June 17
June 2015  
UpWrite Press Writing eTips

Reading maketh a full man; conference a ready man; and writing an exact man.

—Francis Bacon

Word Pair of the Month: alter, altar

As is so often the case, one little letter again means the difference between two very different words. Alter with an e-r means “to change something.” You might alter an opinion, or have a tailor alter your pants to fit.

The ship captain had to alter our course away from the storm.

Altar with an a-r is a noun, a raised platform or structure used for religious rites.

The bride stepped up to the altar, and the wedding ceremony began.

As you can see, approaching an altar can alter a person’s life considerably.

Writers’ Forum Question

It seems we all have a common error or two that crop up in our writing, especially when we’re rushed. What tactics do you use to catch and correct your own?

Lester Smith, one of our own writers and editors, had this to share:

I’ve noticed two common errors crop up when I’m writing quickly. First, like many people, I sometimes type “it’s” when I mean “its.” The second error is a bit odder: My fingers commonly add an “e” after words that end in “r.” (Maybe it’s from that semester of college French.) In both cases, I often catch the mistake as soon as I type it, but nothing serves as well as a final proofreading. I even reread emails and text messages before clicking “Send,” for just that reason.

Cassie Shipman of Atlanta commented on the frequency of spelling errors found in business writing:

We had quite a problem with spelling errors and discovered that a major culprit was a lack of time. Rushing writing and not proofreading led to sometimes embarrassing errors. We solved the problem by first trying to ensure adequate time for writing assignments and projects. We also encouraged the use of spell checkers and required that all writing receive a second reader to proofread for errors. Extremely sensitive or vital pieces receive a third pair of eyes as well. Errors might still occur, but with a lot less frequency.

Loni Johnson of Chicago offered the best comment on errors in agreement:

It’s easy to make errors in agreement of subjects and verbs or pronouns and nouns when sentences ramble on forever, so we provide training in writing short, clear sentences. This seems to help the problem quite a bit. We also provide short online refresher courses on agreement, along with other grammar topics. These are available at individual computers on an as-needed basis.

Robert Flores of Miami also wrote about sentence construction, offering this good advice:

It’s so easy to mess up a sentence, especially if you are writing in a hurry and your mind just rambles on. We dealt with a lot of run-ons and fragments before we offered writing training. We also encourage everyone to read their writing out loud. That way, they are able to hear mistakes their eye might miss.

Finally, we heard from Jessica Weinberg of New York City, who commented on hazards of using casual English:

We use a lot of social media to promote our company, and many of our workers are young. This combination presented a problem when staff started using trendy language and technical jargon on our Web site. Our target audience is pretty general, and management realized we had to go back to more standard, universal language. Now we have at least one senior editor check each post before it goes live.

A Final Thought

Summer vacations can leave our email inboxes and our answering machines flooded with messages. Setting up an automatic reply before you leave is more than just a kindness for others, it also helps to reduce that flood. So take the time to prepare a message letting people know you’re away, and when to expect you back. You’ll enjoy your vacation a lot more, and catching up on correspondence when you return will be less of a chore.

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