Pointing Out Mistakes… Yay Or Nay..?

by limebirdwriters

Ok, I’m the first to admit, if I see rogue punctuation or strange spelling or an abuse of homophones in my work, I’ll be straight in there with my red pen making adjustments. I’m sure most of you are too. However, the people that get right on my nerves are the callous self proclaimed ‘Grammar Police’. These are the people that will wait for someone to make the slightest typo or mistake and jump right on in there, shaming the writer and making them feel stupid.

One of my favourite lines which I have seen online is this – “ Its ‘they’re not ‘there’!! Your such an idiot!” This one just completely tickled me. I’m pretty sure I guffawed, (do people guffaw anymore?). Trying to look smart and being harsh, but then doing the same thing wrong yourself is just an awesome fail. The only person that I will do this to would be my sister, but that’s allowed right?

This practice (which I have seen all too often online) really gets on my nerves if it is done in a harsh way, simply to embarrass. I know that I have been guilty of an exasperated head bang when I see something written like this – “ Your stuff is over their, its washed.” Or whatever. Ohh I feel dirty not correcting that. Anyway, there is a time and place to point out mistakes (and most of the time it isn’t necessary).

However, if you do spot a glaring mistake somewhere (like a blog) what do you do? When should you point out misspellings, especially if you don’t know the person?

Well, I think the first thing to think about is why you want to do it? Do you genuinely want to help and think that it will assist the person, or are you just trying to get up on your grammar high horse?

If it’s the second one then stop right here! You stop that, you meanie. We all make mistakes from time to time and these can’t be avoided, but if you are intent on pointing out the mistake/s, then these things need to be taken into consideration:

Firstly, is it simply a typo? If you are familiar with the writings of this person and you know it is out of character then you could dismiss it as a typo. If not, and you’re sure that it will benefit the writer if you point it out, will they appreciate the note?

The way I looked at this, was how I would react to being contacted. If there was a mistake in my post, plain and simple I would want to know about it. What I would appreciate is a simple private polite email/message letting me know about the mistake. I would not be offended or angered, but appreciative that the mistake would be rectified.

However, this isn’t the case for everyone. Even if you are the nicest person ever, with the best intentions, many people will not want to hear what you have to say. Many will take offence to you pointing out a spelling mistake, especially if you have misjudged the situation, so be tactful.

Also, here’s another tip, if you’re going to point out someone’s mistake, check you’re right first! You don’t want to smugly point out an error to someone, only to find that they were right in the first place or that you’ve got it wrong. However, if you were trying to be a smart ass it probably serves you right!

OK, admit it, how many of you are scouring through my post, trying to spot mistakes now? Stop that…now!

So, how would you react to someone pointing out a mistake? Or, have you done this before.. what happened?

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39 Comments to “Pointing Out Mistakes… Yay Or Nay..?”

  1. Great post Beth and so very true. I often feel exactly the same inner turmoil of genuinely wanting to help someone, but not knowing how it will be taken. Ah the curse of being a nice person…and a complete wimp when it comes to any kind of conflict!

    I saw someone get their complement and compliments mixed up on a post just a couple of days ago and debated for ages whether I should try and get in touch. I didn’t in the end because I couldn’t see a way of doing it without using a public post and I really don’t think people should draw attention to mistakes in a public forum. I also didn’t know whether she’d appreciate it.

    When I’m writing as myself I’m a slave to good grammar so if anyone ever sees a mistake that I’ve made I really hope they’ll find a way of sending me a private message whether they know me or not. I’d be eternally grateful to them because it means I can correct it.

    And be honest Beth, how many times did you check and re-check this post to make sure you didn’t make any slips!

    • Hi Sally,

      Thank you for your comment.

      I know, it is a difficult choice to make, I am exactly the same as you.

      Yes, I completely agree with this. I think also if it’s just a small mistake, you can end up looking pedantic and petty yourself, which could backfire. Also, the problem with doing it publicly and not knowing if they would actually want the feedback is a tough one.
      Exactly, I hope that people would tell me as well, as long as they aren’t being mean or anything!

      Haha, only a few.. eh hem.. several… lots of times! There still might be mistakes on here, but please do let me know if there is!

  2. This made me laugh. I used to affectionately term myself a “Grammar Nazi”. I still notice typos everywhere, even in traditionally published books, but if there is one thing I’ve learned over the past 14 years of being online its that typos happen. Even the best of us slip up sometimes. It’s even worse now that phones have such great capabilities. I’m on my phone now, even. But phones make such unique typos that there is a website making fun of them (dyac).

    Yes if it is a professional website where it’s important to look sharp, especially one about writing, I will nicely point it out. I did so recently, in fact. It was in a series of emails about how to make a career as a writer, and the email about looking sharp was missing a word. I pointed this out and the guy laughed because I’d teased him about it and he thanked me right after he fixed the email.

    • Okay my phone decided I was done with that last post and wouldn’t let me finish. Anyhow, I did email the guy privately and he was grateful, but like Beth and Sally both point out, be nice, don’t do it publicly, and be sure the comment will be welcome before you point out any errors.

      Blessings,
      Raven

    • Hi Raven,

      I don’t think there is any problem with being a ‘Grammar Nazi’ per say, I’m talking more about the mean people who will shoot people down at the first sign of a mistake.

      Ah yes, I am familiar with dyac! Some of them look a bit fake to me, but I can completely see how they might occur, with hilarious consequences most of the time!

      I completely agree with this, especially like you say, if they are a writing site/trying to sell you something to do with writing. I read a book recently which was littered with mistakes and I was really tempted to write to the publishers and ask how they managed to slip through the net. I didn’t in the end, but I’m thinking now that maybe I should have!

      Well, I think that that is a situation where a mistake needs to be pointed out, especially in a professional capacity. I’m glad that you had a situation where the writer was grateful for the feedback!

      Thank you for your comment. 🙂

      • Uh.. It’s “per se” gawdddd Beth *exhasperated eye roll* I mean really come on here!

        Lol! I’m only teasing!! – I just ignore bad grammar most of the time, if it’s things like its vs. it’s and things like that. If it’s bad to where it’s unreadable, and constantly like that, I’ll just try really hard to ignore it. I’ve never really told anyone their grammar was bad because I’m terrible at grammar and am constantly checking and re-checking myself for mistakes (and even then I miss stuff that my husband has to point out).

      • D’oh! See end of blog post…. If you’re going to call me out, make sure you spell ‘exasperated’ correctly! BAZINGA! Haha!! :p

        I think there is definitely a time and a place and I’m by no means perfect! (as you so rightly pointed out) 🙂 Thanks for your comment!

      • I love that you used bazinga =)

    • Dyac! I was sent a link to this a while ago and was trying to remember what the site was the other day – hysterical!

  3. I think you need a pot belly and a handlebar moustache like Wilfred Brimley in order to guffaw effectively.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wilford_Brimley

    There is a tactful way to point out mistakes and a non-tactful way. I think the tactless ones enjoy cutting people down. It gives them a feeling of power. Needless to say, it is unwise to befriend such people, but useful to point out the power politics which underlie their actions.

  4. I sent someone a correction once, in their comment box. For 99% of these unless you have posted before, your comment has to be approved first. Such was the case, and in the comment I corrected (I hope gently) the error and told him not to approve the comment, that I just wanted to let him know.
    He fixed the error AND approved the comment and left it up. I’ve had a few people correct mistakes I had in my work, and I always approve the comment and thank them profusely. I would rather know.

  5. It’s hard being an author where every reviewer/blogger considers herself or himself to be a grammar expert! Yes, I like to know if there are major problems, not minor typos since those can be found in the best professionally edited book. Still, it’s not always my fault or an editor’s fault. Take e-books for example. Typos can happen in the conversion depending upon the software used or the file becomes corrupted in the download. The reader doesn’t know that, and jumps all over the author as incompetent and knocks out a scathing review.

    • Hi Shawn,

      Thank you for your comment and welcome to Limebird! 🙂

      Yes, I hadn’t really thought about that, but that must be a pain. Especially if you know that you hadn’t made the mistake yourself. How frustrating!

  6. I think it’s helpful to point out errors–especially when social media has taken off the way it has. We don’t have the editing stage (or perhaps we don’t respect it as much) the way we did 20+ years ago. We depend too much on fallible systems like spellcheck. We are also “too busy” to take the time to proofread our material. And it is a shame.

    As a freelance editor/writing coach I find myself picking up on errors in material like restaurant menus, or shop signs, or friends’ emails even when I’m not intending to look for errors. That’s just a habit borne out of my job. It’s astounding to me how many people don’t know the difference between “to” and “too” or “its” and “it’s” or “their,” “they’re,” and “there.” I could go on, but I’m sure you get my point.

    There is, of course, a right way and a wrong way to go about bringing an error to someone’s attention. It’s the same situation if you saw a woman emerge from the bathroom and her skirt was tucked into her pantyhose (yes, I have seen this in real life–it’s not only in the movies!). You would tell her about her problem, and I think you should do the same for people who claim to be serious about writing. You cannot be a serious, dedicated writer without being willing to do the best job you can do–and that most certainly includes spelling and grammar!

    People who want to make a good impression, who care about how they present themselves and their work, and who are willing to learn every day until they die are the ones who will appreciate the kind psst, you have a typo in your blog post.

    I like how Neeks did it, by discreetly letting the author know. And kudos to the author for accepting her help and admitting it publicly. That’s the kind of person who takes his work seriously and wants to do the best job he can.

    Great post, Beth.

    • Yes, I agree that many people don’t take the time out to proofread their work, which is crazy. I would never click publish on something I hadn’t read over first!

      Ah I know that feeling. I do that without even meaning to most of the time, it’s terrible. They just seem to jump out at me. I then have trouble being able to ignore them!

      That’s a good example! Another would be if someone had something stuck on their face/in their teeth or even loo roll on their shoe! You wouldn’t just point and laugh would you? Well some people would…

      Exactly, I would definitely appreciate the psst! Thanks for your comment K.

  7. Hi Beth –

    I think that most “professionals” (those of us who blog on a regular basis and real professionals) want to know if the mistake is in a public format (such as a blog). On FB, I wouldn’t bother, no matter how nicely you do it. People take it the wrong way. In an email from your kid’s teacher, I’ve gotten those before – not typos but their for there, etc. Those are the ones that bother me. I could handle a typo – those are sometimes missed, it is the grammar mistakes from a teacher that rub me the wrong way. Of course, now that I’m teaching, I’m sure that sometime I’m going to make those mistakes myself. However, slowing down and proofreading is a good way to prevent those mistakes.

    • Hello Robin,

      What a nice surprise, I hope you are well. Yes, I agree, I haven’t come across someone yet who writes in a professional capacity who wouldn’t want to be made aware of any mistakes!

      Yes, I can see what you mean, when it’s a complete error it is worrying. Like you said, especially if it is from a teacher! I always always proofread to double check!

      Thanks for your comment.

  8. If someone wants me to read their work and make suggestions in general, I’ll note any typos/errors because they actively asked for feedback. If I see a typo on a blog post, I’ll let it go. Still, if someone makes a LOT of errors it makes me less likely to keep reading their blog. You need to at least try to be careful about your writing; otherwise I think you might not care about the content, either.

    • Hi Annie!

      Ah yes, I would put that in a different category if they had actively asked for feedback as sometimes you don’t notice your own errors.

      I completely agree, this is a really good point. If they haven’t bothered to proofread their work, they obviously can’t care about it all that much. Thanks for your comment!

  9. Aw man you got me! I um…blame my phone! I was typing on it and it didn’t tell me I was wrong TEEHEHE 😛

  10. Uh…I always guffaw. Anyway – I had one person point out that I was wrong in a blog comment once – but it was regarding information on a highly subjective subject, and it happened that I knew of several people who would vehemently disagree with her as well. But it did hit me the wrong way anyway, primarily because she worded her “correction” with the phrase, “I feel I need to point out when people are wrong.” Really? This is your mission in life? How sad for you.
    In blogs and other instant content especially, there are going to be random typos. We do our best. One of my favorite book series, the best-selling “Hunger Games” (which I’m sure was scrupulously edited) has mistakes in it. Get over it people.
    Your post was perfect though Beth. 😉

    • Nothing wrong with a good guffaw! Oh gosh what a horrible way to go about a correction! That’s definitely not on, she will go into the callous Grammar Police/Nazi category that I mentioned before! You should have said ‘I feel the need to point out when people are *insert expletive*’

      Oh, has it. Well I shall look out for those when I read them! 😛 Haha, phew! I’m glad to hear it! Thanks for your comment.

  11. We all have been there, with this stuff. Therefore I shall keep my guffaws to myself and hence keep this short. I started on the planned blogs, to write them in a word.doc, then copy and paste after correcting. But, on these quick comment boxes, if one makes a typo in the $%^&* copy of the post box – and fire off the “post it” button – not much can be done. I was entranced once, at TGI Fridays, a lady was at the elevated bar at happy hour, quite sloshed, leaning on the brass rail, tipping her cocktail glass sideways while her slip was showing about three inches below her hemline. I realized how much I missed slips, or seeing one in a slip. It is a favorite marvelous memory. And a reminder that I do not mind slips, words or otherwise lost clothing styles.

    • Hi Tim,

      Haha, your reply made me laugh! Thanks for sharing your story, but yes you are right, there isn’t much you can do with comments. However, I tend to take the same approach as you. I will first write out my blog in word, and then paste it into WP, thus picking up on any rogue mistakes! 🙂

  12. You have all shown remarkable forbearance in not pointing out to me that I misspelled Wilford Brimley.

  13. I’d prefer someone let me know privately about typos or grammar errors on the blog. I don’t think the comments are the best place to mention them. We all make mistakes. I’m betting there are several in my blog posts even after I proofread them. But it still stings when you feel like you’re being held up to public ridicule.

    When it comes to queries/synopses/sample pages, I’d rather have every typo/grammar mistake circled in red so I can fix them. Rather have beta readers point it out than an agent cringe over my work. 🙂

    • Yes I agree. I don’t think out in the open is the way forward, as it shows you may not have the right intentions.

      That is very true! It’s better to get rid of the mistakes in the earlier stages rather than the potential embarrassment later! Thanks for your comment Kourtney!

  14. As a writer, I probably notice typos quicker than most but … I’m more interested in what the person is writing about and … would never consider pointing out a mistake.

    Blessings – Maxi

    • Hi Maxi,

      Thank you for your comment. Ah yes, that is very true. I think I would only consider pointing out a mistake if I thought that they would genuinely benefit from it, and would appreciate it. 🙂

  15. Degradin’ ur internets with mai ignorance and apathy:

  16. Um… I will admit to making many, and I mean many many punctuation and grammar mistakes when I write the first draft. Editing helps and for those ones that I do miss, it does help if someone points it out tome. I am self conscious of my writing as it has been getting better with time. But I am not overly sensitive as I would rather someone show me my mistakes.. Can’t say the same for everyone. But I would say yes to the question.

    • Ah yes, I think we all do in the first draft. Most of the time I read back over some things and I cringe! I agree, I would definitely rather someone pointed it out to me, otherwise I would never learn.

      Thank you for your comment! 🙂

  17. I recently just now had someone point out a minor misspelling in my latest poem that I posted on my blog, but he was so nice and considerate and polite about it that not only did I correct the mistake as per his request, I also thanked him for his thoughtful and considerate comment in my reply. Just goes to show that you win over more flies with honey than vinegar, or in other words, if you say your criticism in a nice and polite and considerate way, the other person will usually be receptive and be much, much more likely to accept it! Be nice and considerate will get your points across a whole heck of a lot better than being rude or brief or curt or abrupt and nasty, like some grammar police types that I have seen within many, many blogs that I have visited. This man, however, was so nice about it, that I simply couldn’t help but to oblige him, and what’s more, I didn’t feel put-upon, or that I had been harshly slapped in the face, but I felt downright good about it, and I was glad to do so.

    • The word misspelled was ecstasy, just so you know. I had misspelled it as extasy, a common and understandable mistake. I think that ecstasy is probably on the list of most commonly misspelled words, if I am not mistaken, although I might be.

    • That’s nice of him to point it out politely and lucky that you were appreciative of it! 🙂 Ah yes, this is what I was talking about – the mean people who point out mistakes just to be mean or harsh. Those ones, I just can’t get along with.

      Thanks for sharing your experience and I’m glad it was a good one. Also, thanks for your comment!

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