Estimated reading time: 2 minutes, 30 seconds.
Have you heard of the Wicked Bible? Printed in London in 1631, it was meant to be a reprint of the King James Bible. But it had a tiny omission in the 10 Commandments. There was a "not" missing from Exodus 20:14, making it read: "Thou shalt commit adultery."
Oops. The king and the archbishop got pretty upset, and the Wicked Bible's publishers were fined and lost their printing licenses.
Typos and mistakes happen to the best of us. When reviewing something we have written, we see what we think is there, rather than what is actually there. We know we are talking about a “public announcement” rather than a “pubic announcement,” and so we miss the fact we have left out a crucial consonant.
These typos not such a big deal in blog posts or website copy, which can easily be changed. But there are times you can’t have a mistake marring an important company announcement or living forever in print, as the Wicked Bible's publishers learned.
If your organization doesn't have a proofreader and you can't hire one, there are ways to make your writing error-free. Here are some tricks I use.
Spellcheck? I can hear you ask. Yes, spellcheck. It’s built into word processors, yet I see enough typos on menus and flyers to know not everyone is using it. Take a few minutes to run spellcheck.
Don’t stop there, though. Spellcheck will not tell you that you wrote “desert” instead of “dessert”. After running your copy through spellcheck, do at least one of the following things.
Read it out loud
This is a tried-and-true method for finding mistakes you wouldn’t if reading silently. Silent reading turns into silent skimming. We skip entire words and even paragraphs, because we think we know what is there.
Reading aloud forces you to go over each word. It also makes it obvious if certain sentences are awkward, which is a nice side benefit.
Get someone else to read it
Get someone else, anyone else, to read it. If it’s really important, it shouldn’t go out without having had two sets of eyes review it. Get Janice from Accounting or the summer intern to look it over. If they know English well enough to find a “their” that should have been “there”, their eyes are better than no eyes.
Don’t have someone else to read it? Let Hemingway review it for you. The Hemingway App finds mistakes, assesses readability, and suggests ways to make writing clearer.
Read it backwards
This is a trick much-loved by editors and writers. Start from the last sentence and read the piece backwards. This will force your brain to concentrate intensely (no skimming here!) and mistakes will pop out at you.
Wait a day
Don’t check something for errors immediately after writing it. If you can, wait a day or two so you can look at it with fresh eyes.
For important pieces of writing, build in time to return to the piece after you’ve had a break from looking at it. Writing something under pressure without any time to spare is a great way to overlook obvious mistakes.
Bonus tip: triple-check names
If any names appear in what you’ve written, triple- or quadruple-check them. Misspelling a name is a serious mistake. Some journalism schools give a failing grade to any assignments where a name is misspelled.
You don’t want your CEO’s name to be incorrect. You also don’t want to misspell a name and accidentally refer to the wrong person.
My own name is a great example of this. Alison Smith, Allyson Smith, and Allison Smyth are people out there; they’re just not me. Misspelling my name is likely to not only annoy me, but also to confuse your audience.
Avoid a sentence like “Alison Smith was at there pubic announcement” or "Thou shall commit adultery" with these six tips. You’ll catch most of your typos, for clear, error-free writing.