Knowing your Osamas from your Obamas

The letters B and S aren’t that close on a keyboard, even writing them, it’s hard to mix them up unlike b and p for example which can cause problems for some people when writing something by hand (as opposed to typing).
However, there has been mix-ups in recent days. A Fox news channel in the US has made the mix-up between b and s by writing Obama instead of Osama, according to the Guardian. It was waiting to happen, and it’s no surprise given the difference of just one letter between the names of the heads of two opposing regimes, that there has been mistakes.
Remember the jokes about Iceland and Ireland when the banking crisis kicked off?
I concur with the Guardian that this happened in a number of newsrooms due to the speediness of breaking news. But if so many people rely on breaking news and so much news is broken via Twitter, how can we rely on it if it’s just going to be the norm for it to be littered with misspellings which in turn results in misinformation eg Obama shot (instead of Osama). Is it any wonder that Obama showed the world his long form birth cert last week – because somewhere along the way this week someone is bound to get Osama and Obama mixed up and think something a bit far fetched.
As an editor I’ve seen many a spelling mistake. Sometimes misspellings are cloaked by the Word document language being set to US English instead of Irish/British for some mysterious technical reason I’ll never understand. Sometimes it seems people are too damn lazy to check over their work or have never been taught that checking back over your written work before pressing send or save is always a really good idea.
If you think you may fall into the loose with written words category, here’s a few tips to get you writing words that are spelled the way they should.
How do you know if you are bad at spelling? Ask someone, I guess, or keep an eye on the squiggly red lines littering the Word document, email or CMS page you are working on.
Know the words you have difficulty spelling and check them in an online dictionary, a real dictionary or by keeping a list taped to your monitor.
Turn on the option on whatever system you’re working on to catch misspellings. Nothing like a squiggly red line underneath a word to give you an idea something is wrong.
Ask someone else to read your work – even your mother or your son. Anyone really, hopefully they don’t have the same problem with misspelling the same words as you do.
If you’re using Twitter or Facebook or some system to update such feeds for work reasons, definitely make sure you read back over what you’re about to broadcast to the world. Don’t have time, well it’s only a measly 140 characters innit?
•Use a sub-editor. Here, most of our work is ‘subbed’ or proofread before it appears on a client’s website. If you have something you’d like checked for spelling, grammar, punctuation, correct use of words, send it on and we’ll give you a quote.
What are your most common misspellings? Is it words with lots of letters or words that can be spelled two different ways?
PS I haven’t looked back over this piece, purposely. Please let me know of any mistakes by commenting below!

The letters B and S aren’t that close on a keyboard, even writing them, it’s hard to mix them up unlike b and p for example which can cause problems for some people when writing something by hand (as opposed to typing).

The New McCain Campaing Ad?

Photo: Ted Curran. "The New McCain Campaing Ad? This was a model for a project I created for my class. I was just having fun with some Republican rhetorical points."

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Who do you write for?

Ask a journalist who do they write for and they’ll probably ream off a list of magazines or newspaper.

Ask a web copywriter who they write for and they may list of a load of clients. But really when you’re asking that of a web copywriter that’s not necessarily the answer you’re seeking. The first on their list should be the reader. Of course you do some writing for the client and of course if you’re including keywords and key phrases in the text to help with SEO, well you’re writing for the search engines and their algorithms and systems.

Dealing with inadequate content

Some people to seem to think that a Google patent in relation to ‘inadequate content’ means that keyword stuffed, uninteresting and useless content will be filtered out of results. That’s great for search engine users so – they’ll probably get the useful information they came to the internet for in the first place. It’s a great theory – but there are other things at play…

According to the Financial Times “Google obtained a patent this year for a system that would help it identify “inadequate content” on the web, based on comparisons of what people search for and what they find.” This information could be sold to online publishers or given away.

The SEO by the Sea blog raises the question as to whether people would start writing content on areas because Google suggests there’s a lack of content on that topic? He also says that sometimes people blame the search engine as opposed to content creators when they get search engine results they aren’t happy with.  He adds: “It’s possible that there may be information on that query or topic that isn’t in a very search engine friendly format, which couldn’t be indexed by the search engine. It’s also possible that there just aren’t very many quality pages that might provide results on those topics.”

Referencing the Financial Times article on they’re saying “If true this could lead to a paradigm shift in how companies handle copywriting to become more reader- over system-oriented.”

So how ready are you for whatever Google is going to next throw at us? Do you have quality content? Do you think it matters? Are you writing for the reader?

Spelling bee

Spelling success

The Girl Who Spelled Freedom was a 1980s Disney Movie that I’d love to see again. It was about a Cambodian refugee girl who became excellent at spelling English words and got into a spelling bee final in the US, only four years after she started learning English.

Word intrigue

I’d love to see it to see how I, as an adult, would be at spelling the words she was able to spell in the competition. I’m good at spelling. Regularly I get asked to spell words for friends, family, associates. Occasionally I get a spelling wrong. It’s not just a mistype, but the spell check on Microsoft Word informs me that yet again I have spelled intriuge wrong. It should be intrigue.

Did you mean?

In my line of work I see misspelled words everywhere. I understand that people who are not as good at spelling just don’t see the mistakes. But in this day and age we have the opportunity to turn on the spell check or type a word into a search engine to check the correct spelling. Google, for example will ask “Did you mean:” if it thinks you meant to type in a different word or phrase.


Get it right

So why not try and improve your spelling and improve your communications? If learning by rote is not for you and you’re past the spelling bee sell by date, why not rely on other means to make sure words are spelled correctly? Why not make up a list of the words you misspell most and have them to hand when writing that important pitch or email to a potential client.

Overwriting and knowing when to stop

A few tips on making your content more shareable

Just look at the headline above. It’s neither here nor there. The word shareable is all on its own on the second “deck” of the H1 headline.

Now take out today’s paper or any newspaper and you’ll see that in all likelihood that there are no lone words on second or third decks of headlines. They tend to be filled out across one or a few decks and tightly written to fill the space (with a little help from layout programmes such as InDesign or Quark to increase or decrease the space between letters/words very subtly).

If you’re putting any sort of a heading, sub-heading etc on your website, blog or email newsletter, think about how it many characters as opposed to words will fit across either one or two lines before writing. It’ll look tidier. *

Fitting concise messages into Twitter

A handy way of practicing writing within a confined amount of characters is by using Twitter. 140 characters. Wow, that’s short you may think, if you’re not a regular Twitter user. But if your message is something other people might like to share by retweeting (RT) it, you may need to consider writing a 100 to 120 character tweet.

This morning I saw a tweet from a Bus Eireann twitter account which I thought would be worthwhile retweeting for another account I manage @housemates. I prefer manual retweeting, where you can edit the tweet or add a comment after it. So, in Hootsuite, the Twitter programme I use a lot of the time, I hit Re-Tweet and I saw the message was 156 characters long – 16 too many - because it included “RT: @buseireanndeals: ” Including spaces, that’s 22 extra characters to RT something from @buseireanndeals manually. I didn’t RT it. I didn’t want to go to the bother of editing it. Other days I may have, not today. At least not yet.

If you want your tweets to be more shareable and retweetable then you have to take into account the number of characters in your usernname and the space taken up by the other stuff. The other stuff, to save you counting, comes to 7 characters. If I am tweeting from @elainelarkin I know that anything I think could be retweeted should come to 140 characters minus 7 characters (the other stuff) minus 12 characters (username) = 121 characters. Make it short enough and you make it shareable.

*Disclaimer: Sometimes we’re in a rush too and to prove we’re human and not robot, there have been occasions where we’ve left one word hanging on its own on the second deck of headline in previous blog posts.