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How to stump a proofreader: Top five easy-to-miss errors

By Caitlin Pyle

Reporters, scopists, proofreaders… anyone who touches a transcript knows: Proofreading is never easy! Some errors are so common, proofreading eyes can see them right away. But others can be oh-so sneaky: They can look “right” even when they’re not. Let’s take a look at the top five easy-to-miss errors.

1) Follow-up vs. follow up vs. followup

This trio is seen most often in insurance cases and doctor depositions. Let’s take a look at some examples of proper use for each form:

A) Follow-up is used as a noun or an adjective: “I have a follow-up scheduled on Friday.” or “She was supposed to set a follow-up appointment with me after the MRI.”

Example of incorrect use: “Please follow-up with your attorney when you get those results.”

B) Follow up is used as a verb: “Did you follow up with your GP?” or “I’ll follow up with you if we decide to order.”

Example of incorrect use: “I have a follow up scheduled tomorrow.”

C) Followup is less common, but can be used just like “follow-up” — as a noun or adjective. It should not be used as a verb.

2) Proper usage of ZIP Code

It may not seem like a big deal, but trademarks are a big deal. That’s right — ZIP Code is an official trademark owned by the United States Postal Service. The “ZIP” in ZIP Code is an acronym that stands for Zone Improvement Plan, and that is why ZIP is capitalized. So give your proofreader a heads-up, and check your dictionary for other common instances: ZIP code, zipcode, Zip code, and zip code.

3) Hyphenating vice president or air conditioning

Whenever I’m tempted to hyphenate vice president or air conditioning, I think about what cheese pizza or ham sandwich would look like hyphenated. It just doesn’t work! Like ham and cheese, vice, and air are not phrasal adjectives, so they aren’t hyphenated. Oddly enough, though, “vice president” is hyphenated in the United Kingdom, Australia, and Canada. Who knew?

4) When effect is correctly used as a verb… and when affect is correctly used as a noun

Nine times out of ten, affect is a verb and effect is a noun — and this is exactly how I explain it whenever one of my clients has a question regarding their proper use. But on the rare occasion when the roles of affect and effect are reversed, it’s always tough to explain why it’s not an error. Let’s take a closer look.

  1. Effect as a verb: It means to bring about, to cause, or to achieve: “Let me know when you can effect the changes in the written questions.”
  2. Affect as a noun: It means display of emotion: “Did his affect change when you told him?”

5) Capitalization and apostrophe placement in Workers’ Compensation

As part of the U.S. Department of Labor, the official name of the workers’ compensation office is Office of Workers’ Compensation Programs. Unless the official name is used in full, or if it’s somehow used in a title of a publication, regular old transcript use of “workers’ compensation” should not be capitalized. Note the placement of the apostrophe, too — keep the plural possessive form, as used in the official name of the office.

That’s it! The top five easy-to-miss errors. So be honest… how’d you do? Straight As? Miss a couple? It’s all good. No one’s perfect, and we’re all in this to help each other grow as professionals. And, hey, here’s a fun idea — maybe you can throw one or two of these into your next job to see if your proofreader notices! But if you plant ‘em, make sure you remember where you put ‘em!

Caitlin Pyle is a proofreader based in Orlando, Fla. In business since 2009, she proofreads for 20+ reporters each month and teaches the multimedia online course Transcript Proofreading: Theory and Practice via her website