Can you spot these 10 common proofreading mistakes?
On March 8, it’s time to celebrate National Proofreading Day. Apparently, it’s also Discover What Your Name Means Day. OK, maybe I hadn’t heard of either of these, but I’m willing to bet you hadn’t either. So let’s combine both bits of new knowledge and do something fun.
Below is a short write-up about the origin of my name. In the text, I’ve put 10 common proofreading and punctuation errors. Can you find them? (The answers are below!) Here goes:
My dad has always been a huge Rolling Stones fan, so much so that he named his son after Keith Richards, the band’s mortality-defying guitar legend. Growing up, my House had shelves full of Stones records. And does my dad even know how many Stones concerts hes been to. Probably not. Following in my namesakes footsteps, I do play guitar a bit. But I can tell you now folks that you’re more likely to find me on the the dance floor, where I’ve got the move like Jager. (Or at least I’d like to think I do.
Here’s what you might’ve caught:
1. Capitalize correctly.
In the second sentence, “House” should be “house.” Don’t arbitrarily capitalize words. Unless it’s a proper noun – meaning the name of a person, place, or thing – keep it lowercase. Ignoring this rule is common, but doing so won’t add any emphasis to the capitalized word.
2. Check contractions.
“Hes” should be “he’s.” Even when typing fast, don’t forget to add the apostrophe to contractions, which are abbreviated two-word combinations, like “he’s” for “he is” in the example above.
There should be a question mark following the sentence about Stones concerts. You know that question marks go at the end of questions, but don’t you think they’re yet another punctuation mark that’s easily overlooked by the time you reach the end of an especially long sentence? Reading aloud can help you catch these.
4. Apostrophe as needed.
“Namesakes” should be “namesake’s.” It’s easy to overlook possessive apostrophes. So when tacking on an ending s to a word, take a second to ask if you’re making something plural or possessive, the latter of which requires an apostrophe and s.
5. Needing space.
There should be one space, not two, after the sentence ending with “. . . I do play guitar a bit.” The two-spaces-after-a-sentence trend stems from typewriter formatting way back when. But it’s wrong. Use only one space after a period.
6. Commas and cannibalism.
In the second-to-last sentence, “folks” should have a comma before it and a comma after it. When addressing someone, commas should be placed before their name or before a term that functions like a name, like “Mom,” “Dad,” “sport,” “folks,” “my dear,” etc. The best examples of why this matters involve . . . cannibalism. Seriously. Take a look:
“Ready to go in and eat Grandma?”
“Let’s eat people!”
And using commas:
“Ready to go in and eat, Grandma?”
“Let’s eat, people!”
With commas, you can tell people to eat without telling people to eat people.
7. Another repeat.
Near the end, “the” is repeated before “dance floor.” Repeat words often happen when you stop mid thought and then start typing again. There’s no secret to catching them other than proofreading slowly and paying attention. And remember that you’re more likely to miss a repeat “the” or “on” than some long multisyllabic word.
8. Typing typos.
“Move” should be “moves.” That’s just a typo. Mick has many moves. Bear in mind that AI can paint masterpieces and play Jeopardy!, but it still can’t seem to correctly autocorrect typos. For now, keep on proofreading.
9. Name check.
“Jager” should be “Jagger,” with two g’s. (Mick’s mouth would open even wider if he saw his name misspelled.) Also, when checking names, still Google more-conventional names so that you don’t overlook a unique spelling.
10. Close it up.
The last sentence should have a closing parenthesis. If you set off any text with parentheses, remember to put a closing parenthesis. (It’s easy to forget!) If you put a whole sentence in parentheses, the ending period, question mark, or exclamation point should be tucked inside, not outside, of the closing parenthesis.
How did you do?
Careful proofreading doesn’t mean reading word by word; it means reading character by character. And it’s fair to say that 99% of what you read will be error-free. Adding it all up, this sentence that you’re reading right now contains exactly 100 characters in it. If you find one error per every 100 characters, that would be a lot, typically. So stay vigilant.
Finally, I have only three succinct tips for proofreading: Read slow. No, slower. Pay attention.
And stop telling people to eat people.