Writer’s Desk Helpful Hints

Sorry About That!


It pays to take the time to double check important details in anything we write, especially when it comes to people’s names.

There is nothing for deflating than to read a story about someone’s achievement or mishap and to realize the person’s name is spelled wrong or the wrong name entirely.

A friend recently sent me a message about a high school classmate undergoing a health crisis and not only misspelled her name, but the misspelling formed a derogatory word.

How embarrassing for all involved.  I’m sure the author was mortified when the error was detected.  The subject also might have understood a misspelling but to see the new derogatory word in its place was equally depressing.  And the reader felt embarrassed for both people.

Having spell checker if writing using a program such as Office Word is fine and it often underlines in red names it doesn’t recognize, but in this case it would have remained silent because the misspelled name formed another real word.

So relying on the spell checker to bail you out in any case is folly.

It is the same for homonyms which could sneak in during the course of some concentrated writing, the author not realizing he or she had typed bare for bear, or ant for aunt, or pee for pea.  The spell checker won’t help you out in such a faux pas.

Another problem with names is giving a positive identification of the individual.  For example, if you were writing about a man named Bob Smith that might not narrow down the particular Mr. Smith.  We need more information.

In the newspaper business, identification of individuals is crucial, sometimes to avoid lawsuits.  In the case of Bob Smith we had to determine if his real name is Robert Smith.  If so, we needed to get a middle name or initial, Robert E. Smith.  Providing an age also narrows it down, so we have Robert E. Smith, 34.

It also helps to give an address, occupation, title, office, or other information germane to the individual, such as Robert E. Smith, 34, chairman of the school board.

If you were just given the name verbally, even with other personal information, you cannot assume spelling the name correctly.  If you were told about Robert E. Smith, it could be his name was spelled Smythe.

Either look up the name in a directory or other source, but even then you might be wrong.  It is always best, when possible, to ask the person to spell their name for you.

It is a tedious process, but a necessary one.

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