Watch out for “diary” farmers

Published 11:14 am Thursday, July 20, 2017

A few weeks ago, I wrote a column entitled “Do you know where your food comes from?” I was pretty satisfied with how it turned out. That is, until I received a few emails pointing out a tiny little typo that I’d missed.

Instead of “dairy farmers,” I’d accidentally switched the letters and wrote “diary farmers.”

Listen, I don’t know what “diary” farmers are either, but after it was pointed out to me, I spent entirely too much time thinking about what the life of a “diary” farmer would be like. There would probably be a lot of accidental paper cuts involved, I would imagine. Just a hazard of the job.

But I digress. The point I was making was about the typo. I laughed when I realized the mistake I’d missed. There’s definitely a tendency to rely on spellcheck and autocorrect these days, and those features won’t spot the kinds of mistakes where you accidentally spell a completely different but still valid word. “Trial” and “trail” are a good example of a pair that can easily get switched too.

I’ve even made similar mistakes in Japanese before while I was studying the language in college. While doing my homework assignment, I was supposed to write “put the book in the bag.” I was rushing to finish, however, and missed the last letter for the word “bag.”

As I learned when I received my graded homework back, that one letter was the difference between the Japanese words for “bag” and “hippopotamus.” Putting a book into a hippopotamus is probably much more difficult I assume, but I’m certainly not going to test that theory to find out.

Mistakes are so easy to make and none of us are immune from it. But we shouldn’t use that as an excuse to be lazy when it comes to writing anything. A mistake can be easily fixed, but only if you take the time to find it. Proofreading requires diligence. It’s important to closely examine what you’ve written so you’re not making yourself look silly or incompetent by publishing something filled with errors.

Here are a couple proofreading tips to help you along the way:

Get a friend to look over your work. A fresh pair of eyes can spot errors you might have missed. We know what we’re trying to say, so it’s easy to skim over a word and assume it’s correct. For example, even though I know the difference between “you’re” and “your,” I can still type the wrong one if I’m in a hurry and typing too fast. But to someone else reading, it’s a glaringly obvious mistake.

Read from the bottom of the document up to the top. This won’t really help you with clarity problems in your sentences but you’ll at least be able to focus on your words individually to make sure they’re all spelled correctly.

Read it out loud. This helps with clarity. If it’s a mouthful for you to say, it’s probably confusing when read by others too. It also just helps you think more about whether you’re communicating your thoughts accurately.

Read it multiple times. The more you look at something, the better chance you have to spot an error. It’s also a good idea to focus on one type of error at one time, and then check for a different one on the next read-through. Focus on looking for spelling errors first, followed by punctuation errors, and then verb tense errors, etc.

Don’t get distracted. You can’t focus on checking your work if you’re multi-tasking seven other things simultaneously.

Take your time. Obviously if you have deadlines, waiting until the very last minute isn’t going to give you enough time to proofread. Try to find and fix errors as you go, and that way you’ll hopefully catch all (or at least most) of your mistakes by your final check.

Lastly—and this is the most important tip—learn to laugh at your mistakes.

Holly Taylor is a staff writer for Roanoke-Chowan Publications. Contact her at or by phone at 252-332-7206.