How did you do on last week’s proofreading quiz?
by Stephen Wilbers
In last week’s column, I offered 11 techniques for foolproof proofreading. On the assumption that people learn more effectively when given the opportunity to apply the knowledge and skills they are being taught, I included a number of intentional errors in my copy – nine, to be exact – and I invited you to find them.
How did you do? Did get help from a colleague?
Most of the errors were obvious, but some may have been hard to spot. At least one was inconspicuous. I suspect that only the most skilled proofreaders among you found all nine.
Here are the errors as they appeared, beginning with the misspelling in the headline.
Error 1: “How to proofread and never miss a single errror”
That’s an easy one. “Errror” should have a double rather than a triple “r.”
Error 2: “All too often, however, the errors are obvious and painfully embarassing.”
For some odd reason, “embarrass” is correctly spelled with a double “r,” whereas “harass” is spelled with a single “r.” Inconsistencies of this nature were slipped into the English language by unscrupulous lexicographers for the sole purpose of making life difficult for the rest of us. If you’ve ever met an lexicographer, you know how diabolical they can be.
Error 3: “In fairness to the word processor, however, it must be acknowledged that these wonderful machines and their marvelous spell-checking programs have led to a dramatic reduction in mispellings.”
I’m embarrassed by this one. I can’t believe my spell-checker didn’t catch it for me. As I’m sure you noticed, “mispellings” should be spelled “misspellings.” I confess: spelling will always be a mystery to me. And here I was preaching to you about the importance of getting it write.
Error 4: “In other words, affective proofreading is still an important and necessary skill.”
There’s another one! That should be “effective,” which means producing a decisive or desired effect, as opposed to “affective,” which means relating to feelings or emotions. If you have trouble knowing when to use “affect” or “effect,” just memorize this phrase (and note that the two words are in alphabetical order): To affect something, you must have an effect on it. Remember: “Affect” is almost always used as a verb; “effect” is almost always used as a noun. The only common usage for “effect” as a verb is in this phrase: “to effect change.” Otherwise, if you’re looking for a verb, the safe bet is “affect.”
Errors 5, 6, & 7:
“5. Check for consistency in format (in headings, spacing, punctuation, layout, etc.)
7. Watch for common errors (like “it’s” for “its,” or missing quotation marks and parentheses – especially the closing marks.”
There are three errors contained in these two points of advice. If you found the first one, which is hardly noticeable, you are to be commended as a very fine proofreader indeed: Item 5 is the only item in the list that does not end with a period. In addition, the numbering is faulty (number 6 is skipped), and item 7 is missing its closing parenthesis.
Error 8: “Check not only for typographical errors but for common word-processing errors like repeated, missing, repeated, and misplaced text.”
Ah, the electronic gremlin strikes again, leaving a chunk of “repeated” text where it doesn’t belong.
Error 9: “Answers will appear in next weeks column.”
Watch out for apostrophes when forming the possessive. They are easily omitted. In this case, an apostrophe is needed to form the possessive of “week,” as in “next week’s column.”
Well, I hope this little exercise wasn’t too painful for you. But who ever said writing was supposed to be fun, anyway?
By the way, if you want to share any of your favorite horror stories about proofreading errors, I’d love to hear them.
©Stephen Wilbers. Published with permission. www.wilbers.com