Author Archives: Bobbi A. Hoffman

First impressions and fresh eyes

“You never get a second chance to make a first impression.” This quote has been attributed to Will Rogers, Oscar Wilde, and Mark Twain — there is disagreement as to the original author — and has been used to sell everything from men’s suits to dandruff shampoo.

Regardless of who first said it, its truth is not disputed. The adage can be applied to job interviews, sales calls, and first dates.

It also applies to our writing. Whether it’s website text, a press release, a newsletter, or an email about an upcoming event, our written words are often the first way others learn about our college, our programs, and our people.

What first impression do we make if our material has typos or other errors?

Errors can be costly

According to Professor William Dutton, director of the Oxford Internet Institute at Oxford University, errors can cause concerns over whether a website or communication — and the people or organization behind it — is credible and trustworthy.

If those reading your content find reason to doubt your credibility or competence, the result could be fewer people attending your event, learning about your research, or buying your product.

For example, Charles Duncombe, an online marketer in the United Kingdom, found that fixing a simple spelling mistake on a website accounted for a 100 percent increase in sales.

Put fresh eyes to work

We all make mistakes, but it’s hard to catch our own errors. One reason is because we’ve already looked at what we’re writing a dozen times, and we know what it’s supposed to say. That causes our eyes to skip over mistakes and instead see what we know should be there.

Psychologist Tom Stafford with the University of Sheffield, quoted in the Aug. 12, 2014, edition of Wired, says that writers don’t see their own typos because, “When you are writing, you’re trying to convey meaning. It’s a very high level task.”

In other words, when the brain is focused on the complex task of conveying ideas, it is difficult to see the individual letters, commas, and sentences involved.

That’s why it’s so important to have someone who is not familiar with the material — a fresh pair of eyes — review it for misspellings, factual errors, and grammatical issues.

Proofreading your own work

If you have to proof your own work, here are some ideas for helping you pinpoint errors:

  • Print it out. For most people, it’s easier to proof on paper than on a computer screen. Before printing, double-space the text.
  • Use a ruler. A ruler helps because it keeps the eyes from jumping ahead. Clear plastic rulers don’t work for this purpose. Another option is sliding a piece of paper in a contrasting color (a bright or dark color works best) down the page as you read line by line.
  • Read aloud. Turn on the white noise or go to a quiet location and read the text out loud. Or have someone else read it to you.
  • Change it up. Before reviewing, try printing it in a different font — something wider and different from what you usually use. And while you’re at it, print the text on brightly colored paper to make it stand out.
  • Back it up. Some people suggest reading a document from the end to the beginning. This trick might help with locating out-and-out typos (an extra letter or transposed letters), but it doesn’t help with grammar errors or homophone misuse (there, their, or they’re).

For more information about the science behind typos, check out Nick Stockton’s article in Wired, “What’s Up With That: Why It’s So Hard To Catch Your Own Typos.”

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Should Titles Be Capitalized?

When crafting a press release, publication, or letter, the rules for when and how to use academic or job titles can seem confusing. Virginia Tech follows the Associated Press Stylebook for guidance. Here are some general guidelines and examples to follow.

Academic Titles

The rule of thumb is to capitalize academic titles that precede an individual’s name but lowercase academic titles that follow a name.

  • Capitalize academic titles that directly precede individual names. Note: Capitalizing “professor” or “assistant professor” before a name is an exception to AP Style. Ex: Dean Vernon Wormer, Professor Severus Snape
  • Lowercase academic titles when they are used without a specific name. Ex: the dean, a professor of potions
  • Lowercase academic titles that follow the name of an individual. Ex: Vernon Wormer, dean of Faber College; Severus Snape, professor of potions

Exceptions:

  • Capitalize University Distinguished Professor and Alumni Distinguished Professor whether or not they precede a name. If an area of study is included, capitalize it.
  • Capitalize all professorships and endowed chairs, whether or not they precede a person’s name.

Job Titles

With job titles, capitalize formal job titles that directly precede a person’s name but lowercase job titles that follow a person’s name, are used without name, or are more like job descriptions than formal titles. Continue reading

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One space or two?

People of a certain age — myself included — learned to type on a manual typewriter, and our typing teachers taught us to put two spaces between sentences and after colons.

Nowadays, the rule is one space between sentences and after colons. This is true in Virginia Tech’s style guide as well as in all major style guides, including Associated Press, Chicago, MLA, and others.

Why the difference? It has to do with the fact that manual typewriters used monospacing — every letter, no matter its width, took up the same amount of horizontal space. Thus, an “l” or “i” was allotted the same amount of space as a wider letter, like an “m” or “w.” This caused more white space between some letters and made the space between sentences more difficult to locate. So, two spaces were inserted between sentences to make it easier for the reader to visually separate them. Continue reading

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Tips for submitting peer-reviewed publications

One of the many roles of the Office of Communications and Marketing is to edit and design peer-reviewed Extension publications.

We know it can be frustrating when your publication is delayed. Here are some tips to help speed up the process:

  • Make sure your publication is in final form and has been approved. No drafts, please. Publications must have gone through the peer-review process, and the approval form must be completed, signed, and uploaded into the job system.
  • Have all parts of your publication ready before you open a new job, and upload them at the same time. Please don’t tell us that you’ll add the needed approval form or figures later. We can no longer accept jobs that are incomplete because it’s not fair for an incomplete project to be placed ahead of other jobs that are ready to go.
  • Provide a clean Word document that follows the standards provided on our website. Some specific guidelines include:
    • Set up your document with a 1-inch margin on all sides (please don’t change the margins within the publication), use one column only, and double space and left justify your text.
    • Use normal text rather than assigning one of Word’s style options. Styles must be removed, which takes valuable time.
    • No text boxes, figures, tables, or photos in the Word document, please. Instead, put them in separate files and name the files so that what they contain is obvious.
  • Don’t design the publication. That’s what our designers are good at. Feel free to give us your ideas, but designing the publication adds to your time and delays your project’s completion because we have to remove all formatting as part of the editing process.
  • When you open a new job, be specific about your deadlines and the intended use(s) for the publication.
  • Please respond to questions from our editor and proofs from our designers as quickly as you can to avoid delays.

Check out other suggestions and instructions that will make your publishing process go faster and smoother. If you have any questions, contact Bobbi Hoffman, editor, or Lori Greiner, communications manager.

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