A big source of complaints I’ve seen on the various websites I’ve helped manage and edit has been the cleanliness of grammar and spelling.
This is not to diminish the quality of the writers or editors I’ve worked with, but to identify how sometimes simple mistakes can occur so easily and how to rectify them. A lot of this goes back to the copy editing process in which newspapers already employ.
Not too long ago, an e-mail was sent out at Boston.com advising folks to add a spellchecker to our browser plugins (for Firefox users). It was a subtle reminder that although we use two to three pairs of eyes before publishing content, two to three people can miss something. And as I’ve noted on this site before, the speed and very nature of internet publishing in a breaking news environment sometimes overrules caution in the urge to chase time stamps. So how do you remain fast in the thick of competition, and remain accurate with clean copy for your readers?
Here are my 5 quick and simple ways to be right every time, in the nick of time:
- Read the squiggly lines — There is a penchant among writing aficionados to ignore the red squiggly lines in Microsoft Word, your Internet browser or wherever you’re typing up your copy. Oftentimes, these dictionaries do not recognize non-English phrases or even Latin. The key is identifying which you’re using and using the appropriate measure to double check the word/phrase. For Latin …
- Just Google it — Everything you will write is not in the dictionary. A quick Google search on popular latin usage, foreign words, names, official titles, and other unique phrases can often times rectify a mistake before the world will know your shame. And yes, it is embarrassing.
- Push back — Your editor wanted that copy five minutes ago. There’s always a rush, always a push. But online deadlines differ greatly from print deadlines. This isn’t about saving your company $20,000 an hour because you can’t file your story on time. This is about protecting the brand of your news organization with clean, accurate and error-free news. And as I’ve learned time and time again, it’s not about the time stamp. The readers will love you for providing information (read: not news) in a timely manner, and they’ll praise you for bringing it context (read: news) afterward. But they’ll scorch you if something looks bad and they’ll mark the end of days if there is a misspelling in a prominent location on a website. So tell your editor, for his and your company’s sake, hold their horses. Patience is a virtue.
- Do your due diligence — This probably pisses me off more than anything else and has become increasingly rare in habit. Please, if you don’t do any of the aforementioned above, spell check your document! If that means copying and pasting out of a browser and into a word processing application, do so because blaming errors on your internal content management system, your blog or whatever else just points to the fact that you’re lazy. And we don’t want anybody to get that impression, do we?
And for bonus advice, leave the fancy verbiage to the feature stories. There’s a reason it’s breaking news. The usual seriousness of which only supports hard ledes. The language used should support the tone. Plus, it’s easier to get befuddled down a path of intricacy if you’re testing your Shakespeare on a whim.
In the end, and with proper habits in place, you’ll realize the speed in which these tasks take are faster than you think. And the benefit of which will not be yours alone, but that of your editors as well who will thank you for turning in clean copy. Or, in the case of some old stodgy types, just acknowledge your presence with grimaces and nods of approval.