The other day I received an e-letter that made me cringe. I signed up for the e-letter because I respect the writer and value her insights. I’m not one to unsubscribe just because I notice a few typos—I occasionally make them myself, after all—but I did raise my eyebrows when I noticed that—not once but twice—she used “past” when she meant “passed.” Yes, twice the context called for the past tense of the verb “to pass,” but she instead used the adjective “past.”
I’ve mentioned before that I try to keep my nitpicking in check. I’m not interested in being that person who points out everyone else’s mistakes, and I’m usually OK with the evolution of the English language. But sometimes I can’t help but feel a little bit of embarrassment for others’ mistakes, like I did when I read the “past” email. I’m 99% sure that this woman knows the difference between the homophones. She was probably mortified when she realized her mistake. That kind of oversight can happen to anyone, including us nitpickers. Keep your email embarrassments to a minimum by following these rules:
- Don’t rely on spell check. Spell-checking programs miss many of the most common errors. Its/It’s confusions, for example, sneak right through. As you proof your emails, keep an eye out for those kinds of errors in particular.
- Triple check anything you change. This used to happen to me all the time: I’d be proofing my writing, decide to make a change and realize too late that the change completely confused the sentence. Since, in my mind, I was “fixing” the sentence, it didn’t always occur to me that it might not be for the best. Now I make a point to read over those changes an extra time to ensure that the new sentence is grammatically correct, flows and isn’t confusing.
- Don’t write when you’re tired or distracted. Almost inevitably, the emails, Facebook messages and blog comments I write first thing in the morning include at least one error. My brain just doesn’t cooperate before I’m fully awake. If you have to write when you’re tired or distracted, save the piece to review when you’re more alert.
- Know your weaknesses. Since the e-letter writer used the wrong form of “passed” twice in one message, I’m guessing it wasn’t the first time she’d made that mistake. Pay attention to the slip-ups you’re prone to, and look for them when you proof your work. For some reason I err on contractions, so I always review my work to see if I used “it’s” when it should have been “its,” “you’re” when it should have been “your” and “they’re” when it should have been “there” or “their.” I catch more of them than I’d like to admit!
How do you avoid email embarrassment?