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Writer etiquette: Is it OK to point out typos in others' writing?

Oops! Did you just pick out a glitch in another writer’s grammar? How about a wrong wording, a spelling stumble, or a typographical transgression? What should you do about it?

Writers often are quite skilled at editing and proofreading. (At least, we can usually spot errors in others’ work fairly readily. Our own material may be a different story altogether.) As wordsmiths, we tend to possess pretty adept language skills. Many of us aim earnestly to be careful readers.

That’s a two-edged sword.

No one’s perfect. How rare is it for a writer to page through an entire book, magazine, or blog post without catching a single grammatical, spelling, or typographical error? They sort of jump out at the trained eye.

Writer etiquette:  Is it OK to point out typos in others' writing?

Gaffes are almost a given. So what’s a writer to do?

Maybe it’s a good idea to consider these questions before donning one’s volunteer editor hat and lobbing critiques (or helpful suggestions) at other writers’ work.

  1. Who is likely to read the item? A private text message, email, or letter is one thing. An online article or publicly available book is another matter.

  1. Is the error found in a published piece? A draft or manuscript is easily mended. A printed or posted item may not be. Spoken words (even recorded ones) are virtually impossible to correct. Plus, people are generally more forgiving of misspeaks than of misprints. Is it worth the potential push-back to point out an error?

  1. Is it too late for a fix? If a correction isn’t an option, why raise the issue? The proverbial ship has sailed.

  1. How well do you know the writer? If it’s a close friend, a family member, or a trusted colleague, a quiet correction may be well received. If the flub comes from a student or a subordinate, then your feedback should be expected. On the other hand, if you’ve spotted a typo on a random blog or in an eBook by an unfamiliar author, you cannot possibly anticipate the potential response. It’s also possible that the flaw entered the picture from an editor’s or headline writer’s desk, rather than at the hands of the actual writer.

  1. How bad is the misstep? And is it actually a mistake at all? Is this a case of alternate spellings (such as “color” and “colour,” “favorite” and “favourite,” or “airplane” and “aeroplane”)? If the author is British, the second forms are considered correct. If he or she is American, the first ones are right. Here’s an aside: Sometimes skilled writers break grammatical or spelling rules on purpose, simply to emphasize a point or create a certain effect. It’s called “poetic license.” (Who’d a thunk it?)

  1. What is your motivation for bringing up the typo? This is a matter of self-examination. Be honest. Are you aiming to save the writer from potential embarrassment, or do you hope somehow to score personal points or a prideful uptick? Those attitudes are not likely to go over well. It’s a content typo, not a reader’s ego trip.

  1. How do you plan to mention the error? Private communication is always the best avenue for such a message. A public post critique, a pointed book review, or a comment in a crowded room are never appropriate for airing others’ errors.

  1. How will you phrase your observation? Graciousness and courtesy count for plenty among fellow writers. Snarky or superior-sounding comments are off-putting. Kind observations tend to be more welcome. Also, it’s best to stay focused, pointing out the exact location of the apparent slip-up and steering clear of judgmental or generalizing statements. Remember: You’re just calling attention to a single blooper, not trying to school the writer.

  1. Are you prepared for a less-than-positive reaction from the writer? Many people respond defensively to criticism, no matter how gently it is presented. Hey, it’s possible. The author may or may not consider your input, but that’s not your concern. The bottom line is simple: If you are not the editor or publisher, it’s not your job to fix what’s broken. That’s up to the writer.

  1. What if someone finds a boo-boo in one of your works someday? This isn’t a far cry for most of us. Unless you have a foolproof editor, it’s a possibility. Grammar- and spell-check programs don’t catch everything. And no writer is a 24/7 Hawkeye. Most of us (if we’re lucky) have a few trusted colleagues or confidantes who secretly and tactfully alert us to dreaded typos when they appear. Such folks are like gold to us.

Adapted by this user
 from public domain image

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1 comment:

  1. Drat! This article has been found to be impeccable!


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