit to vomit.  That case was a nightmare, and made me want to vomit every time I thought about it, but it would have been highly embarrassing to send a letter or email addressed to Mr. Vomit.  Auto correct features often can do more harm than good.  Instead, use a spell check feature* to catch misspellings before printing a document to proofread.

*But see number 3 below

3.         Do not rely solely on spell check features.

While spell check features are very handy, do not rely solely on them and do not get into the habit of clicking "Change" without checking to see that you really want to change the spelling of the word.  Many words with legal significance, such as “voir dire” and “pro hac vice,” get caught by a spell check feature, and if you are not careful, your motion in limine will pertain to “void dire,” and your application will end up being “pro hack** vice.”  

**I have known a number of lawyers who are hacks, but you get the point.

4.         Double check short, frequently used words.

Writers frequently mix up "is" and "it," "of," "or," and "on," and "to," and "do," among others.  Proofreaders are prone to miss these errors because as we read, we are focusing on the larger, more important words in our sentences and often mentally gloss over the smaller, less significant words.  Be sure to check the smaller words in your documents too.

NOTE:            Many proofreading professionals' number one tip is to avoid proofreading a document immediately after you have drafted it.  As a practicing attorney, I know this is not possible 95 percent of the time.  Of course, if you have time, it is always best to wait a few hours (or a day) after drafting a document to proofread it.     

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