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Posts within the category: Spelling
March 30, 2010
The most fun response to my post Proofreading Tips for Finding Errors in Your Own Writing came from fellow writing instructor and consultant Rosemary Camilleri:
“Your Mac users may not know it but they have a ‘Speech’ feature built into Mac OX 10.4, 10.5, and following. It's called Text to Speech. Their computer will read any text aloud.
Furthermore, the Mac will read text at the speed you choose, in the voice you choose (Alex? Bruce? Vicki? Victoria? Agnes? Princess? Bubbles? Bells? Boing? Bad News? Hysterical? Zarvox?).
This feature is great: I turn it on so that, as I proofread, I hear the honest truth about what I typed (computers have no mercy).”
As luck had it, I recently bought an iMac, so I took Text to Speech out for a spin, running a few paragraphs through a variety of voices: deep-and-droning Ralph, robotic Vicki, muffled Whisper, the back-from-the-dead Bahh, and the melodious Cellos. I settled on easy-listening Alex.
Rosemary was right about using Text to Speech as a proofreading tool. My ear did hear the grammar and spelling errors, a left-out word, or the wrong word. And because Alex was reading, my eyes saw punctuation and capitalization errors as I followed along.
Want to try it out? Here are instructions for a Mac:
- Click on the “Apple icon” in the upper-right hand corner of the screen.
- Select “System Preferences.”
- Select the “Speech” icon under Systems.
- Select “Text to Speech” from the pop-up.
- Select a “System Voice” from the drop-down list.
- Click the “Speak selected text when the key is pressed” box.
- Click “Set Key”
- Enter a “Key Combination” to activate Text to Speech.
To have your computer read in the voice you’ve selected, highlight the text and press your chosen key combination. (Mine is Control+V). Sit back and listen.
I checked out the Text to Speech feature on my Windows XP computer. It has an accessibility feature that can be configured to read text, but it seemed complicated to set up and use. I don’t know whether Windows 7 has a Text to Speech feature similar to Mac. (Any Windows 7 people out there? Let me know!)
This was proofreading made fun. I found that I was making spelling errors on purpose, so I could see if Alex caught them.
Last word: All of the voices mispronounced my name. (Mar i lynn e Rud ick instead of Marilyn Ru dick). You can imagine how they mangled Leslie O’Flahavan!
-- Marilynne Rudick (guest blogger)
March 29, 2010
My Proofreading Tips for Finding Errors in Your Own Writing post keeps generating feedback. Most recently, Cate Newton sent me a link to the writing resource page she compiled for the Guide to Online Schools website.
Cate wrote: “We are trying to build up useful resources for students of all ages…. We’ve compiled a list of the most useful grammar, proofreading and writing style guides on the Internet into one, easy-to-navigate article.”
Her writing resources are indeed a treasure trove. Among the gems on her list:
Proofreading tips, practice exercises, and quizzes to test your skills. I aced the Level C (Superstar) proofreading test. But I admit that the question prompts and the multiple-choice format helped me catch errors I might have missed.
The Online Grammar Guide
The comprehensive guide to English grammar created by Jack Lynch, associate professor at Rutgers University, provides an alphabetic listing of grammar and word choice issues. Lynch offers this consoling take on the difference between that and which.
“Many of the best writers in the language couldn't tell you the difference between them, while many of the worst think they know. If the subtle difference between the two confuses you, use whatever sounds right. Other matters are more worthy of your attention.” He then offers a clear and pithy explanation of the difference.
The University of Ottawa
An online grammar course that covers the parts of speech, punctuation, pronouns, verbs, modifiers, clauses, sentences and spelling. This course lets you brush up on English grammar in the privacy of your office or cubicle.
The Ultimate Style Guide Resources for MLA, APA, Chicago, and CSE
A list of good Internet style guide links. If The Chicago Manual of Style is your style bible, you’ll love the CMS Crib Sheet that summarizes the manual’s most important topics and rules.
School House Rock
And finally, if you need a break from the rigors of correct usage, head over to Grammar Rock for animated music videos that teach the rules and make you smile. Busy Prepositions makes sense of the confusing rules for prepositions. You’ll spend the day humming the tune (guaranteed!).
-- Marilynne Rudick (guest blogger)
January 20, 2010
Reading the newspaper each day, I catch frequent errors in grammar and usage. It’s easy for me to find errors in newspapers—and, in general, in the writing of others. What’s hard is finding errors in my own writing. By the time I get to the proofreading stage, I’ve looked at the document so many times that I see what I think is on the page, not what’s actually there.
My failsafe remedies for finding errors—asking someone else to proofread or putting the document aside for a while before a final proofing—aren’t always practical, especially with tight deadlines.
Feeling like I’ve exhausted my arsenal of proofreading techniques, I’ve looked to experts (including the Online Writing Lab at University of Arkansas, the Writing Center at the University of North Carolina, Grammar Girl) for advice beyond the tried-and-true (read aloud, use spell-check). Here are some new-to-me techniques for catching errors.
Proofread for only one kind of error at a time. For example, proof one time for punctuation (or even commas) and look for spelling errors in another read-through.
Check for spelling errors by reading the document backwards. Start with the last word on the last page and work your way back to the beginning. Because content, punctuation, and grammar won’t make any sense, your focus will be entirely on the spelling of each word.
Print in an unfamiliar font so that the document looks different. Try a smaller font to force you to read more slowly and concentrate.
Make a list of your proofreading gremlins. Are there words you frequently misspell? Do you capitalize headings inconsistently? Do you forget end quotes or the closing parenthesis? Proofread one time for your common errors.
Do occasional typos and other mechanical errors really matter? In a recent Washington Post column on the increase in grammar and usage errors in the newspaper, ombudsman Andrew Alexander quotes a reader on how these errors erode credibility: “If they don’t care about basics like grammar and spelling, how much do they care about factual accuracy?”
Add your proofreading tips to this list. Leave a comment or send me an e-mail.
-- Marilynne Rudick (guest blogger)
March 2, 2009
I am not a great speller. And there are some look-alike words that trip me up (affect and effect, for example). So, I’m somewhat forgiving about other people's spelling errors. But here’s my bottom line: You must spell the bread-and-butter words of your profession correctly.
I’m surprised by how frequently I encounter “professional” misspellings. For example:
- the plumber who gave me a hand-written bill for fixing my toylet
- the furniture store billboard that announced: “We are condomininium specialists”
I had serious doubts about hiring a financial planner who wrote that his investment strategy included “maximizing return on investments while preserving my principle” (rule or standard) instead of principal (the capital of an estate or financial holding).
I distrusted a retailer whose customer service e-mail assured me that I could return my purchase at anytime. “Our product quarantee is “Gauranteed Period.” (I would have been happy with one simply spelled-right guarantee.
Real estate may be the industry that leads in misspelling frequently-used words. I’ve seen “seperate dining and living room” so frequently in real estate listings that the correct spelling—separate—looks wrong. And the difference a space makes. I didn’t want to look at a house advertised as “inelegant neighborhood” instead of in elegant neighborhood. And what can I say about this twofer for an apartment in a quite nieghborhood? (Did they mean quiet neighborhood?)
Hundreds of research papers have been written about the causes of poor spelling (cognitive deficiencies, poor reading skills, bad teachers, laziness). But we are looking for remedies. If you are a poor speller—and you know who you are:
Always Use Spellchecker
This seems so obvious it is embarrassing to list. But by the number of documents with spelling errors I see, lots of people don’t take the time to use this face-saving tool.
Don’t Trust Spellchecker
Remember that spellcheckers don’t flag sound-alike and look-alike word errors (their, there). Purdue University's Online Writing Lab (OWL) Common Words That Sound Alike offers clear explanations and examples.
And make sure you choose the correct word if spellchecker gives you several word choices. I assume that a miss-click resulted in this classic from a colleague: “We can use a client as a genuine pig to test our new product.” (Surely, he meant to choose guinea!)
Compile Your Own Cheat Sheet of Correctly Spelled Words
A good way to compile this cheat sheet is to run your writing drafts through spellchecker. Add to your sheet the correct spelling of any word that’s flagged as incorrect. Then take a look at these lists of commonly misspelled words and add to your list any that you use—and misspell—frequently:
- Doctor Language’s list of 100 Most Often Misspelled Words in English
This list offers hints to help you remember the correct spelling. (For example: “The word neighbor breaks the i-before-e rule and invokes the silent gh. This is fraught with error potential.”)
- ESLDesk’s list of 507 Commonly Misspelled English Words
- The Elements of Style’s list of Words Often Misspelled
And if you don’t think that poor spelling can’t sink a career, remember Vice President Dan Quayle who never quite recovered from his misspelling of potato. (Quayle’s spelling: potatoe.) But Quayle had the last word: “If Al Gore invented the Internet, I invented spellcheck.”
-- Marilynne Rudick (guest blogger)
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