What do the following sentences have in common?
- You’re Cheetos are expired.
- An avid vegetarian, she never eats meet.
- Aren’t you curios how Lobstein will do for the Tigers?
- “Boris the Spider” is my favorite song from The How. (It was Jimi Hendrix’s favorite, two.)
If you’re thinking, “They all have mistakes,” you’re right. But that’s not what I’m going for here. The common thread is that all of the sentences contain mistakes that won’t be identified by a spell-checker. In fact, the only word that my spell-checker highlighted is “Lobstein,” which happens to be correct.
But My Spell-Checker Is a Lifesaver!
Sure. And by no means am I telling you to swear off your spell-checker. Whenever possible, everything you type should be spell-checked. But you can’t rely on it exclusively to ensure your documents are correct.
For example, last week I was typing up a summary of an interview we did with one of our clients. “For more than 50 years we’ve been fortunate to count Better Made Snake Foods among our clients,” I wrote. Except it’s actually Better Made Snack Foods—you know, the company that makes all of those delicious potato chips? Not a company that manufactures vitamin-fortified foods for reptiles. Kind of a big difference. Thankfully, I caught it later that day when I went back to proofread the document.
Here’s another example from an early draft of Stephen King’s “Salem’s Lot”: “Although deer season doesn’t start until November in Maine, the fields of October are often alive with gunshots; the locals are shooting as many peasants as they think their families will eat.” Although you never know with Stephen King, “peasants” was actually supposed to be “pheasants,” something his copyeditor caught upon review.
These little mistakes happen all the time: “form” when you mean “from”; “manger” when you want “manager”; “compiled” when you mean “complied”; “through” vs. “though”; “identify” vs. “identity”; the list goes on and on. One common mistake at Plante Moran: “manufactures” instead of “manufacturers” (it’s so easy to leave that extra “r” out). And on one horrifying, yet kind of hilarious, occasion, “certified pubic accountants” versus “certified public accountants.” (I personally caught that one years ago in a financial statement. If that were our specialty, we’d be a whole different kind of firm.)
Proofreading Is the Key
The only way to ensure a clean document is to have it proofread, preferably by someone like my awesome editor-friend (frienditor?) Alexis Zayed, who proofreads every blog I write. If you don’t have someone like that in your life, you’re going to have to proofread your documents yourself. Here are a few tips:
- Try not to proofread a document immediately upon writing it. Odds are, you’ll read what you meant to write, not what’s actually on the page. Give it a day, if possible, or at least an hour or so.
- Print the document versus proofreading it on your computer screen or—worse yet—your phone.
- Read the document slowly and silently. Then read it again aloud. This way your ear might catch what your eyes didn’t.
- Be mindful of version control. Just because a document was correct when you sent it out for review doesn’t mean it will be correct when you get it back. Proofread every version of every document, with extra-special emphasis on the final documents.
So how about you? Are there particular words you type by mistake that a spell-checker doesn’t pick up? And if you had a reptile, wouldn’t Better Made Snake Foods be an excellent place to shop for it?