16 Aug Importance of Checking for Errors
In our workbook,
we mention the importance of checking
your manuscript for spelling and grammar errors.
As competitive as the writing world is, we cannot afford to be careless with our writing.
Shirley Raye has heard editors say that if they find spelling errors on the first page of a submission, they automatically reject the manuscript. Another editor with a large publishing company shared that he ticks off any grammar errors he finds and once he reaches three, he reads no further. He said he doesn’t need to read on, as he has an overwhelming slush pile and knows he’ll find a better manuscript in the pile somewhere.
Grammar is a three-headed beast that terrorizes victims in the following three areas: punctuation and spelling, diction, and syntax. To hold an editor’s interest, our writing must be engaging. Still, an engrossing manuscript can lose an editor if our word usage and sentence structure result in ambiguous, awkward, inaccurate, confusing and embarrassing meanings. You’re a wordsmith now. Make every word and phrase mean what you want it to.
Here are some ways to fix ambiguous sentences
Ambiguous. A woman gives birth every 48 seconds. (That poor woman.)
Clearer: Every 48 seconds, a baby is born into the world.
Ambiguous: How do I talk to my kids about sex when I’ve never done it before?
Clearer: I’ve never talked to my kids about sex. What is the best approach?
Ambiguous: His wife said: “Go get a jug of milk. If they have eggs, buy a dozen.” Later, his wife said: “Why did you come back with a dozen jugs of milk?” The logician said: “They had eggs.” (upjoke.com/ambiguous-jokes)
*We put this in for fun. For such a joker, one could simply state, “Get a jug of milk and a dozen eggs.”
Here are our suggestions on how to fix
Awkward: Being different from the next person in the crowd to make that person really stand out more is the greatest achievement a person could give himself.
Better: Standing out from the crowd as a distinctive person is a great achievement.
Awkward: Taking life a day at a time in my opinion is how it should be done to achieve a greater measure of happiness in your life.
Better: Taking life one day at a time can make you happier.
Awkward: The fact that we don’t eat a balanced diet is our biggest health problem and that we don’t drink enough water and exercise are also big concerns. (We don’t drink enough exercise?)
Better: Poor diet and lack of exercise are two of our country’s greatest health problems.
Here are some examples of inaccurate word usage to share
Inaccurate: He’s a shoe-in to get the new position. Shoo-in is the correct term to use when you are writing that someone is sure to win. When you “shoo” something, you urge it toward something.
Inaccurate: The delicious smell from the oven wet his appetite. “Whet” means to sharpen or stimulate. The smell should whet his appetite.
Inaccurate: In 1998 Janis left Norway and emigrated to Canada. People “emigrate from” and “immigrate to.” To emigrate is to come from somewhere, and to immigrate is to go to somewhere. Janis emigrated from Norway to Canada.
Inaccurate: Writing “With love, the Johnson’s” on a card or at the end of your Christmas newsletter A plural proper noun is not a possessive and does not need an apostrophe.
Here we’re featuring misplaced modifiers that blur the meaning the writer intended
Using a grammar checker on your computer will catch most spelling mistakes, but it won’t catch misplaced modifiers. However, an editor will certainly notice.
Misplaced modifier: Sarah found a gold man’s watch. (But the watch is gold not the man.)
Correct: Sarah found a man’s gold watch.
Misplaced modifier: Oscar yelled at the bus driver, trembling with rage. (Is Oscar trembling or is the bus driver doing so?)
Correct: Trembling with rage, Oscar yelled at the bus driver.
Misplaced modifier: I watched the ferry pass through the large picture window. (Crash)
Correct: I watched through the large picture window as the ferry passed.
This one’s really confusing and humorous: Hugh ran outside and chased after the cat with a broomstick in his underwear. (Uh, I think I understand.)
Correct: Wearing only his underwear and wielding a broomstick, Hugh ran outside and chased after the cat.
And here are some examples of muddled modifiers, those that mix up the meaning the writer meant. (Just felt the need to be alliterative.)
Figurative language can conjure arresting images in a reader’s mind. Here’s one of my favorites from the poem “The Highwayman.”
“The moon was a ghostly galleon tossed upon cloudy seas.”
But as Richard Lederer, author of the bestselling Anguished English, points out, “It’s easy to sew two or more figurative ideas together to create a monster.” The following mutants are as far-fetched as they are distracting…not to mention confusing.
A bevy of hungry students flocked into the cafeteria like an avalanche.
In our school, freshmen are the lowest rungs on the totem pole.
Stephen King’s novels make my hair crawl.
Two years ago, our company had a long row to hoe, but now we have an employee-training program that will help us retread the cream of the crop.
Above, we’ve listed grammar and punctuation mistakes that detract from the true meanings of our sentences
We’ve covered grammar goofs that lead to ambiguous, awkward, inaccurate, and confusing sentences. Now it’s time to cover some mistakes that lead to downright embarrassing outcomes. Again we are going to quote from Anguished English by Richard Lederer. The following amusing items appeared in announcements and bulletins.
Will the basketball team please report to the gym to have your photograph retaken. In the first photo, your balls were cut off.
To be a good nurse, you must be absolutely sterile.
When there are no fresh vegetables, you can always get canned.
This being Easter Sunday, we will ask Mrs. White to come forward and lay an egg on the altar.
To avoid these awkward, confusing and embarrassing writing mistakes, use the spelling and grammar check functions on your computer. Keep a handy grammar book nearby and refer to it often. You can download the free program from grammarly.com. Strunk and White’s Elements of Style is a favorite writer’s reference and is available in print and digital format. There are many other excellent reference books, and you can search online for them. You’re a wordsmith now. Make every word and phrase mean what you want it to.