What happens when spell-check can’t help (and what to do about it)

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Building relationships and trust with prospects and clients requires a jaw-dropping amount of work. Once you’ve established your organization as a credible, reliable and legitimate source of information, don’t jeopardize your efforts with embarrassing spelling errors.

Quality writing isn’t just for style junkies. If I were trying to earn your business and sent you marketing email with grammatical mistakes, would you hire me? Imagine the message that would send to your audience. If you’re not minding the details, why would they plunk down six figures for your new product?

Beware the homophone

Copy blunders are often associated with spell-check failure. Sound-alike mix-ups, also known as homophones, are a classic example. Homophones sound the same but have different meanings. Spell-check is often too dumb to correct not-quite-right words, such as these:

“The police arrived at the grizzly murder scene in the middle of the night, baring full body armor and weapons.”

Can you spot the homophones? Unless someone killed a bear, the police arrived at a “grisly” murder scene. Since they weren’t naked, they were “bearing” armor and weapons.

“Susan hopes to see her idle, Elton John, at his concert in Chicago.”

‘Idle’ isn’t a noun; it’s an adjective that means inactive. The correct word is “idol,” because Susan admires Elton John.

“A hoard of residents showed up for a chance to win 20 flat-screen TVs at the local big-box store.”

The correct word is “horde,” which means a throng of people. As a noun, ‘hoard’ is a hidden stash and as a verb, it means to squirrel away for future use.

“My brother, John, is such a leach. He took all my Halloween candy for himself. I really loath him.”

Spell-check missed that John is a “leech,” which refers to a bloodsucking (greedy) worm. ‘Leach’ is a verb that means to filter down through something, as in nutrients “leached” from the soil. The second error is ‘loath,’ which means unwilling, as in, “She is “loath” to leave.” The correct word is “loathe,” which means to feel disgust.

“The runner planned to martial her strength for the last five miles of the marathon so that she could beat her time from last year.”

If this were correct, the runner would be preparing for war – not a race. ‘Martial’ is associated with the military and “martial arts.” “Marshal” is the correct word for this sentence because the runner is gathering her strength.

“The news that Gary was out of the hospital gave his niece paws because she thought he was still in the intensive care unit.”

This one is easy, but spell-check missed it. I’m pretty sure the news didn’t give Gary’s niece animal ‘paws,’ but rather “pause.”

The fix is in

By now, you’re probably wondering what you’re going to do if you can’t count on spell-check. Here’s the solution: Start thinking like a proofreader. Read your copy carefully to be sure you used the right words. Look up any words you’re unsure about.

Read your copy all the way through silently at least twice and then read it aloud twice. Set it aside for a few hours or even overnight and look at it again with fresh eyes. You’ll be amazed at the mistakes you’ll find after getting away from your material for a while. Next, show it to someone who has the skills to catch any remaining mistakes.

This process works. Just stick with it. I promise you’ll get better with practice and you’ll impress your clients and prospects with well-written, error-free content.

What homophones trip you up? Do you have any tricks for overcoming them? Let us know in the comments below.

About Dawn

Dawn is the senior editor at The Simons Group. As a grammar queen, she'd rather lose her wallet than misplace an apostrophe. Fellow copy ninjas unite -- you have an ally.

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