The hands-down best way to beat typos for good

typosmainI don’t mean to toot my own horn, but back in high school, I was pretty darn good at algebra. Mediocre at geometry, but algebra? That was a cinch.

Even though I cruised through the class, however, I didn’t achieve perfect grades. I had all the theorems down, had memorized the formulas, could solve for X in my head, no pencil necessary. But when test time came around, I rushed through, heady in my own “aha!” moments. I forgot about the details. My Achilles heel: the good ol’ minus sign. I would drop it, add it, smudge it, fudge it. The points fell away and my teacher’s notes were oh-so predictable. It turns out, with algebra, as with language, the details are everything.

What’s the big deal about details?

Getting the details right is difficult, I won’t pretend for a second that it isn’t. That’s why editors of all varieties exist, from developmental editors to line editors to copy editors to proofreaders to color checkers. They safeguard accuracies, reputations, trustworthiness. After all, if you can’t trust an expert source, whether it’s a blogger or an international newspaper, to get things like pronoun agreement and punctuation correct, how can you trust them about the larger ideas?

The bottom line: You can’t. That’s why details are important.

And consider what a typo says to a reader: You don’t care enough to take the time to get it right, to make your copy clean. Would you send your boss an email without reading it through for inaccuracies? Absolutely not. You shouldn’t treat your audience with any less respect, lest you lose their attention entirely after one rogue comma or silly capitalization too many.

The technique that will save you time and embarrassment

Here it is, I won’t make you work for it: Read your work out loud, every single word, twice.

You don’t have to burn paper (though printing and reading your piece over, pen in hand, is an even better way to catch silly inaccuracies, and is my preferred method of reworking a piece). You don’t even have to read it a zillion times. Read it through once, slowly and loudly. If you trip over a sentence, rewrite it. If you’re not sure what you’re saying, rethink and rewrite. Take out silly typos, consider agreement and parallel language, think about whether or not the punctuation you used is the punctuation that best serves your purpose. Remove extraneous words—“just,” “very,” “really,” and “that” can often be done away with.

Finished? Read it through once more, slowly and loudly once again. This is your final polish. The intent: To make sure you make sense, and that the previous round of substantial editing didn’t leave a mess of misplaced letters and displaced periods in its wake.

Once you’re pleased with your work—and I believe you should be before you press “publish”—copy and paste it into your content management system of choice, preview the draft to double check your formatting, and make that sucker live for the whole wide world to read.

What to do if a mistake slips through

Take a deep breath. A rare mistake is not the end of the world. The most honest way to make a correction is to first admit that there is an error. You don’t have to leave it in the copy, but do include an addendum to your blog post, email, article—whatever it is you’ve written and published—that includes the date it was edited and the nature of the revision. This is standard newspaper protocol, and will align your work and standards with the best of the best. What more could you ask for?

How do you deal with the details? Please share your typo-proof tips in the comments!

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