Even Grammar Gurus Make Mistakes

By Mark Nichol

I’ve noticed that I’ve been overlooking more mistakes in these posts recently — or perhaps it’s just that I haven’t been making fewer errors as I go along, as I would have expected after six months’ worth of almost daily submissions.

Thanks to astute site visitors who (usually) politely point out typographical errors, I note that occasionally I type the wrong form of a word (necessary instead of necessarily, for example), or that, when I provide a sample sentence with an error and then provide an annotated correction, sometimes I forget to actually correct the sentence. (Does that jive — I mean, jibe — with your observation?)

I’d like to be able to tell you, “I meant to do that — I just wanted to see if anybody was paying attention,” but the truth is, I make mistakes. And, like most bloggers, I don’t have an editor to sweep up after me. And, as I’ve often said, especially to people unfamiliar with the professional publishing world’s writing-editing-proofreading protocol, everybody needs an editor — even editors.

But before you send me your resume, note that we’re not hiring — blogs are, by their nature, a more or less spontaneous medium of communication (though I try to review my work carefully), and, anyway, DailyWritingTips.com doesn’t have the resources to implement a more traditional editorial procedure (not yet, at least).

I realize all too well that in my advisory capacity, I have a responsibility to strive for rigorous flawlessness — a nearly impossible task I will nonetheless continually attempt to accomplish, but I also thank you in arrears and in advance for your (good-natured, I hope) comments about each lapsus clavis.

Speaking of slip-ups, there are mechanical errors, and there are errors of fact. I do not claim to be an unimpeachable authority on every topic I write about. But I have spent many years intensively acquiring a practical knowledge of language, and by teaching editing (which I used to do), writing about composition (which I do now), and researching language usage (which I have always done), I have learned and processed much about writing and editing. In this forum, I welcome the opportunity to share that knowledge and insight with you, and in this forum, you are welcome — and encouraged — to respond in kind.

Note this well, however: If you disagree with anything I write about writing, that’s your prerogative. But don’t rely on your assumptions — or your education. (Those influences often coalesce imperfectly, and educators make mistakes, too.) The best way to learn is to consult multiple sources and develop your own understanding at a point where those sources intersect — and note that I didn’t refer to a fixed point. I endeavor to be consistent yet flexible, and I heartily recommend that attitude to all.

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32 Responses to “Even Grammar Gurus Make Mistakes”

  • Freelance Jobs Guru

    Though sometimes I tend to do just that, most of the time it can’t be helped. And getting aware of that is another problem, unless someone explicitly points it out to you. Eitherway, a quick check on your final output or saying it out loud would probably solve the problem.

    I can sympathize with you on that, since we all do make mistakes!

  • Moiby

    I remember once writing a job application where I mentioned my assiduous attention to detail – and yes, after I sent it, I realised I had a glaring typo in a sub-heading. Since then I have instead written that I strive to be meticulous. It’s hard to catch every slip-up when you are so familiar with the subject matter – and amazing what a ‘fresh’ pair of eyes can catch.
    Don’t feel bad about an occasional mishap.
    It is important to be correct, but it is more important to be pleasant when identifying required corrections.
    I very much enjoy your posts.

  • Deborah H

    Mark, thank you for all your hard work (and Maeve and Daniel, too). This is a splendid website, and I love reading here.

  • Alicia Jay

    I always feel a little extra pressure whenever I’m writing anything. As a transcriptionist and proofreader, it’s my job NOT to make mistakes. However, we’re human! So, don’t worry. I’m not wagging my finger at you:)

  • Krista

    Thank you for all your hard work! I love receiving my email every day.

  • Rebecca

    Yesterday, I had an editor email me to let me know I spelled The Travel Channel’s Andrew Zimmern’s name wrong. I was grateful she notified me of my error. I corrected it straightaway.

  • Jan Tallent

    Great article, Mark. I am a proofreader and like you, I try, try, try to always make things perfect but will often miss my own “uhohs” and errors where I will usually find everybody else’s.

    I think our minds SEE what we know we MEANT, making it harder to notice our own mistakes BUT yours is still my very favorite “writing” advice and I appreciate all you share with us.

    Jan 🙂

  • shirley in berkeley

    Mark, thank you for all your hard work! Language and grammar go hand in hand, but aren’t always on the same side. I tend to side with language over grammar, but in a U.C. Extension class I took years ago with Max Knight, I learned that, in editing, style may rule over both. When I have read your blogs, I have always been impressed by the graceful clarity of your style, and perhaps that’s why I haven’t noticed much in the way of goofs.

    I shouldn’t think you have much to apologize for in any case.

  • George Cooper

    Hi, Mark, for the past six-months, your blog has been a must-read for me daily. I find your posts are both instructive and entertaining.

    Over time, I have noticed more errors here, and in other blogs. I’m sure this is because of what I’ve learned by reading your posts. Now, I’m more critical of everything I read. Before, I think, I skipped over mistakes; the old-grey-matter made the corrections and I kept reading. Today, I note the errors and learn from them.

    Mostly I think: “There but for the grace of God, go I.”  I wonder what mistakes I’ll find after hitting the send button?

    Thanks,

    George

  • Precise Edit

    Here’s how we find and correct as many mistakes as possible.
    1) On-screen proof by person A.
    2) Hard copy proof by person A.
    3) Hard copy proof by person B.
    4) On-screen quality check by person A.
    5) Repeat 2-4 as necessary.

    Our standard of quality is no more than one remaining error for every 50 pages (about 15,000 words). We usually get pretty close by using this process. I had to train my freelancers, though, to get them to do things like correct missing serial commas. College professors are the hardest to train. I finally had to write a training manual to show them what to do.

    Regarding my own work: I already know that I won’t catch all my own errors. I’ll try, of course, but I’ll fail. I always need someone else to read my writing.

    Other than the process above, the best strategy I have found is to read aloud. Reading aloud allows the brain to interact with the text in a different way than reading silently. It also (usually) forces a person to focus on every word and punctuation mark.

    I don’t recommend the reading backwards approach. It’s difficult to parse sentences this way.

  • Cindy

    Let us not forget the human portion of this equation. when I am blogging, I dont have to worry about my grammar or composition. I am,after all, just an amateur. I believe we can forgive you an error or two.

  • shirley in berkeley

    In law offices, a tried-and-true method is for one person to read aloud (including punctuation) while another person follows on a second copy. Proper names are spelled out. Time consuming and expensive, but almost fail-safe.

  • Naomi Hamm

    You know you are so right. At this point in time, the houses( I mean the sl;ush-pile ones) also are expecting us to show our real true professionalism and not to do the awesomely-many mistakes we are often doing.

    Sometimes I find instead of posting something right away, why not wait until some other time after you have the time to take to go over it all and look carefully at the many mistakes you have already made. Punctuation, spellling, grammer mistakes, not phrashing sentences properly, making sure you have the right sources to write the correct things on or about someone or something.

    And to go over them again with a much more bigger fine-tooth comb.

    A lot of us have to not just be our own lit9literary agents and PR (Publiuc Relations Agents) as well as own secretaires but also do our own editing, proofreading and rewriting.

    It teaches us therefore, consistency and the power of details.

  • Naomi Hamm

    okay now do any of u see any mistakes perhaphs too, like I do, well hee hee I will patiently bide my time til then. right.

  • Naomi Hamm

    Allow me this folks and fellow-writers and supporters of me and thee-Steve Gillman; about.com Tom Bird, but i bet I got you’ all salivating hmmm, I can just see it now.

    But wait, keep em guessing, and on the edge of their seats, til next time we do blog and email, then and only then will u begin, you will see I am write!

  • Naomi Hamm

    When you are writing whether it is a book an ebook, blog post, etc keep em eager for more, do not tell everything and keep the best of it for later. That way it releases you from doing too much and staying fresh and it keeps your fans and supporters hanging on your every last words until they open up the book again, or go online, etc.

    Keep the juicy juice until next time, stash under your belt or in your diary but just hang on to it til the next time, I know you won’t regret it!

  • Bob Kaplan

    In the past, when I used to do a lot of writing, I would read my books 3 or 4 times, and my blog posts maybe twice that many times, looking for typos and spelling errors. With each reading, I found additional errors, but it seemed like I usually found even more errors after submitting something for publishing.

  • Andrea Wenger

    Yes, pressing the submit button is the single best way to spot an error. Switching to a different font can help, too.

    Best typo I ever saw was in an email discussion list for technical editors. One of these professional editors left out the letter “f” in “shift.” No one pointed it out, because professional editors understand better than anyone how difficult it is to edit your own work.

  • Stacy Jensen

    I love this site. I appreciate the daily tips. I understand all about typos as a former newsprint journalist. With greater access, I find I will randomly mention a typo to a news source. I typically include a line that I sadly know how an L becomes missing in public. I hate my mistakes.

  • Jeff Thorne

    I look for the tips every day. Some are not relevant but I find that my mind is checking every word I write systematically. Your posts are helping my writing, as I pay more attention to grammar and punctuation. I thank you for being heroic in a world of cynics and nay-sayers and for being honest in your own work. You are helping willing writers! Thankyou.

  • Bill

    Precise Edit is correct on the steps needed to catch errors; you can’t beat hard copy when it comes to finding mistakes. I have no idea why I catch things on paper that I don’t on a screen but I do. Perhaps I don’t pay attention the same way to something so ephemeral? People don’t read copy online the way they do in print, so I guess it makes sense. Sadly, you can say brilliant things but if the details aren’t right few will listen. Naomi Hamm may be a genius, but who would take grammar advice from people who misspell grammar?

  • Sharon Roffey

    I totally agree with the comments made by Jan Tallent. I am so good at finding other people’s mistakes … only to make the occasional silly one myself. Embarrassing, isn’t it? The only way around that is a second pair of eyes. No doubt about it!

    And I join everyone else who said it … I look forward to the Daily Writing Tips e-mail. Great work. Keep it up.

  • KC

    In my experience, increasing one’s vitamin levels, especially all B vitamins along with D3 to the top level of the measurable ranges, can increase one’s energy and mental clarity thus reducing one’s initial writing errors.

  • Innocent

    Spotting mistakes can be a tricky business, especially when we’re more used to reading for accuracy – have a look at this passage.

    I cnduol’t bvleiee taht I culod aulaclty uesdtannrd waht I was rdnaieg. Unisg the icndeblire pweor of the hmuan mnid, aocdcrnig to rseecrah at Cmabrigde Uinervtisy, it dseno’t mttaer in waht oderr the lterets in a wrod are, the olny irpoamtnt tihng is taht the frsit and lsat ltteer be in the rhgit pclae. The rset can be a taotl mses and you can sitll raed it whoutit a pboerlm. Tihs is bucseae the huamn mnid deos not raed ervey ltteer by istlef, but the wrod as a wlohe.

  • CindyC

    I love what you said here and especially how you said it. A few years ago I was extremely frustrated by my masters thesis advisor because she continually made glaring mistakes in her “corrections” to my work – to the point where I had to not only triple my efforts at making my citations perfect, but had to cite the APA manual to prove I did it right! She didn’t like my writing style, but I found her attempts at corrections atrocious. She finally admitted she had used the university writing centers at her various institutions to edit every major writing effort up through her doctoral dissertation. Educators definitely can make mistakes but it takes a big person to have the humility to admit it…and the sense of humor 😉

    Thanks for your helpful advice. Keep it comin’.

  • sandra

    I find that I make and miss many mistakes because I read so many examples of people slaughtering the English language. “To” and “too”, “your” and “you’re”, “it’s” and “its” are not interchangeable! The bright spot in my morning is seeing your e-mail and knowing that there are people out there (not “their”) who love the English language. Thank you!

  • Prof KRG

    The truth is that it’s just so much easier to see error in others’ writing than it is in your own. I usually spot an error or two in just about every blog I post. The funny thing about it is that I read them at least four different times (usually in different formats) before they are published. Nobody’s perfect, right?

  • pat

    You rock!!! What mistakes? I devour your articles and all it costs me his my eyes. Most people want things from me I don’t want to give for the lessons I get from them. They take my heart and crush it, my skin and rip it and feed me bull in payment for the lesson. Can you understand why I think you rock? Because you do. A free education is what I receive. I am pink and tickled. A fan.

  • Amanda Collins

    So very true! My company IS The Grammar Doctors, yet I still make mistakes. Thank goodness we’re all human. 🙂

  • Claire Kellerman

    I’ll speak my Heart: I’m grateful for your insights, honesty and style.
    As a freelance, and employed, writer, editor, & permaculture designer for ERGOparent.com, I am very grateful for your daily tips, your beautiful transparency, and your invitation to a community of cooperation.

    I accept your every word in celebration of being a life-long learner no longer stuck in a rigid box of my own construction.

    Aloha, Claire/ERGOparent.com writer, editor, photographer…

  • Mothiluj

    I totally appreciate having found this site and read your comments and also the coments of others. I graduated uni with a JOU degree, and I have written for some papers, but I tend to now shy away from telling people I am a journalist when they ask me, because they take on the assumption that you are a grammar/syntax/etymology/punctuation expert and that you could/should/must/never/would ever make any mistakes in writing nor speaking!!
    That bugs me to the core, because I find tons on mistakes in my writing, especially when I am in a hurry to pen my thoughts down before I forget what exactly it is that was i n my mind to say.
    even yesterday I was in some sort of a business discussion with “a choleric-type idiot, without uni education, yet calls itself an entrepreneur” who asked me wheter I really call myself a journalist because there have been some errors in the email we exchanged prior to our meeting.
    i was so ticked off because my being a journalist had nothing to do with the conversation at hand. But this vermine was nothing but a thorn in the flesh seeking to urk up people’s nerves in order to enhance self-gratification that a choleric-type personality endulges in. You can tell it touched a nerve in me as I am now searching the Web to find info on why I am making mistakes in my writing — which is how I came upon your Web site.
    So, not to have a pity party or anything, but I am glad that there are other guru/professional writers out there who somehow make “some” mistakes — here and there — in their writing and it’s not only just me! No one under this sun can be perfect.

    thanks again.

  • Silvia G.Martinez

    Dear Mark, once again you demonstrate to us (readers of your daily posts) that you are not only a good writer but a nice person. I think it´s hard to recognize our limits as profesionals which I´m not saying you have any. You´ve showed such a wonderful management of style and vocabulary that mistakes (if they existed) would never belittle your work.

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