Proofreading your own work is difficult. It’s so easy to miss mistakes because you tend to read what you think you’ve written.
A famous typo is a missing word in a 1631 edition of the Bible – the word ‘not’ was left out of the commandment: Thou shalt not commit adultery. The publishers were fined and lost their printing licence.
This edition of the Bible has become known as ‘the wicked Bible’. Although most copies were burned, a few libraries, such as the New York Public Library and the British Library, still have this edition.
My proofreading tips
- Put your writing aside – preferably overnight.
- Proofread a printed copy and use a ruler or piece of paper to stop yourself reading ahead.
- Read your writing twice to correct grammatical errors and typos – once is not enough to spot all errors.
- Check the layout separately – headings, spacing, graphs and tables.
- Give your document a final skim-read in case you’ve missed anything.
- Ask a friend or colleague with an eye for detail to read your document.
Reader’s question: When should you use the word that?
- I told you I could spell.
- I told you that I could spell.
Answer: I don’t think there are hard and fast rules around deleting that. When I was writing my first book, someone told me that the overuse of that was her pet hate. I searched for every instance of that in my manuscript and deleted most of them. The editor put half of them back in again.
Having done some research, I suggest you trust your ear and your instincts. But the following information may help you understand why we do or don’t use that.
The first two points are from Pam Peters’ The Cambridge Guide to English Usage.
That and relative clauses
That can often be deleted when it is the object in relative clauses, but not when it is the subject. Compare:
The article [that] I read was thought-provoking.
The article that changed my mind first appeared in a university blog.
NB A relative clause is introduced by a relative pronoun (which, that, who, whom, whose) or a relative adverb (where, when, why).
That and noun (complement) clauses
That is often omitted after verbs expressing mental or verbal processes.
I knew [that] she would come.
However, we use that with abstract nouns in such clauses.
The suggestion that climate change is a myth was challenged by the panel.
Three occasions we need that
Theodore Bernstein (Dos, Don’ts & Maybes of English Usage) lists three occasions we should keep that. His views are summarised at http://grammar.ccc.commnet.edu/grammar:
- ‘When a time element intervenes between the verb and the clause: “The boss said yesterday that production in this department was down fifty percent.” (Notice the position of ‘yesterday’.)
- When the verb of the clause is long delayed: “Our annual report revealed that some losses sustained by this department in the third quarter of last year were worse than previously thought.” (Notice the distance between the subject ‘losses’ and its verb, ‘were’.)
- When a second that can clear up who said or did what: “The CEO said that Isabel’s department was slacking off and that production dropped precipitously in the fourth quarter.” (Did the CEO say that production dropped or was the drop a result of what he said about Isabel’s department? The second that makes the sentence clear.)’
Single spaces between sentences
Reader’s question: The style guides for the Australian Department of Family and Community Services and the Attorney-General’s Department state that two spaces should be used between sentences. Why do you recommend one?
Answer: Double spacing is now avoided because it can create distracting gaps on a page and computers allow more variable spacing than typewriters. Double spaces hark back to typewriter days and old habits die hard!
I regard the Australian Government style manual as a higher authority than in-house style guides. It says:
‘Always use one, not two, spaces after a colon or semicolon, and after a full stop or other sentence-closing punctuation mark.’
Practice and practise
Reader’s question: Spell check insists on correcting practise or practising. A friend has told me that the rules have changed and practice is now the accepted practice!
Answer: In Australian English, practice is the standard spelling for the noun and practise for the verb. That hasn’t changed.
In US spelling, practice is used for the noun and the verb. Maybe that makes more sense!
Spell check is most annoying – mine keeps reverting to US spelling even though it is set for Australian spelling.
In respect to and with respect to
Reader’s question: Which is correct?
- In respect to …
- With respect to …
My answer: Either is acceptable, but why not just use regarding or about?
As Paul Brians says: ‘Business English is deadly enough without scrambling it. “As regards your downsizing plan …” is acceptable, if stiff. “In regard to” and “with regard to” are also correct. But “in regards to” is nonstandard. You can also convey the same idea with “in respect to” or “with respect to,” or—simplest of all—just plain “regarding.”’
There’s and there are
Reader’s question: Which is correct?
- There is a lot of things we need to do.
- There are a lot of things we need to do.
Answer: The correct version is: ‘There are a lot of things we need to do’ because a lot of things is plural.
However, in informal spoken English, There’s (rather than There is) is creeping into the language especially with quantitative subjects.
There’s a lot of things we need to do.
Apostrophes – each other and one another
Reader’s question: Where does the apostrophe go with each other?
Answer: The possessive forms of each other and one another are each other’s and one another’s.
The boys wore each other’s (not each others’) coats.
They had forgotten one another’s (not one anothers’) names.
Full stops and brackets
Reader’s question: Where should the full stop go when you’re using brackets? For example, is the following sentence correct?
The information is related to terrorism (Part 3.)
Answer: The full stop goes outside the brackets because the information inside the brackets relates to the sentence.
The information is related to terrorism (Part 3).
Word of the month
While flying on a Virgin flight last month, I read the in-flight magazine and it mentioned the new livery several times, but never explained the word. I felt dumb because I didn’t know what the word meant in an aviation context – it was not referring to uniforms, which was my understanding of the word. I asked the flight attendant, who didn’t know. I asked the person sitting next to me, who said it was the interior decoration. The attendant came back, having consulted her colleagues, and told me it was the logo on the tail.
Later I googled the word and discovered livery means the colour scheme and markings on the outside of the plane. In other words, the branding.
You probably knew this, but it was a good reminder to me that we must explain our terms.
By the way, I like Virgin’s new livery.