Typos matter, but words matter even more

You’ve probably noticed the ongoing debate over whether, and how much, typos matter. Full disclosure: As a copy editor/proofreader, I have to admit I’m more than a bit biased when I say, “Yes! Yes, they do matter!” For those who aren’t in an editorial position, not so much.

Even among the best writers, typos happen. Our minds know what we want to say, so it’s easy to gloss over a missing word or typo as we read our copy back to ourselves.

However, depending on who your audience is, typos can have some negative consequences for your organization or message:

The focus will turn to the typo and away from your message. Some readers and clients may be spelling and grammar nerds. You want the focus to be on your message, not on a relatively minor error.

The inadvertent result of conveying the opposite of what you mean to say. This is especially the case for a missing word (e.g., “not”), or the confusing use/misuse of negative phrasing (e.g., “they disagreed that they didn’t know about the meeting).

The perception that you’re sloppy or incompetent. If you can’t get your message right, how will you be able to handle the actual work?

Besides, with spell check, we can now at the very least catch some of those silly spelling mistakes we all make from time to time.

When all is said and done, it’s the writing—the story you’re telling—that is front and centre. And the odd typo or missed word won’t take away from solid, compelling writing.

While copy editing and proofreading will give you the tight, crisp edge your copy needs (especially for those more discerning clients), what matters the most is your words. So choose your words carefully. And have someone else read over your copy if possible.

Happy writing!



Five quick DIY copy fixes

It’s a New Year—time for setting goals, and looking forward with openness and excitement to opportunities ahead. Maybe you’re thinking about learning a new skill or improving on an existing one. No doubt about it, we can always be better and do better.

As I’ve mentioned before, nothing beats having another set of eyes on your copy—preferably, someone with the skill and experience to catch the errors and enhance the writing.

Perfect world thinking aside, we live in a reality of tight budgets and deadlines—and this means we don’t always have sufficient time for someone else read over our work.

Here are five quick fixes you can perform before you click Send on that document:

  1. Global search and replace double space with single space. Back in the day of typewriters (for those of us old enough to remember them), we needed to include two spaces after periods and colons to optimize readability and formatting. Word processing software has made this unnecessary; one space is all you need. Oddly enough, I’ve spoken with folks who’ve never used a typewriter, but still think they need two spaces.

And, sometimes, you may have just hit that space bar more than once in the middle of a sentence. This fix will get rid of those stray extra spaces and tighten up your copy visually.

  1. Look out for widows and orphans. This goes without saying in a caring, sharing society—but what we’re talking about here are widows and orphans in your copy. The last line of your paragraph ends up by its lonesome at the top of the next page/column (widow) or the first line of your paragraph is left alone at the bottom of a page/column (orphan).

Reunite those widows and orphans with their respective paragraphs. Same goes for headings and subheadings left dangling at the bottom of a page/column.

  1. Scan for missing periods. Seems like a simple enough thing, but multiple edits may have changed your phrasing, and you may have neglected to add the appropriate punctuation.
  1. Check your table of contents. It’s relatively easy to format your headings and subheadings to automatically create a table of contents (TOC). However, if you have multiple levels of subheadings, some may have gotten missed and these will be left out of your TOC.
  1. Run a spell check. As I’ve said before, spell check isn’t perfect and will never replace a pair of trained, experienced human eyes. However, it’s a useful tool to catch dumb mistakes you may have missed. Pay attention to what it suggests, though, as it may not recognize things like Canadian or organization-specific custom spelling.

These are among the top—and easiest to fix—copy errors. Give it a go and enjoy the results of cleaner, physically tighter copy.

Happy writing!

Spell check is useful, but not guaranteed to save your copy

As I was setting up the background info and links in advance of writing my life with more cowbell blog post on Soulpepper’s upcoming production of It’s A Wonderful Life, I noticed that spell check was taking issue with my spelling of “It’s.” Spell check recommended “Its.”

Spell check was wrong about this common spelling mistake.

“It’s” is an abbreviation of “It is,” as in “It is a wonderful life.”

“Its” is the possessive of “it,” as in “Its life was wonderful.”

While spell check can be a useful tool to catch typos and grammatical errors, it’s (and that’s correct, spell check) far from perfect. So when spell check offers an alternative spelling, don’t automatically assume it’s right and you’re wrong.

Since I work mainly with Canadian clients, I use the Oxford Canadian Dictionary. Think of Canadian English as a hybrid of British and American English—“colour” and “centre,” but “organization” and “analyze.” And if a client has a style guide, I also use that as a reference. So spelling will be dictated by the client’s country of origin and any custom style conventions—conditions that spell check may not recognize.

Yet another example of why you need another pair of human eyes on your copy.

Happy holidays—and happy writing!

Don’t be sorry, be better



I was very happy and excited to launch the website for words with cowbell yesterday. After shouting it out on social media, a couple of friends* gave me the heads-up on some writing issues, one of which was a typo. Irritated with myself, I corrected it immediately.

This morning, while I was revising the other issue—an admittedly awkward turn of phrase—I noticed a second typo. And this one didn’t only appear on the website, it had been copied over from my one-page promo doc! I was mortified.

How could I expect people to trust me with their copy editing and writing needs when I was making mistakes with my own writing? After some moments of mental self-flagellation, I realized that this was a perfect example of why people need copy editors and proofreaders. You need another pair of eyes on your work.

For those of us who write—even those of us who are good at it and enjoy it immensely—we know in our hearts and minds what we want to say; and when we read it over, it looks perfectly fine. Sometimes, however, it may not appear on the page exactly as we’re seeing it. This is because we’re so close to it, and know it so well in our heads, that our minds fill in missing words and gloss over typos. And, let’s face it, life gets crazy busy and fatigue-related errors happen.

This is precisely why we need a second pair of eyes on our copy. Spell check, even if we remember to use it, is a good secondary support tool—but can only do so much. Your primary support needs to be another person reading your copy; preferably someone trained and/or experienced to do so.

Like I told myself this morning: Don’t be sorry, be better.

* With thanks to David Nicholson and John Oughton.