May 2021 – word inflation

Word inflation can occur in a number of ways. It can be literally using too many words or it can be overuse of certain words. English is a language with subtleties in its words,  two words that may seem to mean the same but are slightly different (eg illegal and unlawful1). Overusing word, and using them in the wrong way, can reduce their meaning, leading to new words being created. And thus English continues to expand its vocabulary and perhaps worsen the problem!

It’s quite natural for a writer to wish to intensify their writing or to get a point across. But if such words get used a lot, they lose their meaning. Newspaper headlines perhaps are guilty of some of this – they need the headline grabbing sensationalism.

Some writers have words they use habitually, such as “very” or even “very, very”! We inadvertently make the same point but in different ways, repeating ourselves in order to make a point.

Here are some examples of what I mean to help illustrate my point.

  • “I have got” – when “I have” is sufficient eg “I have a pen”. What’s interesting here is that in speech we’ve shortened “I have got” to “I’ve got”.
  • “off of” when “off” is sufficient eg “Get off the train”.
  • “on to” when “on” will suffice eg “Get on the train”.
  • “very clever” when you could use “genius” but also be careful not to overuse it!
  • “impact” to mean “effect” – effect  is a change which is a result of the actions of another; impact is one object hitting another, or a marked effect on another. So it can be used instead of effect, but only if really significant. A life changing effect, perhaps? And how often have you seen massive impact?
  • “gridlock”, when it’s just a bit of traffic – gridlock literally means what is says – the traffic gets so bad that the entire network stops, there’s nowhere for it to go. This happens rarely but the term is used often.
  • “chaos”, such as “traffic chaos” when perhaps it is just an inconvenience caused by a temporary traffic light. Chaos is complete disorder and confusion. Perhaps some say chaos where there is confusion but you need the disorder as well.
  • In some sectors, “client” has been replaced with “service user” – why use one word when you can do it with two?

This is perhaps a symptom of formal writing slowly following the spoken language. When we speak, we don’t necessarily edit what we say, we may think out loud, we may say words such as “like” or “um“ and “ah” as placeholders. It may well be that these elements creep into our writing, particularly if we write quickly.

This is where a good edit is useful. Take a step back from the writing and have a read through and consider what you’re trying to say. Indeed, I did this myself with this blog and removed:

  • “reduce the meaning of them”, in favour of “reduce their meaning”
  • “habitually use, without thinking about it” in favour of “habitually”
  • so many “so”s.

When proofreading, such instances can be commented upon and verbose text can have suggested edits. Another pair of eyes always helps, not only to spot errors but to refine the text, make it more concise without losing what you are trying to say.

Now, have another read of this blog – did it seem verbose or pleonastic? Despite my editing and my proofreader reviewing it, there are still some bits that could have been removed or redone. Did I leave those in deliberately to make a point?


Kindly proofread by Janice Gilbert of WordPerfectProof.

(1) these two words come from different sources, see my previous blog.

January 2021

For my first main blog post of 2021, I decided to talk about something causing great division. It splits nations, families, friends and work colleagues. Both sides are fervently in favour of their view and disdainful of the other’s.

I am, of course, talking about the Oxford comma.

The Oxford comma (also known as the Harvard comma or the serial comma (1)) is a comma inserted in a list before the ‘and’ or the ‘or’. The UK tends towards not using it, although the OUP style guide (and from where it gets its name) requires its use. The US tends towards using it.

Here’s an example of it in use:

“I went shopping and bought carrots, potatoes, and cheese.”

The anti-Oxford comma lobby would baulk at this sentence. They’d get their red pens out and amend it to make:

“I went shopping and bought carrots, potatoes and cheese.”

The Oxford comma came about since it was felt some sentences needed it to aid understanding. Unfortunately, inclusion of the Oxford comma can sometimes create confusion. This is why opinion is divided on the matter.

In the example above, many feel the ‘and’ is sufficient and to include a comma is overkill. Those in support of the comma say that the lack of a comma could mean the sentence is read differently to how it was meant. In the example given it is fairly clear but what if the sentence was the below?

“I went shopping with my sisters, Paul and Thomas.”

The lack of the Oxford comma here could mean the sentence is read to mean my sisters are called Paul and Thomas. Let’s add an Oxford comma.

“I went shopping with my sisters, Paul, and Thomas.”

It emphasises the fact I am shopping with Paul and Thomas, as well as my sisters.

I am anti-Oxford comma (may have just reduced my potential client base by 50% …) and so I would argue a rephrasing of the sentence would work better than inserting the Oxford comma. It could be “I went shopping with Paul, Thomas and my sisters.” Or better yet, why not use the names of your sisters? “I went shopping with Sue, Lucy, Paul and Thomas.”

Does this all matter? Well, no not really.(2) It’s unlikely the two sides will meet in a muddy field, raise their standards and fight to the bitter bloody end over it. But it is important for an organisation to have a view on it.

Consistency in your written material is important, so it is worth deciding whether or not to use the Oxford comma and stick to it. Publishers will have a style guide which will provide writers with the publisher’s preference.

Having a preference to, let’s say, not use the Oxford comma, means its inclusion can aid clarity and most likely vice versa. This is another reason to get a professional proofreader to check your work. If you’re unsure on whether it needs an Oxford comma, I can help.

When you’re trying to get your message across, clarity is key. Whether you use the Oxford comma or not, let’s make sure its inclusion or omission is based on clarity rather than hard-and-fast dogmatic styling.


(1) Can’t even agree on what to call it…

(2) Does allow some good jokes.

Kindly proofread by Janice Gilbert of WordPerfectProof.

November 2020 – mistakes of 2020

As we approach the end of another year (and quite a year at that!) it is customary, perhaps, to review the year. In blogs towards the end of 2019, I did some personal reflection. This year I’ve had a look back at some of the errors I’ve spotted in texts.

This is not a name and shame exercise but rather an attempt to identify some of the things that fell through the cracks this year. These are from student essays, annual reports, business cards, books and so on. All were documents that had been checked before coming to me.

  • The business that left a digit off its phone number.
  • The organisation that put .co.uk when they meant .com in their email address.
  • The student that missed out the word ‘not’ which completely changed the nature of the sentence.
  • The helpful editor that used find-and-replace to change ‘ship’ to ‘boat’ and so the document spoke about their ‘relationboat’ and ‘friendboat’.
  • The financial report that changed the style of thousands from 1000 to 1,000. Whoever or whatever was used to make the change throughout the document didn’t think about references to years such as 2015 or 1996: they became 2,015 and 1,996.
  • The financial text that changed the order of questions but not the order of solutions.
  • The pension review that referred to Mr Smith throughout but then Mr Jones at the end.
  • The student that repeated a whole paragraph.
  • The company whose financial accounts didn’t add up.
  • The company that referred to revenues in their report that differed to those in their accounts.

Some of these are minor but some could have had a major impact on obtaining business, the essay score or the credibility of the organisation. It goes to show that errors easily creep in and can be just as easily missed.

Proofreading is not just about the spelling, punctuation and grammar of the text. It is also about the formatting, consistency and accuracy.

How long may those businesses first mentioned have gone on using the material that misquoted their contact details? How long could they have been losing out on business? It shows how investing in a professional proofreader could be cheaper in the long run!

So, if you’re busy with an essay, thesis, website, blog, report, business stationery or whatever written material you may be creating – why not consider my proofreading services?

Kindly proofread by Janice Gilbert of WordPerfectProof.

October – the Power of Language

This is meant to be a monthly blog but in September I decided to take some time out, to try and recuperate a little from the whole C-thing (not Christmas…).

Something that has struck me in the last few months is the power of words, the power of language. The way we shape a sentence can imply a meaning. We may intend it, we may not.

Despite not being a copywriter, I have had some work putting together blogs. I have done some work for a cycling blog. Doing my research for this I noted the use of language in articles about traffic accidents, particularly how the choice of language could imply cause.

Think about the subtle differences here with these three articles linked below:

Bike collided with car.

Car collided with cyclist.

Car and bus collided.

Do the first two imply the first vehicle at fault? Does the third imply equal liability?

Is it deliberate? Is it an attempt by the writer to suggest blame?

Also note the second: “car” collides with “cyclist”. Not “driver collides with cyclist” or “car collides with bicycle”. Why is one form of transport (the car) referred to as an inanimate object and one as a person (cyclist)? Is it to avoid blaming the driver and if so does it imply the cyclist was at fault?

I am not trying to imply anything regarding liability or the thoughts of the reporter etc in these. I’m just trying to highlight how the subtleties of language can imply something or can make people infer things when there’s nothing to infer.

As a proofreader, I can help pick up on these unintended meanings in your text. It may be subtle, but a fresh pair of eyes may pick up on it and save potential embarrassment. If you want me to check your text then please contact me.

Kindly proofread by Janice Gilbert of WordPerfectProof.

August 2020 – Top Tips

I’m hoping I won’t be putting myself out of business here but these are my five top tips when it comes to proofreading.

  1. Read it aloud – saying it out loud can really help. I find it helps focus on the words and the pace of the sentence, and provides you with a natural feel of the sentence. We often skim over words when reading in our head and the brain just fills in the gaps,  but when reading out loud we slow down. I have been reading my 8-year-old some of my favourite books and I’ve spotted typos that I haven’t before. The difference? I’m reading out loud.
  2. Read it tomorrow – take a break between writing it and reading it. Writing is a creative process. You put your thoughts down on paper. Proofreading is a different skill. In a previous blog, I discussed the differences between a copywriter and a proofreader. Many copywriters don’t like to proofread and vice versa so why would you want to jump from one to the other yourself, perhaps in the same sitting?
  3. Read it backwards – not like that… but start at the last page and work back. All too often we start at the first page, get tired working through it and so miss stuff at the end. If you always start checking at the start, you’ll always be tired when checking the last bit.
  4. Take breaks – proofread a few pages at a time. Do a bit, do something else and come back to it.
  5. Read it again. And then again. And perhaps, read it again.

Of course, you may not want to do all this. You may not have the time. So, that’s where I come in! I can be proofreading your document making use of these top tips while you are off getting other work done or doing whatever you’d rather be doing. Sounds good? Then contact me here.

 

Kindly proofread by Janice Gilbert of WordPerfectProof.

 

May 2020 – why is proofreading important?

In previous blogs I have extolled the virtues in getting your work proofread. In February 2019 I outlined what proofreading was all about and common mistakes; in March 2019 I focused on some student pitfalls; in November 2019 I outlined style sheets; and in February I consolidated a lot of this into a blog as part of my preparations for a presentation to Southend Peers.

The value of proofreading is often overlooked by those outside publishing. When chatting to people about it, many say they proofread their own work or just rely on the spellchecker. As the blogs mentioned above outline, spellcheckers only go so far and it is harder to spot your own errors. Allowing a fresh pair of eyes to review your work could spot those errors that have crept in and remained undetected.

Also, consider how much of your time is taken up reviewing your own work? Are you rushing it? Do you have more pressing tasks to complete?

Engaging a professional proofreader frees up your time and could be cheaper for you in the long run. They can also keep your material up-to-date with modern styles. There’s been recent coverage of MS Word changing defaults regarding double spaces after a full stop (or period). Many years ago it was the norm to have a double space but the practice has died out in modern times. I have a friend who is a die-hard double-spacer, as his company’s website demonstrates.

I recently distributed the below leaflet on my social media. There’s a challenge to readers within. The interesting thing was those who highlighted what they believed to be mistakes but weren’t (at least, in my opinion, they weren’t and my opinion is final). It highlighted how styles change over time and how those who proofread themselves may be prone to “fall behind” (for example, once it was the norm to write the Duke of Clarence, now it is becoming the norm to write the duke of Clarence).

leaflet

So, proofreading is important and it is important to get a professional to help you. If you wanted someone to look at your finances, you’d go to an accountant. If you had a legal problem, a lawyer. If you want to market yourself, you’d go to a PR company or advertising agency. The same logic applies for your written material.

Any written material that may go public can be proofread: websites, blogs, reports, brochures… if you write it, I can read it.

As you look to market yourself and your business, as we start to get back to normal following Covid19, why not make sure you’re making a good impression?

If you want to have a chat about how I can help you then contact me! Think you don’t need a proofreader? Why not send me a sample of some recent text, say 500 to 1000 words, for me to review?

April 2020 – week 5 of lockdown

With the Easter school holiday over it was back to home schooling last week. Back to getting them to watch PE with Joe. Back in the day they joined in religiously; now it is a combination of watching and doing their own exercises… but it is something for them to wake up for and get them going before “school” opens.

Last week it became clear this was normality for a while. I spent some time considering what I did before lockdown: did I do it because I enjoyed it or was it habitual? What things will I be reluctant to pick up again? Some food for thought…

This week’s positives:

  1. I painted… it’s not finished but it is looking good.
  2. I’ve managed to break the email/SM habit a little.
  3. Home schooling is quite rewarding (mostly) and helps fill the time.
  4. I’ve considered reviving some interests I’ve let slip.
  5. I realised a lot of time “working” on the PC was just faffing and avoidance… (see (2)).

It seems the outbreak in the UK has peaked. We mustn’t be complacent but we are starting to come out the other end. Restrictions will have to remain in place but the seeds of seeing some normality may be starting to be sown.

I’ve decided that I’ve blogged enough about the lockdown. I’ve reflected sufficiently. Now I think it is best to look forward.

 

April 2020 – week 4 of lockdown

I felt the last week was when I started missing things.

The County Championship was meant to start, friendly and League Cup cricket at Old Southendian & Southchurch CC was meant to start. The regular trips to be a navvy/signaller/driver at the BMR had stopped and the start to its 10th anniversary running season postponed. These were the things that helped me relax and spend time with friends and family.

The “newly-found-free-time” was starting to be less of a novelty. It was becoming permanent. A new normal, perhaps.

What is definitely a new normal is WFH with everyone around.

Some business techniques have been adopted: the evening meal consists of going through the next day. Who has a meeting and when, what needs doing, who needs a PC etc. The day gets planned so that we all get work done, all get some “me” time and we have family time too.

We have more of an evening now no one is commuting and dinner is at a civilised time. But the blurring of the lines between work/home seem blurrier and there’s no option to go and work in the library or a “well known” coffee shop; no option to break the day up with the crossword in Utopia.

But, I’m determined to focus on the positives:

  1. I have had some pleasant bike rides with the children, making use of the quieter(*) roads to start their cycling proficiency training.
  1. The family has become a bit jigsaw crazy, but it’s something we’re doing together.
  2. The kids’ trampoline has paid for itself over and over.
  3. My 7yo and I have had some guitar jam sessions. He says I can join his band on bass.
  4. I dug out my oils and have tentatively started painting again.

(*) quieter, yes… but the cars seem to be driven faster and drivers more impatient and I really notice the car fumes.

April 2020 – week 3 of lockdown

A few moons ago, I mentioned in a blog about stresses of modern life and being constantly connected. But, one of the joys of modern life is perhaps how easy it is to keep in touch without being present. Certainly, we’ve had letters and the like for centuries but it’s nothing like being able to see the person you’re speaking to.

This has really hit home in the last few weeks with not being able to see family outside my household. Despite the lockdown, we could still gather for my daughter’s birthday and she was able to socialise with her close friends.

Other positives from the last week:

Now Lent is over I can have restorative drink… or two.

A neighbour made, from scratch, some rather excellent choux buns.

My brother and I have had regular games of chess via the internet, of mixed results.

I’ve had a few overs in the garden with the kids.

And so another week begins…

Kindly proofread by Janice Gilbert of WordPerfectProof.

April 2020 – week 2 of lockdown

Last week I blogged about the impact of COVID-19. I set myself a little target of selecting five positives each week. This week’s are:

1. The children arranged a sleepover: my 7yo ‘slept’ in my 10yo’s room with all the usual sleepover activities. They seem to be taking this in their stride.

2. I have moved a few books from my ‘read’ pile to my ‘read’ pile.

3. Rested up a bit.

4. I got some stuff sorted in the garden.

5. The admiration and community support for our public services who are particularly overworked at this time.

In the UK, the peak of the outbreak is expected around Easter break. It seems we are as prepared as possible for the next few weeks, and it may well get worse before it improves, but perhaps soon we will see the glimmer of a light at the end of the tunnel.

Kindly proofread by Janice Gilbert of WordPerfectProof.