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"As soon as coffee is in your stomach, there is a general commotion. Ideas begin to move...similes arise, the paper is covered. Coffee is your ally and writing ceases to be a struggle."~Honore de Balzac
Friday, August 21, 2009
Electronic and Human Glitches
Now that we've given up pen and paper in favor of electronic devices, we're making mistakes not common in the old days. At first, we writers didn't trust our fancy machines and were even a bit intimidated by them. Now we trust them unconditionally and assume spellcheck will catch all our grammar errors and typos. Not true!
Having written a major English course, I should have known better. My last book came out with 18 errors not caught by my spellcheck and not caught by any human either. Mostly me. I had to swallow my pride and go back and fix those errors. All were minor and didn't spoil the story, but I could have saved myself a lot of time and trouble if I'd just not trusted my spellcheck so much.
Watch for the following common errors:
1) Extra or duplicate words that are spelled right but perhaps out of order or not deleted. Homonyms or homophones that sound right but have different meanings.
2) Figure out if you should use "that" or "which" and correct your writing accordingly. Use "that" when whatever follows is essential to the sentence. For example: "Choose the coat that is thick and warm." The phrase "thick and warm" is essential to choosing the right coat. On the other hand, use "which" if the phrase is not essential. For example: "He chose the expensive coat, which was thick and warm."
3) Another common error in writing is confusing "it's" and "its" and simple way to remember is to realize that "it's" is the contraction of "it is" and not the possessive form of "it". If you can substitute "it is" in the sentence and the meaning is unchanged, then you can use "it's", but if you are talking about the scent encountered in an Italian restaurant, you would say "its smell is of garlic and basil."
4) "Affect" and "effect" are often confused. A good way to get it right is to try substituting the word "influence" for "affect" and "consequence" for the word "effect". For example: "The lack of money affected our plans when traveling in Paris." (The lack of money influenced our plans when traveling in Paris." And "The effect of the volcanic eruption was that the town was obliterated." (The consequence of the volcanic eruption was that the town was obliterated.)
5) Still another problem area is when to use "there," "they're", or "their". This can be easily corrected when the words are analyzed. "There" is a place or a situation. "They're" is the contraction of "they are." And "their" is plural possessive. Examples: "Put the book over there on the table." "They're coming to dinner at eight." And "Their brother is in charge of the family reunion."
An editor is supposed to catch these common mistakes. Spellcheck will do its best. But the bottom line is you are the author and should be willing to proofread your work and make it as clean as possible. Carelessness only leads to embarrassment. Believe me, I know.