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    Carla Foote Email: carlacfoote (at) gmail (dot) com
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Pointing out Mistakes

As an editor, I spot mistakes regularly – in the morning newspaper, on grocery store signs, on websites, and in brochures. Mistakes are everywhere.

Once I’ve spotted a mistake, I have to decide whether or not to point out the mistake. It is tempting to always point out mistakes, but that can make editors annoying friends.

If the mistake can be easily corrected, then I will point it out. Mistakes on websites are quick and easy to fix. When I saw an issue on a brochure that is going to be used for a year or more, I let the responsible person know so that when he reprinted it, he could correct the mistake.

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However, when there was a typo on a flier that would only be relevant for a few weeks, I let it go. The organization was not going to reprint the flier, so it wasn’t worth pointing out the error. But the mistake still bothered me – I can’t un-notice errors.

If there is a process improvement that will prevent future mistakes from occurring, then I do usually point out errors. I might even mention that I am available for contract work!

During a beach vacation, I spotted a glaring error in a message scrawled in the sand. I just couldn’t resist, I had to add the missing letter. My husband still teases me about never turning off my editorial brain.

Editing Out Loud

During a dinner table conversation, I read an interesting piece of copy to my husband. It was from an editorial project I’d worked on earlier in the day and I thought he would resonate with the topic. As I was reading the selection out loud, I noticed a typo. What should have been the word “it” was “if” in this first draft. Not a problem, because the article was still in the early stages of the edit and design phase and I could easily make corrections. But the experience reminded me of the value of reading out loud to catch errors.

Brains are amazing in speed and ability. Fluent readers quickly move through text and their brains process content so quickly that many small errors are smoothed over in the process. This is especially true if the reader is already familiar with the content. It is as if  the brain has an autocorrect feature – one that is much better than autocorrect on texts!

So how do we counteract this auto-correcting brain process and catch errors before they get to print?

First of all, having another person who is not familiar with the text perform a round of copyediting is important. Another reader will have fresh eyes and not be lulled into skipping small errors.

However, sometimes fresh eyes are not available for a project. In this case, taking the time to slow down and read the text out loud, pronouncing each word, can reveal lingering errors.

I also find that planning sufficient time for a break in my schedule improves the quality of my work. I try to finish up a project or chunk of work the day before it is due. Then I can give myself some space and let the project (and my brain) rest overnight. In the morning, a fresh round of edits will catch any errors that might not have been obvious at the end of a full day of work.

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