Bringing Your “A” Game


On occasion, I’ve referred to the “alarm system” each of us should continually expand to catch writing errors. Or if you prefer a different metaphor, you may want to make sure your “antennae” are properly tuned. Here are a few examples of the many routine traps we want to spot when we’re editing and proofing.

Typos in the subject line. It’s easy to pore over the message part of an email but forget to check the subject line for errors. Set a mental alarm that reminds you to check the subject line before you hit “send.”

Death by autocorrect. We need to have a sixth sense about writing something odd that may get changed by overactive software. The last two errors I’ve seen (belatedly) in my own writing stemmed from not having this alarm engaged. One was the spelling of an organizational name based on a different language. Autocorrect changed it to “English.” Thanks a lot. The other was a Workin’ on it subject line. That got changed to Working’ on it. Ugh.

Imperfect use of parentheses. You don’t have to do what I do, but when I proof my work and encounter a parenthesis, I stop reading for a moment and skip ahead to make sure the closing parenthesis is there. It’s easy to forget to finish that job.

A related item is checking the order of the ending parenthesis and another punctuation mark. Note the difference:

This Thursday, we’re driving to New York for a long weekend (originally scheduled for last month).
This Thursday, we’re driving to New York for a long weekend. (The trip had been set for May, but by waiting we’ll get to see more family.)

The order is logical. When just part of a sentence is parenthetical, the ending punctuation goes outside the parentheses. When an entire sentence is parenthetical, we first end the sentence with a period, question mark, or exclamation point and then close the parentheses.

Mistakes in making last names plural or possessive. The rules on this aren’t hard, but many of us give in to strange impulses like sticking an apostrophe in a last name when all we’re doing is pluralizing it. So during the NBA playoffs I saw this blurb: I apologize for the fan who was harassing the Curry’s. Nope. That spelling would be correct if we’re referring to Steph Curry’s airborne mouthguard, but if we’re simply referring to more than one Curry, they are Currys.

Your “A” Game

Cutting down on writing errors should get progressively easier. The trick is developing an extensive alarm system or finely tuned antennae that alert us to potential problems.

In addition to presenting workshops on writing in the workplace, Norm is a writer, editor, and writing coach. His 100+ Instant Writing Tips is a brief “non-textbook” to help individuals overcome common writing errors and write with more finesse and impact. Learn more at  

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