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Proofreading: The Forgotten Writing Tool

Updated on October 13, 2017
DzyMsLizzy profile image

Words, wordplay, reading, and writing have been favorites of Liz's since early childhood. She enjoys exploring science and science fiction.

Has Proofreading Gone Out of Style?

Over the decades, I have lost count of how many well-intentioned articles I've read purporting to give people advice on various kinds of writing.

These run the gamut of advice on writing everything from term papers to press releases, inquiry letters and resumes.

To a person, they all emphasize careful writing, proper formatting, spelling and grammar. It boggles my mind that each and every one of these bits of "advice" I've ever read have contained at least one, often several, of the very errors against which the writer cautions.

It becomes obvious that careful proofreading was not done once they completed writing their 'advice on writing.'

It would behoove anyone seeking to instruct and educate on matters of writing to be very sure that their own writing is without fault: otherwise, all credibility is lost.

Proofreading is Just as Important as Writing

Source

Spelling Errors

Achieving correct spelling is, to be sure, a hornet's nest in the English language. I've written several articles about the various pitfalls. Suffice it to say here, however, that spell check is not equal to 'word check.'

You, the writer, may have selected the proper-sounding word, but used an incorrect homophone of a pair of same or similar-sounding words. This is a context error, not a true spelling error, and spell-check programs will not flag it. Have no doubt: it is still an error, and one that will be noticed by the very folks you are trying to impress! Therefore, a physical proofreading must be done prior to publication.

Common culprits in this problem include use of their (possessive) instead of they're (contraction of 'they are'), or worse yet, there (indicating location)! Your (possessive) instead of you're (contraction of 'you are') is another often confused pair. Any writer trying to make the point that careful and correct writing is imperative fails miserably if their own advice is fraught with those same errors!

Punctuation Mistakes

I've seen errors of punctuation as well, and the most common is misplacement of the apostrophe. This mistake has to do with the difference between plurals and the possessive case.

A recent one I saw was someone referring to "..camera's" (sic*). In the context in which the word was used, the person was obviously referring to more than one camera, generically, without reference to the scene at which the cameras were aimed.

Therefore, "cameras" with no apostrophe would have been the correct (plural) usage. "Camera's" as used, would have referred instead to the possesive of a single camera, as in, "The camera's viewpoint."

Plurals do not take apostrophes; possessives do.

(The confounded 'exception to the rule' for apostrophes is that annoying case of "it's" vs. "its." Here, the possessive does not get the apostrophe, and the one that does is the contraction for "it is.")

The comma is another tripping point, for its use (or misuse), can drastically alter the very meaning of the sentence. The oft-cited example:

"Let's eat Grandma!" vs. "Let's eat, Grandma!"

In the first example, the writer is threatening cannibalism! The second is the correct usage, and is merely an invitation to Grandma to enjoy a meal.


*sic--Abbreviation from the Latin "sicut" meaning 'just as'

--indicating an error is a direct quotation of an unconventional
phrase or incorrect spelling, and used intentionally.  


Correct punctuation insures that the reader reads what you meant to say
Correct punctuation insures that the reader reads what you meant to say | Source

Singular or Plural Possessive?

Another tricky apostrophe stumbling block is the difference between singular and plural possession cases.

In the case of more than one entity, the apostrophe follows the ending 's' that creates the plural form, i.e., "...the dogs' leashes.." more than one dog; more than one leash; each belonging to a different dog in the group = plural possessive.

Conversely, if there is only one dog, "..the dog's leash..." one dog, one leash, = singular possessive.

I've covered this in greater depth in my article on punctuation.

My Personal Pet Peeve

For my final comment, I will address my pet peeve: people who do not (or will not) seem to understand the difference between "then" and "than."

I'd be quite wealthy by now if I had a dollar for each time I saw this pair misused on a daily basis!

Come on, folks...it's really quite simple!

Then is a reference to time:  "We will finish the laundry, then we will have lunch."

Than is a matter of comparison:  "I would rather have chocolate than strawberry."

A Useful Tip

If at all possible, have another person proofread for you. Your brain knows what you meant, and it is virtually guaranteed that your eyes will register what your brain meant, and the error will still be missed in your own re-read.

I am not immune. I've had more than a few typos slip past. I find it helpful to print out a hard copy. With paper in hand and pencil at the ready, I am more likely to spot such goofs than I am while viewing the computer screen.

If you don't have an available second pair of eyes to help you, and if time is on your side, it is also helpful to just set the piece aside for a week or so. Then, when you come back to read it fresh, you will more likely spot those pesky mistakes.

Happy proofreading!

© 2010 Liz Elias

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  • DzyMsLizzy profile image
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    Liz Elias 5 years ago from Oakley, CA

    Well, Jeri--I'm impressed! That's certainly more words than I've ever churned out at one sitting! ;-)

    Hemingway was right, of course, for the most part. When I start writing, I just write, with no motive other than getting the words down before I lose my train of thought. Then I go back and do my edits after the fact.

  • profile image

    Jeri Sheppard 5 years ago

    MsLizzy, I'm still finishing the story up, to be honest. I did hit 50,000 words, but the story wasn't finished. I'm honestly terrified to look back over what I've written just yet. Of course, I keep that quote from Hemingway about how the first draft is always rubbish (he was a bit more colourful, but we'll keep it family-friendly here) floating around in the back of my mind. I'm not entirely sure that my inner editor will ever recover.

    On the one hand, trying such an insane challenge is fantastic for motivation's sake. I've gotten through more of this story than any other story I've ever tried to see through into a novel. But there are certain sacrifices that go hand in hand with that much literary abandon, as the NaNoWriMo writers like to call it. Like your grammar and your spelling. (Truth be told, I am still occasionally catching myself making terrible, common mistakes like I did during NaNoWriMo!)

    I definitely don't think I could do 100 hubs in 30 days, though! I'm still trying to figure out what to say in my FIRST!

  • DzyMsLizzy profile image
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    Liz Elias 5 years ago from Oakley, CA

    Hi, there, Jeri--

    I know what you mean -- When I see such errors, I feel like reaching through the computer screen and shaking the person, demanding, "Didn't you learn that in school?" And of course, they did not--whether for any of the reasons already cited, or because they fell asleep from boredom due to uninspired teaching methods.

    I can certainly relate to your NaNoWriMo 'shock-induced-coma'... ;-) I just tried (and failed) to complete the 30 hubs in 30 days challenge... can we say, "burnout?" I don't know HOW ANYONE could write an entire novel, or complete the 100 hubs in 30 days challenge!

  • profile image

    Jeri Sheppard 5 years ago

    I, for one, am always very irritated when I find common mistakes (like the mix-up of too/to/two, or then/than), and am especially irritated when I catch MYSELF making them. My mum is an English teacher, so grammar has always been drilled into my brain. I'm afraid my latest writing project will be full of these errors, though; I did NaNoWriMo, and the frenzy sort of killed my inner grammar editor! (Or at least put her into a temporary, shock-induced coma. I'm not entirely sure which.)

  • DzyMsLizzy profile image
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    Liz Elias 5 years ago from Oakley, CA

    Hello, Rain Defence--

    Thanks for your input. That's another source of irriation, to be sure! Loose/lose and choose/chose are similar issues.

    I'm surprised you haven't come across the "then/than" mixup--it's virtually everywhere you look, especially online. Now that it's been mentioned, no doubt you'll fall over it on a daily basis as well. ;-)

    If you really want to trip folks up, hit them with the lay; lie; laid; lain quartet. ;-)

  • Rain Defence profile image

    Rain Defence 5 years ago from UK

    Something that drives me insane and is really common nowadays is the use of 'loose' instead of 'lose'. As in 'I loose every game of starcraft I play'. No you don't, you lose it! It's a small thing, but it really irritates me and I see it all the time.

    I have never seen 'then' and 'than' mixed up. I must be lucky!

  • DzyMsLizzy profile image
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    Liz Elias 6 years ago from Oakley, CA

    Hi, Ads--

    Seriously--that is a good question! Usually, for a singular possessive, it would be "hornet's nest," and for a plural possessive, "hornets' nest."

    As "hornet's nest" is rather common usage, it seems to have defaulted to the singular possessive form, even though it takes more than one hornet to build a nest.

    I am thinking that if there were more than one nest, you'd then have "hornets' nests".....

    Thanks for bringing that up. It bears further research. ;-)

  • profile image

    Ads 6 years ago

    So, seriously....is it Hornet's nest....or is it Hornets' nest?

  • DzyMsLizzy profile image
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    Liz Elias 6 years ago from Oakley, CA

    Hi, mannyrolando--

    Thanks so much. I do know what you mean. I've had that happen as well, in spite of oh-so-careful proofing. You may just be tired and your eyes are crossing or some such thing. So, I always go back and re-read a new post the very next day or a few hours later, and catch those sneaky little rascals!

    Typos do happen. We all understand that. I was more referring to those who write articles professing to be about 'how to write,' and then it turns out that they don't even know how to properly construct a sentence, and have no clue of the correct word or tense to use.

  • mannyrolando profile image

    mannyrolando 6 years ago

    Great hub DzyMsLizzy. I try to proofread my hubs before I publish them but I am sure that on occasion I fail to catch such errors.

  • DzyMsLizzy profile image
    Author

    Liz Elias 6 years ago from Oakley, CA

    Thanks very much, Rebecca E.

    I appreciate that!

  • Rebecca E. profile image

    Rebecca E. 6 years ago from Canada

    well done, and I found this hub prefect to leave this little ditty-- I wrote a bit of an explaination to your question on my hub, feel free to ask more!

  • DzyMsLizzy profile image
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    Liz Elias 7 years ago from Oakley, CA

    Thanks, Answer Lady--glad you enjoyed the article. Best wishes and welcome to Hub Pages!

  • The Answer Lady profile image

    The Answer Lady 7 years ago from Missouri Ozarks

    Well, MsLizzy, you can count me as one of your newest fans! I am very impressed with your article and am off to re-proofread my newest (and only my second) hub! LOL

    I must confess that I was so tired and wanting to go to bed that I allowed myself to post it without that final proofread, tonight. Come to think of it, I'm too tired. I'll do it tomorrow when my brain is sharper.

    I look forward to reading more of your hubs soon!

  • DzyMsLizzy profile image
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    Liz Elias 7 years ago from Oakley, CA

    Thanks, Website Examiner, for visiting and for your comment. Glad you liked the article.

    And thanks for the link in the forum--I avoided doing that myself so as to be sure to stay within the rules for 'no self-promotion.' :-)

  • profile image

    Website Examiner 7 years ago

    The Google listings for Literary Agent Showcase (page 1 of search results for "literary showcase): "Literay agents are looking for your Fiction, Non-Fiction..."

    It has been like this for years. For those inclined to notice such things, there will be no shortage of fresh examples. Good article.

  • DzyMsLizzy profile image
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    Liz Elias 7 years ago from Oakley, CA

    Hello again, yellowstar2000--so glad you liked the article and found a helpful bit in there. ;-) Thanks for stopping by and taking the time to comment!

  • yellowstar2000 profile image

    Candice Collins 7 years ago from WestCoast Florida

    Great idea to print out the work to proofread before publishing. I always have the best intentions and catch myself so often making small mistakes that sometimes add up to big errors.

    I feel the same way when reading someone's work and come across simple errors that could have easily been corrected. It's so frustrating and really quite jilting to try reading through an article (or hub) filled with so many spelling, grammatical and punctuation errors that I completely miss the point of the original thought and can only concentrate on all the mistakes.

    Thanks for writing perfectly punctuated prose. :)

  • DzyMsLizzy profile image
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    Liz Elias 7 years ago from Oakley, CA

    Thanks, 2uesday, for stopping by! Glad there was a nugget in there for you. ;-)

  • 2uesday profile image

    2uesday 7 years ago

    I try to use the correct spelling and grammar but it is never going to be easy for me or second nature. I would love to find an easy way to check that I had written something perfectly. Even though I spell check and read through my work, I think the idea of printing it out to read it might be useful. Thank you.

  • DzyMsLizzy profile image
    Author

    Liz Elias 7 years ago from Oakley, CA

    LOL Micky Dee

  • Micky Dee profile image

    Micky Dee 7 years ago

    I kneed no help! I rite real good!

  • DzyMsLizzy profile image
    Author

    Liz Elias 7 years ago from Oakley, CA

    scarytaff--

    Thank you for stopping by and leaving a comment. I, too, cringe at the 'to/too' problem..and I've even seen 'two' tossed into that mix. Seems to me that is 2nd grade material, for pity's sakes--my 7-year-old granddaughter knows the difference!!!

    And now, I'm going to a store where they have two too many Tuesday sales! :-D

  • scarytaff profile image

    Derek James 7 years ago from South Wales

    Great hub. I cringe every time I see these mistakes but one that really gets me is when they write 'to' instead of 'too.'

  • DzyMsLizzy profile image
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    Liz Elias 7 years ago from Oakley, CA

    LOL PhoenixV ..

    ...that reminds me of a tale told on me concerning an incident when I was about 3 years old: the folks were trying to get me to 'show off' and were coaxing me, "Say 'linoleum.' " Apparently I was not in the mood, and responded quite clearly, "I can't say linoleum."

  • PhoenixV profile image

    PhoenixV 7 years ago from USA

    I can't spell---> definitely or bureau.

    Its like a brain block lol

  • DzyMsLizzy profile image
    Author

    Liz Elias 7 years ago from Oakley, CA

    Thank you very much, Christine, for the testimonial! ;-)

  • Christine B. profile image

    Christine B. 7 years ago from Medina, Ohio

    And she's a very good proofreader!! I've used Liz for all three of my novels. Thanks for the insights, Liz!

  • DzyMsLizzy profile image
    Author

    Liz Elias 7 years ago from Oakley, CA

    RisingBreeze--that would not be a problem at all: proofreading is one of my businesses! ;-)

  • RisingBreeze profile image

    RisingBreeze 7 years ago

    Oh yes! You make very valid points. I've seen more than a few rants about how people spell things incorrectly or misuse punctuation, nevermind their grammar. I can't say that I am completely correct when I write. More, I'm quite certain I'm not even close. Still, I do try to re-read and fix any errors I spy before I post. Spell-check is helpful, but not necessarily your saviour. Great post!

    Beware! You might find people knocking at your door with high hopes that you'll proofread for them now that you've acknowledged your understanding of such things. I'll try not to be one of them, if I can help myself. :)