This is the latest installment of “Writing With Russ.” In this blog, Russell Terry, Voter Engagement Advocate for Oregon Secretary of State, reflects on working at the UNC-Chapel Hill Writing Center to bring you tips for clear, concise writing.
Warning: this column gets a bit salty. But it does so to help you avoid accidentally being salty in your professional writing.
Once when the tutors at the UNC Writing Center were planning a happy hour, one tutor emailed that she was “brining her daughter.” Being a bunch of word nerds, we all made jokes about soaking her daughter in saltwater. (Side note: we’ll be brining our turkey for Thanksgiving. So tasty.)
Most of us have these kinds of typos we make, especially when typing quickly. We tell someone where to lick on our website, or report about the litter we received from an angry member of the pubic.
I feel like I’m overlooking an obvious no-I-in-team joke here, but let’s move on.
The (Low Saline) Solution
So, embarrassing, sometimes work-inappropriate typos. What to do about them?
Here is where the exclusion dictionary is your friend. If you already have one, you’re all set and can tell everyone you were using exclusion dictionaries before they went mainstream. Now go read a different ELGL article.
An exclusion dictionary lets you create a customized file of words that you want Microsoft Office to flag as mis-spelled even though they’re real words. Like this:
For instructions on how to set yours up, just do an internet search for exclusion dictionary and the version of Office you’re using. If you write in other software, you can search to see if it has a similar option.
Here’s what mine looks like:
Every time I discover a new dumb typo where the incorrect word is something I rarely or never use at work, I open the file and add that word to the list. Just last week I added “statue” to mine because I’d written it when I’d meant “statute.”
Taking a Step Back
I think this approach to avoiding some kinds of hard-to-find typos is an example of a kind of thinking that is helpful in our work far beyond writing.
So there’s this process. It’s full of opportunities for error. Some of the errors are pretty hard to catch. I made this error and it made me look dumb and led to a product that wasn’t up to my standards nor my organization’s standards. So I asked myself, is there I way I can prevent that error in the future—or at least dramatically decrease the chance of doing it? Why yes, there’s this thing I can add to my process which will do that. Okay, so I’ll add that to my process.
Now I can go make new, interesting mistakes instead of soaking people in salt water again and again.