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Divide and Concur – Why Proof Reading is Important


In my first job after college, I sent an email to all staff regarding the status of a server. My email ended with:

“The server should be back up and running within the hour. We apologize for the incontinence.”

I didn’t realize my mistake until I received an email reply from a colleague highlighting the difference between incontinence and inconvenience and the people within the cubicles around me erupted with laughter. This typo became a long running joke at meetings, in future emails, and while passing my colleagues in the hallway.

Similarly, a colleague of mine attended a training where the instructional designer had his slides created by a graphic designer who was not close to the content. As he facilitated his course the audience was treated to an unfortunate misspelling of Fuch’s Dystrophy. As you can imagine, this created a rather memorable moment for those in attendance.

Typos continue to be common in my writing. Just the other day, in a working meeting with my colleagues, I jotted down an onscreen note to “divide and concur”. Spell check and other grammar software do not catch such errors. Without proper proof reading, or gentle ribbing by my teammates, this could be missed.  To keep my embarrassing moments to a minimum, I have picked up a few tips to avoid telling someone they ate my favorite blogger rather then they are my favorite blogger.

Walk away

Once you have written something, you have an idea of what you want it to say. When you read it again, you impose your thoughts and ideas on it and typos are missed. Go for a walk, work on another project, grab a cup of tea, just do something to get away. When you look it again, you are further from the content and you will look at it with fresher eyes.

Read it out loud

This isn’t always easy when working in a cubicle or with thin office walls, but there are worse behaviors at work than a cube mate that reads her memos out loud. Reading things out loud is the most effective proof reading exercise I go through. I catch my most common errors when I read documents aloud and it helps me digest the content to make sure it makes sense.

Read it backwards

I picked this up recently from a friend who used to type manuals on a typewriter. Reading something backwards completely strips the content from the words. If you encounter a word like incontinent, you are likely to reread the sentence and make sure it should be in there.

Look for your common mistakes

I forget to add s to the end of words and type am in the place of an on a regular basis. As you are proof reading, note your common mistakes and look for them in your future work.

Four eyes are better than two

If possible, I let someone else read my stuff before I expose it to the world. That person doesn’t need to have an English degree or even be incredibly well-spoken. Someone who is not as close as you are to the content will see things you missed no matter how many times you have proofed it.

I can’t be the only one with good typo stories. Please share yours in the comments.

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