How to Make Yourself Look Udderly Ridiculous

Yes, that’s a typo in the title.

I first encountered this incorrect spelling of “utter” in a student essay on the “udder destruction” of a character. For days, I was clutching my breasts and feeling pity for cows.

Some student typos are really amusing, and—unless you’ve got a dominatrix for an English professor—it’s unlikely that one of them will lead to an F.

But mistakes in your corporate communications—even just one or two of them—are an altogether different story. They’re no laughing matter. Mistakes destroy consumer confidence and cause you to lose sales.

Think you’re immune from such errors? Think again.

Lately, I’ve been exploring a lot of websites. I’m branching out beyond the ivory towers of academia in order to launch a series of online programs for college and high school students, and I want to see how other entrepreneurs are presenting themselves. So after reading posts on Laura’s blog and watching Marie Forleo’s Q & A Tuesday videos, I often check out people’s comments and their sites.

Guess what? Even though I’m not in official editing mode, I find a lot of mistakes.

3 Glaring Mistakes

“Start woking with an expert.”
“We promote heath and wellness.”
“I create professionally-written cover letters.”

No, the solopreneur in the first example isn’t selling innovative wok services. She’s presenting herself as an experienced administrative assistant. The company referenced in the second example offers diagnostic screening services—not a Heath bar fortified with blue-green algae. Now, the last mistake might not seem as obvious as the others, but it’s still a common blooper. Let me explain, so you don’t make the same kind of error.

Rule: Use a hyphen when joining 2 or more words that serve as an adjective before a noun, but don’t use one when joining –ly adverbs.

Examples: Laura Roeder is a well-respected expert on social media marketing. Michelle Vargas is the woman behind Marie’s professionally shot videos.

#1 Reason Mistakes Cost You Clients

Quite simply, they destroy the “Know, Like, and Trust” factor you’ve worked so hard to cultivate. . .even if your service or product seems to have nothing to do with writing.

Consider this. The authors of the mistakes are from diverse fields: corporate administration, medicine, and communications. Nevertheless, their clients are all looking for someone who’s capable of ensuring that nothing—not even the smallest detail—is overlooked. They need an assistant they can trust to correctly enter information into their systems, want to know the practice can properly label and screen the vials of blood they’ve drawn, and must feel confident that the writer can get rid of the mistakes they can’t catch themselves.

Underneath it all, the same thing is true of your clients. If they notice you don’t catch (or don’t hire someone to catch) seemingly small things like typos, how are they going to be able to trust you with bigger, more significant tasks?

4 Ways to Avoid Looking Utterly Ridiculous

1. Create a checklist. If you’re like most of my clients, you already know that you tend to mess up in certain areas, so create a separate document where you can jot down your trouble zones, write out the rule, and include both correct and incorrect examples from your own writing. Print out your checklist and refer back to it every time you write something.

2. Proofread! Print out your copy and get some distance from it. When proofreading, it’s vital to be in an alert state, so you might need several short sessions. Put the point of your pencil beneath each word and read your copy very s-l-o-w-l-y. If you read at your normal speed, your mind is apt to do things like insert words that aren’t actually on the page. Go the extra mile by double-checking words in the dictionary. (My favorite is www.merriam-webster.com.) Enter the necessary changes, print out the document, and read it once more.

3. Use the best free online resources. There’s no shortage of free online advice, but some of it is wrong! If you want trustworthy, easy-to-understand information about things like grammar and punctuation, I recommend The Purdue Online Writing Lab (OWL): http://owl.english.purdue.edu.

4. Invest in an online reference work. Right now, I’m loving the AP Stylebook Online, which I use when editing and writing for the BB&T Charleston Wine + Food Festival®. For $25 a year, you get this amazing resource, which is easy to search and includes comprehensive information on punctuation, grammar, and spelling as well as social media guidelines and more. Check it out at www.apstylebook.com.

Have any great tips or resources? Post them in the comments. I’m always curious!

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Jennifer BernsteinJennifer B. Bernstein is a professional editor and writer, an award-winning literary scholar, and the creator of Get Yourself Into College™ and Create Your Amazingly Successful Life!™--a series of live and online programs for high school and college students as well as recent graduates. To book your FREE 10-minute review of one of your pages, sign up at http://jenniferbbernstein.com/editing-writing.

Comments

  1. Here’s a nice resource i use on a regular basis:
    Paper Rater
    http://www.paperrater.com/free_paper_grader
    It gives you feedback about word choice, grammar, readablility, spelling and more.

    • Charlotte,
      That’s an interesting site. I especially like the way they point out the length of your sentences and provide certain statistical data. In fact, I might actually have my students experiment with it. However, I want to check out their terms of usage. I wonder if they hold onto the material.
      Best,
      Jenn

  2. Great and timely article particularly during this day and age where email and texting are the “norm” and grammar seems to have fallen by the wayside. I still find it frustrating when I see people misuse their, there and they’re and other similar words especially when I know they are not shortening it to be casual like with the use of BTW, LOL, LMK.
    Write, review and proofread are so important – particularly to maintain your “know, like and trust” factor.

  3. This is a terrific post, Jennifer. Thank you for shining a light on this issue. So many of us who work with words all day sometimes get lost in the writing and forget about the all-too-important editing phase. There is a reason that authors have editors… because we tend to miss our own mistakes!

    On a related note, I almost lost a client because of the auto-correct function in my word processing program. The program kept changing the company name (also my client’s last name) because it thought I was misspelling another common word. An editor would have caught the mistake before I sent my document out… lesson learned!

  4. Hahah! Yes!

    I’ve found tons of mistakes on people’s sites, and I have had (thankfully!) wonderful people comment on some of my stupid typos.

    They make a difference…

    Thanks – great post!

    • Kat,

      It always amazes me how many people put so much time, love, attention, and money into their website but then overlook the editing and proofreading of the content. I know I’m nutty when it comes to these details, but some mistakes really cause me to lose confidence. Of course, we all make mistakes! Thanks for taking the time to comment.

      Best,
      Jenn

  5. Tried and true advice! It’s always the little things that set you apart. Proper grammar is definitely one of them. Thanks!

  6. I just hope that our bovine friends out there are not offended by all this talk of “udderly ridiculous.” :-)

    Utterly delicious article, Jenn.

    Marie

  7. Completely true, what all has been pointed out on this post is right on point. Proofreading is very, very important. It may not be possible to write great posts all the time but whatever the article may be effort should be made to make it error free.