From the Newsroom


Raji Chacko

Look (spell check) before you leap (to publishing)

A review of your work before you publish it always gives it a professional shine. In the case of spelling mistakes, it’s good to be extra careful and take steps to avoid them –  such glaring errors can stand out and they almost always will.

Consider these examples:

3 Pak security personnel killed in seperate incidents (http://www.business-standard.com/article/pti-stories/3-pak-security-personnel-killed-in-seperate-incidents-113091500306_1.html)

CHP Arrest Two in Seperate Incidents (http://knco.com/chp-arrest-two-in-seperate-incidents/)

Columbia school board moves ahead with contruction plans for new elementary school (http://kbia.org/post/columbia-school-board-moves-ahead-contruction-plans-new-elementary-school)

G-Dragon’s new album is recieving good responses from media and public. (http://ph.omg.yahoo.com/news/g-dragon-continues-to-dominate-the-charts-011325539.html)

Frequent text messaging may stunt reading skills, according to new research compariing text users with people who preferred to read newspapers and books. (http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-2102554/TXT-BAD-4-UR-BRAIN-Text-messaging-dent-reading-abilities-say-scientists.html) (courtesy: http://www.11points.com/News-Politics/11_Fantastic_Clips_of_Published_Spelling_Mistakes)

All these examples, which have been taken from published news posts, have one thing in common — spelling mistakes that could have easily been avoided.

F7 — everyone’s best friend

Since to err is human, editors assert their human-ness by occasional typographical errors. If you look at the examples cited above, at least three of the five errors are in the headlines. Sometimes, reporters submit their copy with headlines. However, space constraints, the need to give the story a different peg, or some other reason might ensure the original headline does not make it to the page. Now assume, the editor works on the story and gives it an apt, witty headline (ha!).  Another editor is probably assigned the job of making the story and the heading fit on the page. Dancing around ad space, this editor finds that the heading doesn’t fit and types in an alternative headline. With someone screaming murder as the deadline approaches, the one thing that is missed is a final spell check. Lo and behold! You have every editor’s nightmare — a spelling mistake, in print.

This is probably why I was introduced to Microsoft Word’s F7 key rather early on in my career, probably on day one itself. I think part of our training included “spell check before you close a file”. It is a fantastic habit to cultivate for anyone who aspires to see their work published. Of course, you can argue that if you work in a newspaper, an editor is bound to catch your mistake. They should. But what’s stopping you from investigating why Microsoft has a squiggly red line running under a word in your article? If you edit your own copy, spend the time to check and recheck spellings before you post any piece on the web.

Over the years, nearly most of the copy that has landed on my desk has required some correction. What is particularly annoying is that some of the work needs spellings to be corrected. Nearly all respectable software on offer these days has some sort of spell-check function. It is, therefore, easier than ever before to ensure that spelling errors are eliminated from the copy. As an editor, my respect for writers goes up a notch when I find that they actually know how to use the spell-check function.

If you are not working in a newspaper but are responsible for both writing and publishing, the need for a spell check becomes greater. None of us can spell all the words in the dictionary correctly. Even if you are the kind who can spell “supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious), what’s to say you are not clumsy on the keyboard and muddle up a few letters?

Why bother?

It might seem like too much fuss is being made over a spelling mistake. Like my friend says when I correct her phrasing sometimes, “You understand what I mean.” So, why does it matter? Assume I am applying for the post of a copy editor, and my CV is riddled with spelling or grammar errors. Just how confident would you be about hiring me? Similarly, if by blogging or providing content you claim to have an opinion to offer or a comment to make, what professionalism can I attribute to you when you couldn’t be bothered to publish an error-free opinion/comment? It seems ridiculous to lose credibility over something so simple that it can be fixed by running a spell check.

The human quotient

Don’t line up to thrash me, but now that I have explained how simple it is to run a spell check, I am going to tell you why you can’t always rely on the software to do the job for you. Unlike what sci-fi films would have you believe, artificial intelligence cannot always replicate the human touch.

Consider these examples:

“We have an idea who this people are and they are clearly a multinational collection from all over the world,” he said. (http://news.nationalpost.com/2013/09/23/kenya-mall-rocked-by-explosions-as-military-attempts-another-rescue-operation-for-hostages/)

PLO loose ground in Nablus and Bethlehem (http://ivarfjeld.com/2012/10/24/plo-loose-ground-in-nablus-and-bethlehem/)

Its Official-Tough Gym Workouts Are Cathartic! (https://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/rob-blakeman/workout-music_b_3864869.html)

If you copy these sentences and paste them into a Microsoft Word file, you won’t find any red squiggles anywhere. That does not, however, mean that they are correct.

“We have an idea who this people are…” should ideally be “We have an idea who these people are…”. “PLO loose ground in Nablus and Bethlehem” should have read “PLO lose ground in Nablus and Bethlehem” and “Its Official…” needs an apostrophe: “It’s Official”. Microsoft’s spell check does have a little blue squiggle under loose but the rest are ignored. This is because of the software checks for spelling errors and not meanings and nuances. These remain a writer’s responsibility (and are probably why copy editors haven’t been rendered jobless yet).

Proof of effort

A proof is a draft of material intended for publication. The draft is created to check for errors before final printing. It is probably from here that the word proofreading is derived. This does not necessarily mean that every piece you write has to be printed and read for errors. The process can be replicated on soft copy. After having written your piece, go back to the beginning and read it slowly, with an eye out for errors.

Some editors like to fine-tune this process further, so they undertake multiple levels of edit. The first round is devoted to rewriting. The next to punctuation and grammar checks, and then a final read ensures that no errors have been missed. This is probably too complicated a process to follow if you blog every day or if you are a content writer with a daily deadline. However, reading your written work once you have finished should not be too difficult. I would recommend though that first-time writers follow this tedious multi-level process. Over time, you will find that you can skip a level or two because your writing style has evolved to incorporate these checks. That doesn’t mean you can eliminate a final read altogether; just like we learnt never to close a file without running a spell check, you too can make it a habit never to publish without having proofread your work.

Personally, I find that a break is helpful before settling in to proofread. You will notice that if you have been reading the same thing over and over again your brain makes assumptions and skips over possible errors, reading “and” although you have only typed in “ad”. I like to take a break, do something entirely different and come back and read each line of my work slowly and carefully. Proofreading is not speed reading so don’t zip through it. You are on the lookout for errors that could be masquerading as legitimate words, so be thorough. Regardless of how many drafts you’ve worked on before creating something that satisfies you, you might find that there is some change you can still make when giving it a final read. I went back to the previous paragraph which had too many “however”s to my liking and re-read it a couple of times to get rid of one or two. Proofreading or reviewing is the burnishing your writing needs to make it gleam!

***

Like I said earlier, the human element still matters and I recently came across a wonderful article that explains why by detailing what a copy editor does daily. Call it a bit of self-advertisement, if you will: http://www.theguardian.com/media/mind-your-language/2013/sep/20/mind-your-language-subeditors?utm_content=buffer26064&utm_source=buffer&utm_medium=twitter&utm_campaign=Buffer

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