Showing posts with label proofreading. Show all posts
Showing posts with label proofreading. Show all posts

A Proofreading Tip--from Psychology

I ran across this interesting video from Bite Size Psych.  It's about a 3-question test given to college students--many of whom miss at least one of the questions.  The test reveals cognitive bias, that quick conclusion-making that can sometimes lead us astray.  And it's exactly the type of thing that makes it difficult to spot typos in our own work.

Studies seem to show that students do better on tests when...get this...the font is hard to read.  It slows down the brain's processing, giving you time to really think instead of simply jumping to the easiest conclusion.

So, the brilliant proofreading tip:  when you're ready to do that final proof, change the font on your document to something unusual and hard to read.  You'll find more errors.

Just don't forget to change it back.

Check out the full video here:  The Simple Riddle that More than 50% of Harvard Students Got Wrong

Melinda Brasher currently teaches English as a second language in the beautiful Czech Republic.  She loves the sound of glaciers calving and the smell of old books.  Her travel articles and short fiction appear in Go NomadInternational LivingElectric SpecIntergalactic Medicine Show, and others.  For an e-book collection of some of her favorite published pieces, check out Leaving Home.  For something a little more medieval, read her YA fantasy novel, Far-KnowingVisit her online at

Avoiding Common Punctuation Errors Part 6: Hyphens in Compound Adjectives

Compound Adjectives before Nouns

If punctuation is a guide to help your reader understand more quickly and easily, then hyphens can be very useful signposts.  One of the most important and overlooked functions of the hyphen is to warn the reader, "Hey, I'm a compound adjective!"  Unfamiliar with the terminology?  It doesn't matter.  Your readers' brains are familiar with the reality.

Take this classic example: 

Hyphens, just like commas, can decide who lives and who dies.

Hyphens in Compound Adjectives

A compound adjective is two words that function as one word to modify a noun.  In "man-eating alligator," man and eating work together as one unit.  It's not a man alligator and an eating alligator.  It's a man-eating alligator.

Rule:  If a compound adjective comes before a noun, you can (and often should) hyphenate it. 

A thin-bladed knife
A 30-mile race
A nervous-looking boy
A leather-bound book
Bird-like legs
A well-known politician

Exception : If the compound adjective uses an adverb ending in –ly, don't hyphenate. This is because the –ly already alerts the reader that this will be a compound adjective.

A badly cooked steak
A wildly painted car
A quickly written memo

Note:  Some people prefer to leave out the hyphen if the meaning is clear without, but that can be dangerous.  The meaning is obvious to you, since you wrote it.  The reader doesn't have the same advantage.  So be careful if you decide to omit these hyphens.  And always be on the lookout for situations where the lack of hyphen can completely change the meaning, as in the examples below.

Hyphens Clear up Ambiguity

From Grammar Monkeys:

Small-state senator (a senator from a small state)
Small state senator (a state senator who is short and thin)

A violent weather conference (a weather conference where people punch each other a lot)
A violent-weather conference (where meteorologists professionally discuss violent weather)

A hot yoga teacher (an attractive yoga teacher)
A hot-yoga teacher (one who teaches yoga in a purposely hot environment, as in the style of Bikram yoga)

From (a great resource)

I have a few more important things to do. (A few more tasks remain on my list of important things to do)
I have a few more-important things to do. (I can't do what you suggest because I have tasks that are more important.)

He returned the stolen vehicle report. (At first, most of us will think he returned the vehicle he stole.  Then we come to "report" and we're confused.)
He returned the stolen-vehicle report. (Here it's clear that what he's returning is a report about a stolen vehicle.  The vehicle is probably still missing.)


Students who live in two parent homes (students who split their time between two homes where parents also live)
Students who live in two-parent homes (students who live in a home with both parents)

From Wikipedia:

Zero-liability protection (you are not responsible in any way if something bad happens)
Zero liability protection (you have no zero protection if something bad happens)

Examples I've come across lately in reading:

Hard sell tactics (selling tactics which are difficult to perform)
Hard-sell tactics (aggressive selling tactics which perhaps play on the fears of the potential buyer)

A long deserted chamber (a long—perhaps narrow—chamber that happens to be deserted at the moment)
A long-deserted chamber (a chamber that has been deserted for a long time)

Hyphens Make Reading Smoother

Here are some other examples that aren't so ambiguous but that will still often trip up the reader for a moment if you leave out the hyphen.  Making your reader stop to think and re-read is something you should reserve for clever plot twists, elegant and thought-provoking lines, or intriguing ideas.  Don't make them stop and re-read because of lacking punctuation. 

Steel-plated boots
Custom-made device
Death-dealing steel
Decent-sized vessel
Grey-haired man
Sword-shaped hole
North-facing terrace
Cream-colored stones
Dirt-eating scum
Fire-lit faces

Remember that if you want to wrap your reader in your characters' world, you need to provide as few pointless distractions as possible.  And unclear punctuation is one of the biggest culprits in the world of pointless distraction.

For more in this series:
Avoiding Common Punctuation Errors Pt 1:  Commas Save Lives; the Vocative Comma
Avoiding Common Punctuation Errors Pt 2:  Commas and Periods in Dialogue
Avoiding Common Punctuation Errors Pt 3:  Commas with Participial Phrases
Avoiding Common Punctuation Errors Pt 4:  The Mysterious Case of the Missing Question Mark
Avoiding Common Punctuation Errors Pt 5:  Adjectives with Commas

Melinda Brasher currently teaches English as a second language in the beautiful Czech Republic.  She loves the sound of glaciers calving and the smell of old books.  Her travel articles and short fiction appear in Go NomadInternational LivingElectric SpecIntergalactic Medicine Show, and others.  For an e-book collection of some of her favorite published pieces, check out Leaving Home.  For something a little more medieval, read her YA fantasy novel, Far-KnowingVisit her online at

How to be an instant grammar maven: a review of Grammarly

Let’s face it, none of us are perfect when it comes to spelling and grammar.  Although many word processing programs such as MS Word come with built in grammar and spell-checkers, they tend to be pretty simple and often hilariously wrong.  In an ideal world, you’d always write with a partner, checking each other’s spelling and grammar errors. Many people do just that, but it’s not a practical option for frequent postings like blogs, proposals, or even short stories if you’re writing these regularly.  Grammarly isn’t meant to substitute for a full-on edit, and certainly won’t suffice for a big piece of writing like a novel, which requires a professional proofreader, line and copy editor, but it’s perfect for blog posts, book reviews, emails and other quick pieces of writing, and is also a good first pass for anything longer and more complex.

Using it couldn’t be simpler.  You just go to the Grammarly website, drop your text into the box and click on “check your text”.  Within a few minutes (really!), the system goes through your text for a whole range of common grammatical errors including such things as sentence fragments, double negatives, mis-use of subordinate clauses, mis-matched tenses, run-on sentences (my personal issue), and lots more that you’ve probably forgotten since you studied grammar at school.  Of course, it also picks up spelling errors and does other clever things like checking your work for originality. It will even show you where the original is from if you’ve inadvertently lifted someone else’s work. I can think of a few infamous authors who should have used that feature. 

Some of the corrections are quite subtle and instead of just finding errors, Grammarly provides suggested solutions.  For example, in the first draft of this blog post, Grammarly found an instance where I’d used ‘and’ twice, and there were a number of suggestions for enhancing the work with better words and synonym suggestions, one of which was to change “it’s excellent and quite perfect” to just “quite perfect”. Some of my sentences were tagged as ‘wordy’ and suggestions were made for removing extraneous words like “really”. 

You can choose from a range of checking options including general, business, academic, Technical Creative, and Casual, each of which changes the overall heuristics, the synonyms suggested and the amount of rigour applied.   You can paste in your text online, or download a version for MS Office, which  allows you to check through a document with a single click on the “Check” box.  As someone who tends to write quickly and rather sloppily, and then mentally fix my own errors when I proofread, Grammarly is a reputation saver.  I use it now for almost everything I write, and the result is a lot less embarrassing errors, and better copy.  Best of all, Grammarly keeps track of your errors and creates a personal writing handbook that you can use to become a better writer.  Just review your handbook to see the errors you tend to keep repeating and you can make a conscious effort to eliminate them, learn about the parts of grammar usage that keep tripping you up, and improve your overall skills.  

As the premium version of Grammarly is a subscription based product, it’s not particularly cheap.  Annual subscriptions run around $140, or $30 a month, but if you use it to check everything you write, the per unit price is pretty reasonable.  Saving your reputation from embarrassing grammar mistakes (I’ve certainly made a few doozies) especially in such things as query letters, and ultimately improving your English is priceless.  You can take a free trial of the premium version at the Grammarlysite and can also get hold of Grammarly Lite, which will check anything you write on the internet (including your social media posts) for free.  

My PhotoMagdalena Ball is the author of the novels Black Cow and Sleep Before Evening, the poetry books Repulsion Thrust and Quark Soup, a nonfiction book The Art of Assessment, and, in collaboration with Carolyn Howard-Johnson, Sublime Planet, Deeper Into the Pond, Blooming Red, Cherished Pulse, She Wore Emerald Then, and Imagining the Future. She also runs a radio show, The Compulsive Reader Talks. Find out more about Magdalena at

Ethics in writing

Whether writers are writing nonfiction or fiction, they owe it to their readers to double check facts, as well as checking for any errors in consistency, punctuation, grammar, spelling, and typos.

Unless writers are giving their work away free of charge, most readers are spending their money for a product; the writer has an ethical responsibility to their reader. Writers need an EDITOR to make sure that their book is as error free as possible.

This is the reason that self-published books have a less than stellar rating. Reviewers are talking about how bad self-pubs are, also the internet. It is true that anyone can write, but not everyone is a writer. Readers hold writers to a standard ingrained by traditional publishers where they edited, and proofread as part of the publishing process.

Writers should hold themselves to this standard. Some indie authors feel there should be no rules. Whether there are or aren’t any rules is not the point, the point is that authors ethically owe their readers work that is the best in can be, edited, and proofread before the reader receives a copy.

If writers have blogs, delve into social media sites, have a web site, in all instances, they shouldn’t use internet shortcut language, they should be practicing their language and writing skills at all times.

Some authors may disagree, but there must be some basic level of ethics in all writers, that make them strive to turn out the best product for the reader. A product that has been fact checked, edited, and proofread by someone other than the author.

Why someone other than the author, simple, the author is too close to the project to be truly objective when it comes to the blue pencil.

Robert Medak
Writer, Blogger, Editor, Reviewer

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