It’s infuriating, but spelling mistakes and small writing errors are very common. If you write a lot it is going to happen, the trick is to catch those errors before anyone else sees them.
An error strewn document just doesn’t look professional. It doesn’t matter whether you are writing a term paper, an email, a company report or a Facebook post, your writing reflects on your personality.
I’m going to look at four techniques you can use to pinpoint any mistakes you’ve made writing your document. They are simple but if you follow through, they are very effective.
Of course, I have turned this post into a video if viewing is your thing.
Catch spelling mistakes before you make them
Before we look at those four techniques, let’s just highlight common writing mistakes, spelling banana skins that trip us all up.
Here are some of the main culprits to look out for as you’re writing.
Words with double letters
In speech they sound the same, that’s why they can trip you up as you write them.
Swimming, accommodate, address, illegal, acceptable are all examples of common spelling mistakes.
Desert and dessert are two completely different things with the omission of one ‘s’.
The rules are very confusing. We often put double letters before a vowel.
Stop becomes Stopped. Big becomes bigger. Prefer becomes preferred. Travel becomes travelled. But we only double consonants that come at the end of a word.
Hop becomes hopping but hope becomes hoping. Fat becomes fatter but fast becomes faster, not fastter. Needless to say, it is best to double-check double letters.
Words that sound the same
Then you’ve got your words that sound the same but have different meanings.
Their, there, they’re, whether, weather, right, write, sites, sights. When you are writing at speed it is easy to overlook these or for auto-correct to misspell something for you.
Most of the time we just add an S and we’re done, if the word ends in a Y, we add ies. But there are several words that are tricky. The words ending in o trip a lot of people up. Tomato becomes tomatoes, potato becomes potatoes, echo becomes echoes but that is difficult to pick up when you know logo becomes logos and photo becomes photos.
Silent letters fool people all the time – su(b)tle, (k)nife, (p)neumatic, mus(c)le, as(th)ma, san(d)wich, bou(gh)t, cau(gh)t, (h)onest, (h)our, cu(p)board, (w)rite.
The lesson is we can’t rely on spelling the way we speak. We just have to learn how to spell the most problematic words. Here are 240 of the most common spelling mistakes.
If you need a book to show you the rights from wrongs, I would highly recommend Michael Swan – Practical English Usage. It is always by my desk.
Four techniques to catch your mistakes
Okay, so you have written your piece, done your best to avoid the mistakes in the first place. What do you do now?
Every writing software will have some form of spellcheck. This is a boon and a bane. We often rely on it too much. Don’t get me wrong, it is a massive time-saver. All those red and blue squiggly lines quickly highlight spelling and grammar to correct. But spellcheck is not infallible.
It is the first thing you should check when you finish but it is not the last thing you should do.
By all means, put your cursor at the top of your document and ask spellcheck to go over it. The software will quickly catch most of your errors, as well as double spacings, errant commas and full stops. It is fantastic.
However, sometimes your spelling is okay but the phrasing is off.
Example. The cat sat at the mat. Spellcheck was fine with that.
If you are using acronyms or product names that the software doesn’t recognise, be wary.
2. Read out loud
Take whatever you have written and read it out loud. Don’t be tempted to cheat and read it in your head (alright you can do that but it will not work as well.)
Reading out loud lets you hear the words. You hear the pacing. You hear where the emphasis is in your sentence. You hear where you naturally take a breath. If it sounds wrong, you hear it very clearly.
Spelling mistakes are exposed as you stumble over them.
3. Read in reverse order
This is something I learned from an old print production guy. This was the person that was responsible for the print output of the advertising agency. He was from the era when print runs were built on metal type. Mistakes could not easily be rectified.
He told me the best way to pick up spelling mistakes was to read a piece of copy backwards. Start at the last word and read toward the front. That way you are not looking at the meaning you are just focusing on each word. Is it spelt correctly?
4. Fresh eyes
A publishing house will employ proof readers and editors to read a document because quite often the writer cannot see the mistakes.
During the process of writing we go back and forth over what we have written, a change here and change there. We want to make the meaning perfect. As a copywriter I will write the same piece several times before I am happy. It then goes through a complex approval process, comments are added, more changes made. It is quite easy to make mistakes.
If you have written and re-written your document you will have almost memorized the text. You know what you want to say. It is very easy to read your text on automatic pilot; you know what the words are so you don’t really analyse it.
That is when a fresh pair of eyes comes in useful. Get someone to read your text who has not seen it before. They will see things that you can’t.
For perfect spelling, don’t rely on spellcheck to catch all your mistakes. You need to trick your brain into hearing what you have written or you mind will skip over the mistakes it doesn’t believe are there.