Coming to terms with copy errors

Posted by Sara Hawthorn

In the battle to get the most up to date bulletins out to the information-hungry masses, copy accuracy is losing the war.

I read a lot of blogs, articles, columns and news releases and increasingly I’ve noticed the huge number of copy errors and typos in everything from headline tweets to in-depth features. Any editor will tell you that speed can be the arch nemesis of accuracy, but as time becomes an increasingly unaffordable luxury for news journalists and content producers, mistakes will become an inevitable part of the copy we digest.

Are you being a typo hypocrite?

Now, before everyone throws their tuppence worth in (spelling and grammar issues do seem to incite some vicious arguments) about the tragic loss of the English language and standards, take a moment to really think about whether you’ve published or written anything, ever, without a spelling mistake or a wrong there/their/they’re?

I have. Hell, I’ve completed a proofreading and editing course and still hit publish on a blog post or article with a ridiculously silly mistake. And yet when I see those same mistakes on local and national newspaper sites I get twitchy, and unwholesome thoughts on the ‘standard of journalism and professional writing these days’ thunder into my brain. It’s hypocrisy, plain and simple. As much as we grammar pedants and sticklers for spelling may hate it; mistakes do happen, and are happening more frequently. That means our choice is either wallow in hypocrisy or swallow the burn of that missed apostrophe and write and let write. Or type, if we’re being all pedantic again.


Why do the fail-safes fail?

In this age of electronic communication, with spell check immediately pointing out errors with an angry wiggly red line and auto-correct for those words you just can’t ever seem to get right, there’s less need to instinctively know how many c’s are in necessary or when to add an apostrophe, and certainly less chance of a ruler being rapped across your knuckles should you get it wrong.

So, with these fail-safes in place to draw our attention to our linguistic shortcomings (and even nag us into acting on them… Microsoft paperclip, anybody?!) it stands to reason that lack of time is the real enemy here. Have we become so reliant on technology to correct our mistakes that proof-reading seems like a waste of precious time?

Before hitting the button that beams our writing into the public domain for all eternity, we should, in theory, take five minutes to sit down with a cup of tea (and a biscuit, why not!) and make sure we give no reason for readers to question our professionalism or our attention to detail. Fresh eyes can pick up both obscure and obvious mistakes, but it’s not 100 percent guaranteed. Those eyes need adequate time to give a piece a good once over, which is a challenge when you consider as an example that Twitter, the bastion of breaking news, now positions itself as a news app, 26% of verified accounts are journalists and there are, on average, 5787 tweets a second. 

That’s a time challenge to defeat any Krypton Factor champion.


Skip to the final stage of the process: acceptance

Why do we let errors in peer or other professional writing jar us so much? When billions of new content is added to the internet each day mistakes are an inevitability. Is it possible to have our copy cake and eat it: the latest news, perfectly written?

The Oxford English Dictionary defines the word ‘mistake’ as ‘an error of judgement’, and, at the risk of highlighting my own hypocrisy again, I have to wonder whether a rogue their/there/they’re is an indicator of a greater problem – one of unrealistic expectation in a highly demanding online society. Anyone who writes as a career wants to project a professional image through the work they produce and, as consumers of that work, it’s important to remember that casting judgement based on one typo ignores the hours of time, research and consideration which goes into producing any kind of written content.

Acceptance may not be the natural friend of copy errors but as the habitat in which we consume information changes these two opposing forces will need to exist in harmony to if we are to save grammar pedants across the world from imploding with indignation.