Has this ever happened to you? Because it's happened to me.

You worked hard on a draft--be it for a published piece or an important email or even your resume--and after rewrites and edits and multiple reads, it looks perfect.

You hit "send" or "publish"--and somehow only THEN does the glaring error reveal itself? To you, and all of the rest of the world.

Gah! NO. There you are, embarrassed! Deflated! Scrambling to fix it and re-send or explain yourself. 

It's self-inflicted, and shocking. You may have read the piece over and over. How did this happen?

It happens to everyone--even professional copy editors

If it makes you feel any better, even professional news editors trained to seek out those credibility bombs hiding in copy sometimes miss the transposed numbers, typos and misspelled names.  

This was never more painful for me than when I worked in a financial wire service newsroom, where our stories went straight to the desks of trading floors. The wrong number in a headline, the wrong ticker in a piece, could send a stock price moving.

There was actually a tally of corrections kept in a black book somewhere. And you had to write a note to all senior editors confessing your sins anytime you got it wrong.

But yet, we were expected to move several stories per day, with first takes delivered within 3 minutes of the news hitting. The pressure was agonizing.

Under those circumstances, some journalists were about as superstitious as baseball players in creating rituals. Like Wade Boggs ate nothing but chicken before a game, I know journalists who had charms that were meant to ward off corrections, one who blessed herself before sending a story. Me? I had to keep my nicotine levels perfectly calibrated.

An easy trick to the rescue

Here's an old news copy editor trick that actually works better than smoking or lucky charms: Before you send the piece, read it once, backwards -- sentence by sentence -- starting from the bottom and moving up. 

One of the reasons it's so easy to read a piece of writing and miss obvious errors, is that you can get caught up in the flow of the logic and the language as you read, and completely skim over the facts.

There are other tricks, too: Reading out loud, for instance. But reading from bottom to top gives you a particular benefit: Divorced from the storyline, you are more likely to see the facts themselves. "Wait, is that Terry or Terri? Millions--isn't that billions?"

This tip works well if your piece is long, since you are likely to find yourself getting fatigued as you move through it. You might glaze over a bit more at the bottom than at the top. So, at least once, reverse it.

This also works well in particularly dense copy, any article, report or email that is full of data points or name spellings.

If you like this tip, be sure to hug the next copy editor you meet. 

Published on: Jul 18, 2016
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