Avoid Writing Pitfalls, Tips for DIY Proofreading

We need to take care with our words. People always notice when we do not.

Has it ever taken you hours to write an email or article?

Some of the reasons we are afraid to hit “Send” is our words have so many opportunities to fail in their mission. They could appear:

  • incoherent, ignorant, or both
  • hard to understand
  • inflammatory
  • all of the above

And yet the stress associated with writing the perfect message makes us all wish it were over already. I suspect that fatigue is how mistakes easily slip through.

I am here to help! Each bullet above is covered below, with tips of how to avoid looking foolish, being unclear, or coming across as too aggressively.

INCOHERENT OR IGNORANT:

It is hard for me to read anything online without discovering errors. I cringe when I find errors. The most common ones I see are missing words, confused words, and train of thought collisions.

Missing words: These seem to occur because the writer’s thoughts are doing 65-70mph, while their fingers are doing 35mph on the keyboard.

CATCH IT & CORRECT IT: Once I have a draft created, I take the time to read over the words slowly, mouthing each word as I read it. The process forces me to stop reading when the word is not there. For instance, “The sentence sounded terrible because a was missing.” Or, one of my favorite jokes, “this sentence no verb.” When the word is missing, put it in. “The sentence sound terrible because a word was missing.” There.

Confused words: The writer typed “in” when they meant “is”. They typed “secret” when they meant “secure”. One that made me laugh out loud was “unpresidented” instead of “unprecedented”.

CATCH IT & CORRECT IT: First I create a draft. Then I take the time to read over it slowly, mouthing each word as I read it. I am forced to stop reading when the wrong word is there. If I have a hunch, but I am not sure if it’s a good one, or I am doubting the spelling, I Google it or consult Dictionary.com. Google’s search field asks “Cannot find <your query>. Did you mean ____?” And Dictionary.com will ask me to confirm the word if it cannot find it in its records. Usually, yes, their suggestion is what I meant.

Train of thought collisions: The writer was fixing their sentence or changing their wording, but they got distracted. They never came back to their half-fixed fragments. No one else caught it either, and the story was submitted that way.

CATCH IT & CORRECT IT: if I am correcting a hard copy, I use a highlighter or post-it tab tape to mark my place. I also use check marks to indicate the change was made, 100% fixed. If I am proofreading onscreen, I find highlighting or changing the text color where I stopped let’s me know where to start. I change the color back to black, and keeping working.

HARD TO UNDERSTAND OR FOLLOW (A FUNNY THING HAPPENED ON THE WAY TO THE POINT):

Sometimes communication’s failure is not typos, but an overall failure to get to the point. In that vein, I remember two terms from Toastmasters: the double-clutch and the false start.

  • double-clutch is repeating the same words, like a car trying, but failing to start up.
  • false start is starting to speak, but then awkwardly pausing, changing my mind about where I was going with that. Or maybe thinking aloud about what I want to say, or randomly speaking out of nervousness and not getting anywhere.

These errors are not just found in public speaking. It is possible to fumble like this in writing as well. For example, writing a quick note and including too much small talk after a basic greeting. People stop reading if an email rambles, is stream of consciousness, or provides information overkill. If too much information is provided, how will the recipient know what’s really the highest priority right now? They will not, and they will not keep trying to figure it out either.

CATCH IT & CORRECT IT: The longer I have known someone, or the more comfortable I am communicating with them, the easier it is to babble. As Blaise Pascal said, “I have only made this letter longer because I have not had the time to make it shorter.”

Pascal was writing in longhand. Today we do have time to go back and make it shorter without scribbling words out. If I reread a message before sending and see a lot of babble, I delete the babble. I replace it with “hey we have catching up to do” or “I have a lot to share since we saw each other last”. I ask if I can catch up over a meal, a beverage, a phone call, or a Skype call. Hopefully they say yes. If they say no, I say thanks, have a great week, and move on.

INFLAMMATORY:

I saved what I think is the hardest for last. I see myself as a serious, focused worker in an office environment, a no-nonsense personality. For years I felt it saved everyone’s time to just be direct. But for some people, direct can be offensive. How do I know this? I have seen it.

Tone of voice, volume of voice, poise, and eye contact are just four of the factors interpersonal communications have that texting and email do not. These factors have a bigger impact on what we have to say than any of us might realize. Our appearance, our disposition, and our extroversion/introversion, and how much we resemble the person we are talking to, all play a role in our communications.

When you or I only receive others’ words and mannerisms, it is hard to imagine what it is like for them to receive ours.

With just text to read, words come across with more intensity. Is it because the words are doing all the work? Maybe. Is it because the person I have a problem with has a personality I do not gel with already? Yes, that is possible. In a work situation, people are very stressed about their jobs. They are a little more sensitive to criticism than they might be about other parts of their life.

CATCH IT & CORRECT IT: In a conflict, I think it helps to write out what we would really want to say in Notepad or a text program that has no send button, then close the window (X) without saving it. If I am asked to save, I click “no thanks” or “cancel”. The negative feelings got out, but no one got burned.

I would offer to handle this situation in an in-person meeting or phone call with a supervisor or mediator-type party. Even if you are, like me, introverted, and in-person is not your most comfortable communication style.

If an in-person meeting is not an option, then I would write out the situation as gently as I can, and say as little as possible. Approach it like a mystery, not an open and shut case. I would not use ALL CAPS. Then I would save the draft, and turn off, or at least darken my screen. If I feared prying eyes, it would be prudent to lock my computer.

Then I would step away for a minute. Take the stairs. Walk outside. Think of something positive to distance myself from the situation. Spouse. Family. Children. Beloved pets. Friends who like me for who I am. The fact I can apply for other work.

Then I would come back, take a deep breath, and try to read the message as if I were receiving it from someone else. As if I am the unsuspecting offender instead of the one being offended. How would I receive the words on the screen? What rewording is necessary? What if this was all unintentional, or based on a misunderstanding? How would I choose my words if that was the case? I make the changes I feel are necessary. I reread the whole thing one last time. Then hit send.

It is worth being delicate and careful with confrontations, especially in the workplace. From what I have seen, if the accuser is quick to get angry or point fingers, they will branded a bully on some level. It does not matter how accurate he or she may be about what happened, who did it, or why it happened. As Maya Angelou noted, People tend to forget what we said, but not how we made them feel. They may even forget what happened, but they still don’t forget their feelings.

In closing, we need to take care with our words; people always notice when we do not. I hope this post has helped remedy DIY Proofreading and Awkward Written Language Situations. If you have more editing or proofreading than you have time for, do not hesitate to contact me.

Did I forget an error you see all the time? What are the errors see online when you are trying to read?

Advertisements

Reflecting on One Year with Wiser Time Publishing

(This post also appeared on the BakingKookys blog)

I’ve been writing for Wiser Time Publishing for one year. That’s 26 published stories total about West Ashley and James Island food businesses. These businesses are either brand new ones to the area, or established ones that are growing, have new management or a new menu, an upcoming charity dinner, or other news.

I submitted another story just this week, I have feelers out with other businesses in the works, and I scour the internet daily for news of new openings and events. Sometimes just driving around and seeing what’s new pays off more. [Savannah Highway and Folly Road rarely disappoint with vintage automobiles, artfully hand-painted VW CamperVans, and otherwise unusual vehicles. And it’s nice to check in with the Coburg Cow and see what she’s wearing this month.]

If you did not already know, this blog has an About Me section (click the link to go there). It includes a slideshow of all the Wiser Time published pieces, the pieces as submitted are listed below that. Prior to Wiser Time, I was contributing to Eat This magazine. Prior to writing about food, I covered independent musicians live performances and recorded albums for Performer Magazine’s Southeastern edition. I have always been a music fan, but I do not play instruments or read music, nor do I sing professionally. I enjoyed learning about indie artists (deserved more attention than they get), but I found I felt limited in my commentary as just a fan. it was an awkward situation where I felt if I am not growing, I must be going. I had been a home-trained baker and cook from a very early age, so food writing was a more natural topic, and ultimately a better fit for me.

In my writing for Wiser Time, and even in creating the Sea Islands Dining Guide, I hope I have motivated residents and visitors to check out new places or discover ones that are new to them.

Traditional food critic pieces often take polarizing views. I write about food, but I am not a critic. I aim to tell readers about the people behind the business, their background in food, where they are from, what they are offering, what local businesses they used to get set up, where their produce is from if it’s local, and why you should try it at least once and make up your own mind.

You the reader know what you like or what sounds intriguing to your tastebuds.

You the reader know what your budget is any given night.

And it’s possible in reading my stories you may discover you and a chef or owner are from the same neighborhood in New Jersey, Maine, or Oklahoma, or Tokyo, for that matter. How cool is that?

I hope readers try the places out. I hope it becomes a new favorite, those readers would go back, and would even suggest it to a friend. With all the technology, media and experts that exist, word of mouth from a friend is still strongest endorsement tool any business has.

I have seen too many eateries come and go. Hanging the shingle is just the beginning, restaurants need fans, and buzz, and regulars. Ideally they would interview with every paper, mag, and blog they could because they all have different audiences and I’m not sure they all realize that. Communities need thriving businesses, employed workers, and a genuine feeling of community among their residents.

It is really awesome to see Downtown Charleston get so much national attention for its restaurant scene. That being said, I do think great places are opening up in the surrounding cities and boroughs** and they deserve some attention as well.

You do not have to go Downtown to get locally-grown food.

You do not have to be Downtown to eat well-crafted dishes from people who bring a lot of heart to what they do, whether that’s a burger, a slice of pizza or a hefty plate of Southern ‘fixins’.

You do not have to go Downtown to get craft beer.

And odds are, the parking is free, and there’s plenty of it.

I will close this post now. I need to go hunt down some future stories and do some baking.

**Mount Pleasant and James Island are towns. North Charleston is a city. West Ashley and Johns Island are part of Charleston.

Life is So “Unscripted” Anymore

Every time I go to sign my name with an ink pen, I am conscious that it will look terrible. I am out of practice; it is so rare I have to sign things in ink anymore. It’s even more rare that I have to write multiple words out in longhand.

If I have thank you notes to write, or postcards, I will write a draft out on on a sketchbook page, possibly multiple times. I want to get my words just right, and make sure they will fit the card’s dimensions in my handwriting. Then I copy the words onto the card with Zen-like concentration. The slightest distraction means leaving words out or “misscripting” the cursive–starting to draw one letter when I need another letter that probably looks nothing like the one I’ve just written. Or, giving my “n” or “m” too many humps. Forgetting that connected “r” or “i” after a “b’. Remembering what capital “Q” and “Z” are supposed look like. Needing a lower case “q” and accidentally drawing a” y” or “g” or “d”. !#$%&. That’s why they call it cursive. Thankfully, thank you cards come 8-12 to a pack.

So I was fascinated by a recent story about handwritten text messages. Designer Cristina Varenko received a calligraphy pen that had once belonged to a relative. She confides she felt chosen by this pen and it inspired her to create her own handwritten script typeface. She vowed that, for a week, she would only respond to text messages by handwriting her responses. She would write them on paper, take a photo of that paper, and upload that photo to her messaging window. The results of the experiment went viral.

Though we all receive the same instruction about how letters are formed, our script is very unique, more unique than handwritten print. As one of Varenko’s contacts responded, “It’s like you are here!” Her script had a visual “voice”–it reflected her personality, and the style and manner of how she expresses herself in person with her actual audible voice. That’s pretty remarkable.

To be fair, Varenko isn’t the only one to bring an analog style into a digital platform. Leah Dietrich‘s blog and twitter feature photos of thank you notes Dietrich writes to show gratitude for life’s great and not so great things.

Chef Alton Brown has responded to direct messages on twitter from fans, via Post-It Note and Sharpie marker, for over a year now. Brown’s voice on paper seems to be more pictures than words, but that’s really not surprising if you know his background: he was a filmmaker before he was a chef. While he can tell you, he would rather show you.

So I’m curious:

Could you handwrite & photo your text responses for a week?

Would you learn calligraphy, cursive or other hand-lettering art forms if your school curriculum didn’t require it? And by the way, many US public schools don’t cover cursive anymore.

Would you attempt analog communication styles (letters, postcards) if it was your choice, not circumstances?

Would you ever think of designing your own handwritten typeface? What would it look like? Would you design more than one?

__________________

FOLLOWUP: The day after I originally posted this, October 16, 2013 to be exact, #PSAT was trending on twitter. [It was one of those rare moments I could relate to people half my age! Haha.] Anyway, part of the test involved writing in cursive this year. Based on the comments on twitter, a lot of kids were positively stumped about how to do that. Interesting coincidence.

I’m Away From My Phone right now

“I’m Away From My Phone right now.” I wonder if anyone says this anymore.

Can anyone say this anymore?

Or, has the question become–can our phones ever get away from us?

Our phones are a constant contact mechanism and a global library in our pockets. I can’t argue they might be the most convenient thing ever created. Prior to this Fall, I thought I wasn’t as addicted as other people who always seem to have a phone on their ear. On my phone, I use the camera (visual notes for blogposts, typos on signs, foodgeek stuff) and the web the most.

But then we took a trip out of the country.

We switched off our data to save on international fees and only used internet on the hotel wi-fi in the evenings. It didn’t take long to notice how cut off I felt from the information universe and how little I’d strategized “getting around without the phone”:

  • I should have brought an Atlas so it was easier to navigate during the day.
  • I should have checked in a hotel in advance that was relatively safe, with walkable eateries and stuff to see nearby.
  • I should have researched big events happening in our destination during the dates we were there. When we arrived, many hotels were booked. We declined the honeymoon suite at the Best Western** and fortunately found something more reasonable. The trip was a success and a joyful event, we did what we came to do. But I learned a lot about what I would do differently if we make an international trip again. [Which, I hope so.]

Procrastinating and then expecting the instant gratification of a multi-talented phone is a bad default for a travel game plan. Anyone stuck with a dead battery and no charger***, or stuck in a no-fi community would also be in this situation, or one like it.

So is it dumb to be overly attached to a smartphone? Probably yes–but let me Google that to make sure… (wink)

*=once we found a hotel, I used my computer and hotel wi-fi to look up places we had to be the next day. I copy + pasted the directions into an email to myself and hit send. Then on my phone, I pulled up that email and copy+pasted the directions into my phone’s desktop Notepad, with the title of “Directions to X”, and “Directions to Y”. I thought I’d pass it on just in case any readers are traveling and could use it.

**=no offense BW, but ?! Some hotels should have a honeymoon suite, especially in a wedding city, but here? Suburbs of a college town in surrounded by farms on either side?

***=if you have no charger or lost your charger, and you’re in the US, try to find a Walgreens. They have Tech&Go chargers and adapters in about six colors.

FOLLOWUP: A nomophobe is someone who fears loss of their phone. For more information on mobile devices impact on our bodies, well-being, and well, everything, see this story at Computer World.