Proof that you need to take more care when preparing your next document.

heres proof

It doesn't matter if you're writing a job application, a business proposal, a Facebook post or a webpage. The simple fact is that embarrassing spelling or grammatical errors can happen to us all. And your automatic spell checker will only take you so far. Here are thirteen things to consider when writing your next document:

  • Check the checker. The spell checker that comes with your favourite word processor is a useful tool. But what dictionary is it using to check your copy? Is it UK English (also used in New Zealand and many other countries) or is it the default US English with ‘Americanized’ spellings?

  • Be spelling-savvy. Many commonly-used words have different meanings depending on context and usage. Because your spell checker does not consider the 'sense' of your sentences and paragraphs, it will accept any available alternate spellings. There are three correct spellings used in the following sentences, but each one has a different meaning:

    • “I was going to phone you.”
    • “I have two tickets for the game this Saturday.”
    • “Are you coming too?”
  • Be consistent with lists. A common school of thought is that commas and full stops are not that important in bulleted copy. We consider that if a bullet point needs a comma to make the sentence more legible, it should have a full stop at the end. And if one bullet point has a full stop at the end, all bullet points in the document should have full stops.

  • Beware autocorrect! This is not only limited to text messages and Facebook postings, anybody can get caught out when a word processor takes your slightly-misspelt copy and replaces it with words with completely different meanings. Enough said!

  • Be an ‘apostrophe snob’ – or don’t. The humble apostrophe is perhaps the second-most misunderstood grammatical symbol (the first being the ambiguous semi-colon). It is used to denote ‘ownership’ (the appropriately-named possessive apostrophe) or a contraction (‘don’t’ instead of ‘do not’, where the apostrophe replaces the second ‘o’). The exception to both these rules is the possessive use of the word ‘it’ (the plate fell off its stand) or the contraction of ‘it is’ (it‘s a mistake to give a glove puppet a water pistol). Further confusion arises when the owner's name ends in ‘s’ (James’ car, not Jame’s car or James’es car) or when there is more than one owner (“the student’s books” indicates the books belonging to one student, “the students‘ books” indicates the books belonged to more than one student). And don't get us started on apostrophes sneaking into copy just in front of a closing ‘s’ where they're not even needed (e.g. apostrophe’s). Rule of thumb: if in doubt, leave it out.

  • Consider Grammerly. This online tool integrates with your word processor, web browser and desktop apps, providing you with a ‘second set of eyes’ as you write. It's not free (prices start at $15 USD a month) but we've heard good things about it.

  • Revisit your work. Once you have a completed draft put it aside for a while. At the very least go and have lunch, or ‘park’ the document for a few hours, or even a day or longer. Then open it and consider if it is saying what you are meaning to say. You will often find that there are points that can be edited and improved.

  • Read your document in a different format. Viewing an HTML page as an RTF or MS Word document or saving a Word document as a PDF can expose typos. Taking a document off-screen and printing it out (yes, there are people out there that don’t do this) will make those pesky errors show up.

  • Seek an objective review. Ask a person you can trust to look through your document. Do they understand it? Does it all make sense to them? Can they see any typos or mistakes? You should make it clear, however, that you're NOT asking them to ‘contribute’ to the content. Many documents have become very confused and over-complicated when the author tried to incorporate all the suggestions of well-intentioned reviewers.

  • Avoid jargon. It might be more convenient to use industry-standard terms and acronyms. But if you're writing for those outside your industry you will only confuse and frustrate them. If you MUST use a particular word or technical term, make sure you explain to outsiders. Which leads us to;

  • KISS. No, not the ’70s Glam Rock band. This acronym means ‘Keep It Simple (Stupid)’ (or ‘Keep it Super Simple’ if you prefer). Use simple, plain English in easy-to-read sentences. Don't be long-winded and keep to the point. Paragraph related content sensibly to give your readers a chance to breathe.

  • Leave the Spell Check to last. Yes, you can spell-check as you work on your document. But working this way can distract your focus and waste a lot of time checking and re-checking your edits. Better to have a final run-through and spell-check once you've worked out what you want to say just to make sure everything is spelt correctly. And finally;

  • If time and budget allow, hire a proofreader. While you might take every care when composing your documents familiarity does lead to contempt. By which I mean after you've read through your document many times your brain knows full well what you're endeavouring to say. The fact that your eyes haven't seen the errant word left in your copy (or omitted completely) when you edited a sentence to make your point clearer doesn't mean that all is well. That 'second set of eyes' will pick up typos and errors on the first pass that you wouldn't have spotted until your message was out ‘in the wild’.