That squiggly little red line underneath your text is both a friend and a crutch. How many of us have hit “Publish” on what we think is a masterful blog post or hit “Send” on what we think is a zinger of an email, only to have that mortifying feeling when we see “you” instead of “your” in the text?
Bigger problems exist in the word, of course, but misspellings and typos are what make up the nightmares of editors and content producers. Those little errors erode our credibility as publishers and take away from the ideas we are trying to communicate.
The worst grammar and spelling can be construed as spam. And who is going to share an article with a glaring error in the title? Keyword errors can cost you in search (or give someone a business plan, as is the case at fatfingers.com, which helps people capitalize on spelling mistakes on eBay items). It’s just good business to get it right.
The word “rhythm” is my personal spelling Achilles heel. It has too many consonants for me. Foreign words used in everyday conversation can be especially troublesome. Ever see “chow” when the person meant “ciao”? I once puzzled over a word in a mass email that was spelled “walaa” until it hit me that this person (highly educated and well-meaning) meant “voila”. Merriam-Webster’s list of 72 frequently misspelled words includes words (across, college) that seem easy to spell unless one of those words routinely trips you up.
None of us catches every error every time. But here are some ways to make your copy even cleaner:
- Just because it comes up in Google search doesn’t make it so. The word “preventative” shows 5,620,000 results in a Google search and it appears in the Free Online Dictionary. But “preventative” isn’t a word. The word is “preventive”. You’ll find it (not preventative) in the dictionary of choice for most editors, Merriam-Webster. Bookmark m-w.com and go to a dictionary source when you are unsure of a word. The Yahoo! Word List is a great source for tech terms; for example, email is one word with no capital letter or hyphen.
- Know your weaknesses. If you’ve been burned by you vs. your, slow down when you are rereading either of those words in a document. If you are one of the many people who struggle with the correct use of an apostrophe, (it’s possibly the biggest bet peeve of grammarians and inspired a funny website) take a minute to learn the rules of correct apostrophe use. Ensure/insure, affect/effect, and many other homonyms are gaffe-inducing, so be aware and check out your usage every time you aren’t sure about a word.
- Check your work from top to bottom, bottom to top. Walk away from an important document for a few minutes and reread it when your eyes are fresh. To catch every word, read the document from the bottom up.
Don’t let the squiggly red line serve as your only line of defense against spelling errors and typos!
What is your spelling Achilles heel? Do you know of other tips for catching typos? Did you find an error in this blog post? Please comment and let us know!