Top Typo-busting Tips

Using “Find and Replace” in Word is a useful tool for identifying common typos and homophones. All writers have their “pet nits” and it advisable to keep a list of your own so that you can run a check for them before the final edit. It’s much easier to spot a particular typo by searching through the document than reading it as a proofreader (the brain has an auto-correct facility, which is why proofreading is so much more difficult than one imagines.)

To instigate a nit search in Word, press the F5 key on your keyboard to get the Find and Replace window up:

Type in the search word and keep pressing the “Find Next” button until you have searched the whole document. You can also type the correct spelling into the “Replace” field, which is very useful if you decide to change a character’s name, for example.

This may seem rather tedious but well worth the couple of hours it takes, particularly if you are unsure of a word spelling. For example, “baited breath” is wrong “bated breath” is right – so look up any spellings you are unsure of in a dictionary, then add them to your search.

Below is a common nit/homophone check list – followed by a couple of tricks for spotting missing periods and uppercase errors in he said/she said dialogue tags (He said is wrong because the sentence has yet to end) and also how to fix “Yes Sir.” etc. to “Yes, sir.” (notice the added address comma as well).

advice advise
affect effect
aid aide
alter altar
an and
ball *bawl (*cry or shout)
bare bear
base bass
bated baited
begun began
birth berth
born borne (usually born)
brake break
breath breathe
breech breach broach
cant can't
chose choose
clamor clamber (ed) (ing)
compliment complement (ary) (ed)
conflicting conflicted
cord chord
council counsel
course coarse
creak creek
currant current
decent descent
de rigor = de rigeur
desert dessert (it's just deserts, not just desserts)
discreet discrete (ly)
disinterested uninterested
dominate dominant
draft draught drought
dual duel
dye die
each other *one another (*more than two)
elicit illicit
elude allude
exited excited
fair fare fear (ed)
flair flare
forbid forbade
form from
forward *foreword (*introduction in a book)
four for fir fourth forth
hanger hangar
hoard horde
hurtled hurled
if of or
its it's
jam jamb
knight night
know known
lay lie laid
leach leech
led lead
lessen lesson
lets let's
lightning lightening
lose loose
main man mainly manly
meat meet mete
mined mind
miner minor
misled mislead
mother lode (not mother load or motherload)
nit knit
of off
pail pale (it's beyond the pale)
pair pear pare
palate pallet
past passed
peak peek
pedal peddle
pour pore poor
principle principal
profit prophet
queue cue
quit quite quiet
rack wrack (ed-ing) (nearly always rack)
rained reigned
raise raze
ran run rub
retch wretch
rode rose rise ride
roll role
safe-deposit box - not safety
sang sung
she he
shear sheer
sigh sign
site sight (and cite)
slight sleight
spilt split
stationery stationary
straight *strait (*narrow water channel or difficulty--usu. pl)
Styrofoam (insulation block) polystyrene (cup)
suite suit
team teem
the they
their there they're
then than that
though thought through tough
to too two
vain vein vane
*vise vice (*clamping device - U.S. usage)
wet whet (it's whet your appetite)
where were we're
who whom
who's whose
wrung rung rang
your you're

F5 searches: To find and replace hyphens for en dashes: type into the “Find” field: a space a hyphen and a space and type into the “Replace” field: a space, then select “en dash” from the “Special” menu and then type in another space. It is advisable to click through using the “Find Next” button and replace them as you go through rather than all at once. You can also type in a space then ^= then another space as can be seen in the picture below.

The same can be done to replace double hyphens, usually with an em dash: type in two hyphens in the “Find” field and select em dash in the “Replace” field (or type: ^+).

To find consecutive sentences without spaces type in a period and select “Any Letter” from the Special menu (or type: ^$).

To find He said She said uppercase errors use the “Match case” checkbox as in the picture below *but remember to uncheck this box for other searches*.

Use “Match case” to find uppercase errors of the term “sir”, which should almost always be in lower case, Type in: Sir – at the same time check for missing address commas, which are common in short dialogue; e.g. “Yes, sir.” is correct, not “Yes sir.”

Compound number nits are common (e.g. twenty three should read twenty-three) and the way to check for these is to type: twenty and then a space character in the "Find" field; this will make them easy to spot (follow up with thirty thru ninety).

Wildcard searches, courtesy of proofreader Pauline Nolet:

Here is how to do a search (sort of) for missing periods (at the end of paragraphs only) – they can be so hard to catch. Downside is that it also includes sentences that end in exclamation marks and question marks, but there shouldn't be too many of those in most books.

Check the “Use Wildcards” box (don't forget to turn it off after or it can mess up the results of regular searches), then in the search box type:


The part in square brackets with the exclamation tells it to exclude periods and quotation marks. The caret and 13 are what you have to use when using wildcards to find a paragraph mark. (There was a note that the ^13 is not exactly the same as a regular paragraph mark, though I'm not sure exactly what the difference is, so changes should be manually made and not search/replaced.) Make sure to use the proper quotation mark, whether it's curly or straight. This search should identify the end of all sentences (at the end of paragraphs) that have either no punctuation at the end or end in anything but a period: !, ?, dashes, and ellipses.

A second search can find periods/commas missing at the end of dialogue (at the end of paragraphs). Same as above but move the quotes outside the square bracket:


This one tells it to find all sentences that end in quotes but do not have a period before it, and highlights all with missing periods, plus ?"  and !" so a manual “Find Next” investigation is required.

I hope this article is of use to you, and if you have any tips of your own please leave them in the Comments box (or any other common typos you are aware of).

To clean up formatting nits, please see our Eradicate Manuscript Nits article first, which will result in a more accurate search of all of the above, and also our Layout Tips article, which has a free Word template download that is Kindle/epub friendly.

Self Editing for Fiction #9 ~ Sophistication

Sliding off of his bunk, Richard slipped on a dirty T-shirt that lay on the floor and hastily acquired a fresh pair of boxer shorts from his bedside table before circumnavigating the accumulated piles of junk strewn all over his bedroom floor to find out who the f*ck was bothering him at this ungodly hour. Ricky was not the tidiest of people, and certainly not a morning person.
As he looked at his Rolex Cosmograph Daytona wristwatch, he went into the kitchen and splashed some water over his pounding head. If only that f*cking jerk would stop ringing the doorbell! he thought.

This passage I cobbled together contains quite a few style sins. I will list them in order.

‘as’ and ‘-ing’ constructions: starting too many sentences with these is nowadays regarded as hack writing by some industry professionals – plus, the simultaneity they sometimes suggest makes many of them technically impossible. In the first sentence Richard dons a T-shirt and rummages in his bedside table *at the same time* as he slides off his bunk. Similarly, in the second paragraph he’s looking at his wristwatch all the while he’s going to the kitchen and splashing water over his head. There are, of course, instances where they are suitable, but be careful not to overdo their use, and look out for simultaneity paradoxes.

Word order: it is always worth checking for ambiguity: Richard ‘slipped on a T-shirt’ can be read two ways – he can put it on or actually lose his footing. ‘Slipped a T-shirt on’ is an easy fix here (though other fixes in the first sentence are also required).

Profanity: is usually best kept to a minimum and (generally) restricted to dialogue only. The reader soon tires of serial cussing for the sake of it – a single F-bomb in the entire novel can have far more effect on the reader than a hundred of them. Soft profanity is generally advised in Interior Monologue and Point of View, such as ‘heck’, ‘hell’, or even a more active adjective, such as ‘persistent jerk’ in the second paragraph.

Exclamation marks: avoid using them unless a character is shouting in dialogue – and never splice a load of ’em together!!!

Consistency: be careful not to confuse the reader by switching from Richard to Ricky – as a reader I’m often wrong-footed by contractions or nicknames given to the character’s name (usually in another character’s dialogue).

Overt explanation: any reader with a brain will infer that Richard is untidy and a late sleeper without being told as much – don’t make the reader feel patronized by stating the obvious.

Product placement: is even a sin of many iconic thriller authors – they seem to be unable to resist regaling us with Jimmy Choo, Rolex, and/or their favorite vehicle and exclusive resorts. The odd placement is acceptable but making the novel read like a Vogue magazine irritates more readers than it impresses. Here is an excerpt from the salient Self Editing for Fiction Writers courtesy Renni Browne and Dave King:

“… We once worked on a manuscript in which the hero drove a Porsche Targa. Evidently this was the author’s dream car, because he mentioned it every chance he got. After forty or fifty pages of “hopping in the Targa,” and “taking the Targa to the Hendrick’s,” and “running the Targa out to Long Island,” one of our editors took to writing “Just call it the car!” in the margins. …”

Other considerations:

Avoid using certain types of vernacular in your narrative – e.g. ‘Sliding off of his bunk’ does not need the of at all; always check for redundant vernacular as you edit.

Avoid using repetitive beats: I once became so tired of reading about an MC making coffee every other scene, I wrote in an edit where the coffee machine exploded…

Once is usually enough: try to avoid telling the reader things more than once – credit them with having a brain; check for repetition as you edit.

~ ~ ~

It’s hard to make the example above into killer prose, so I won’t bother – but here’s a less crappy version:

Ricky slid off his bunk, grabbed a dirty T-shirt from the floor and slipped it on. He rummaged in his bedside table for a fresh pair of boxers, then circumnavigated
the junk strewn over his bedroom floor. Who the hell could be bothering him at this ungodly hour?
He peered at his wristwatch, went into the kitchen, and splashed some water over his pounding head. If only that persistent jerk would stop ringing the doorbell…

~ ~ ~

There are many more aspects of sophistication and I welcome any feedback about them in the comments field.

Using Images to Aid Description

A useful trick for describing (bucolic) scenes is to garner inspiration from a relevant image, e.g.

Above the cloud-smeared horizon, a mantle of tawny penumbra cast an iridescent halo wide around the dipping winter sun.  The glittering bay was cleaved in two by a path of liquid copper, which splashed an amber glaze over the damp beach that lay below the cemetery.  Vic propped the Kilmarnock willow against the grey stone wall and cut out a small circle of turf where the shrub was to be planted.  They had struggled down the cobbled walkway from St Mary’s church, Norman insistent on bearing the coffin despite his arthritis.  Four old men.  Mickey Brennan still nowhere to be found.

Table Talk by Stef Mcdaid

~ Short story ~ Debut novelist hosts dinner party to get reviews ~

Everyone loved Julia’s dinner parties. She had such flair; be it fish or fowl a chap could not resist her toothsome alchemy. If only her book didn’t suck so regally, Ollie mused as he waited for the elevator in the overblown lobby. Not that he’d read that much of it. Whoever on earth had front-loaded self publishing should be shot once or twice in the head. He’d graciously accepted a copy of Julia's debut novel at her last dinner party – as did the other guests: each and all promising faithfully to digest the adventures of Lara: Psychic Detective. And even through the drowsy mist of a few too many cups...he’d discerned a certain homage paid – and due – a now that we’re both writers sort of thing.

He stepped into the elevator, reminding himself to mind his French while among such gentile company, but broke the oath immediately as he spotted Arabella breezing into the lobby. He quickly pressed the button. His sense of déjà vu heightened on the 13th floor when the inimitable Rodrigo came puffing through the fire escape doors with a notebook in (disposable-gloved) hand.
Mwahs duly exchanged, Julia led he and Rodders to join the other guests, but Ollie had already anticipated they would consist of her loyal readership from the last gig. They took their places at the table and waited for Arabella, though what she’d find to eat now that asparagus was out of season confounded even Ollie’s imagination.
At the foot of the table, Rodrigo busied himself polishing his glass and cutlery with several alcohol wipes before setting them in perfect juxtaposition.
A ring of the doorbell – and enter Arabella, smile freezing in place as she realized that her arch-enemy Simona was present, politically incorrect, and seated opposite the only vacant chair. This should be fun: fawning, yet tactless herbal hippy Simona in a rematch with anal, Chelsea socialite. Ollie smiled across to Dave, who was sweetly oblivious to most things – including the whereabouts of his wife’s G spot; not surprising that she’d jumped ship on him, really. She still exchanged the occasional orgasm with Ollie, though.

A tantalizing hint of roasting meat followed Julia out of the kitchen as she wheeled the night’s first delight toward them: Gazpacho soup, served in hand-painted Lolita cocktail glasses, and sprinkled with crystals of ice.
That was just it with Julia: the delicate touch to chill and clear one’s palate, arousing the senses to maximum. Ollie was starving – could now eat a horse – and if his nose wasn’t fibbing to him, there was one roasting in the kitchen. The hippy will surely be furious!
“So what did you think of my novel, Dave?” Julia asked while they waited for Arabella to finish playing with her soup.
Ollie smiled to himself.
“Erm yes,” said Dave. “Very good, indeed. Lovely cover as well. I’m still on the prologue – page sixty-seven, I think. Can’t wait for the action to begin.”
Julia seemed satisfied with Dave’s paltry offering and turned her attention to Arabella, who looked rather affronted at being placed on the spot.
“Reaally, Julia,” she oozed. “Now you know I’m saving it until I winter in Dubai. I’m sure my girl will have packed it already.”
Credit where it’s due, thought Ollie; not a bad excuse at all, that. Although it left him with fewer options; perhaps he could explain that his dog had eaten it? No, that wouldn't wash; it was fat enough to choke a goat. It seemed as though Julia was trawling her way around the table for feedback on ‘Lara’: if that were the case, Rodders would be next in the chair.

Ollie was far from disappointed with Julia’s tender horse steak, drizzled with wild-mushroom sauce. Simona was containing her vegetarian indignation quite well, so Ollie waved a meaty forkful to get her attention. “How’s the spicy tofu, m’girl?” he asked. “Chained yerself to any famous railings of late?”
Simona giggled. “Now don’t you go on about me getting my bag stolen, Ollie. I’ll chain it up as well next time…” She looked over at Arabella, who was carefully dissecting a green bean. “You really ought to eat more, love,” Simona said helpfully. “You look even skinnier than last time – it’ll do your spiritual aura no good.”
Arabella sat bolt upright in her chair, but settled for smiling her contempt back at Simona. Probably for the best, Ollie reasoned. Simona had won hands down at their last billing, thanks to her formidable lack of social skills. Every ball served by Arabella had strayed hopelessly high or wide.

Rodrigo’s turn duly arrived, après cheval, while the other guests, replete, tippled Louis Jadot and exhaled Sobranie or cigar smoke in lazy, satisfied clouds. Rodrigo reached for his notebook, gave it the alcohol-wipe treatment, and carefully opened it.
He cleared his throat. “Your first paragraph is eight and a quarter pages long,” he began, “which makes it very hard to follow.” He looked up at Julia, who blinked back and nodded ever so slightly.
“There is quite a lot of ambiguity in your descriptions; for example, you write: The old lady in the market was draped in a grey, worn cloak drinking steaming hot chocolate. I’ll give you the other examples when we reach them.”
Rodrigo turned the page. “I was confused by what I think must be a spelling mistake in the ferry scene, where it reads: ...Mariah Carey was whaling in the background. You spelled wailing with a w-h-a.”
Ollie almost choked on his grog as an image of the renowned singer sprang into his head: clad in oilskins, sporting a sou’wester and brandishing a long harpoon. But this wouldn’t do. Rodders was about to shatter the lovely Julia’s model into precise smithereens. He remembered how much it had hurt when the sniffy, fickle critics unearthed and clobbered his debut novel. Best turn the subject to a more favored one. Ollie leaned sideways and fixed Rodrigo with a searching gaze.
 “I say, Rodders,” he began. “You’re looking a bit peaky – hope you’re not coming down with that nasty little virus I’ve just got rid of.”
Rodrigo stiffened. “No. I’m fine, Oliver.”
“That’s exactly how I felt at the onset,” Ollie replied, “but within hours I was reduced to a shivering, sweating wreck.”
“I do have a bit of a headache coming on,” Rodrigo conceded, and after a few more of Ollie’s clinical observations he politely excused himself for the evening. Ollie thoughtfully offered the services of Arabella’s chauffer who was waiting by the entrance below.

Last up on the trolley was peanut butter and jelly ice-cream sandwich. That very afternoon, Gordon Ramsay himself had found his way out of the Maze to help his friend Julia prepare his flagship dessert. Ollie could imagine Julia trying not to wince as the famous chef cussed his way through the preparation of her favorite pud.
Ollie realized he’d have to think up a pretty good excuse while herbal Simona gave a glowing review of Lara’s unlikely exploits. After all, she’d contributed as technical psychic adviser and would hardly shoot herself in either of her synthetic moccasins.
Julia turned to Ollie. “Did you anticipate who the murderer was, Ollie?”
Ollie flinched, ice-cream sliding from his spoon to cruelly punctuate his surprise at the jump in order – of course, she already had Simona’s opinion, in spades.
“Are you okay, Ollie?” Arabella asked, adding fuel to the pyre. The smug bitch couldn’t fully hold back the smile that accompanied her mischief. Right. He’d have to think fast. If he were to tell a lie now it would have to be a completely outrageous one. Where the hell was his muse? He’d have to buy some time.
“Actually, Jules,” he declared, “I have something very revealing about your book.” He paused for effect. “I was rather hoping to save it for coffee and mint time.”

The only consolation Ollie had gleaned from his shambolic marriage to Helen was the introduction to her schoolgirl chum, Julia. And he and Julia had become firmer friends since Helen’s funeral. Ollie never refused her kind offers of sustenance and relished each occasion with deserved anticipation. Helen would be spinning in her grave, of course, if she could see Ollie being tended to by the lovely Julia. And now, all eyes were expectantly upon him as he took to the floor, coffee liqueur in hand. The room fell silent, aside from the tidy tick of a mantle clock, and Ollie paused for an exact number of moments before launching into his rather hastily tacked-together account.
“Just yesterday morning, after breaking my fast, I set the logs crackling in the hearth and settled down in my rocker to follow Lara: Psychic Detective as she diced, no doubt, with hell and high water in her brave crusade against crime. Then the room took on an eerie chill; had a window blown open? I felt a strange unease as I returned, having checked them, to find the flames dancing devilishly fiercer than usual. ‘Steady on there,’ I said, ‘you’ll have the chimney afire at this rate.’ This seemed to appease whatever possessed it, and the licks of the flames diminished.”
Ollie drained, then refilled his glass before returning to his captivated audience. “The bitter chill returned even colder as I picked up the book and tried, in vain, to open the jacket. ‘Behave yourself!’ I admonished the book, as I continued to wrestle with its reticence. After a desperate struggle it seemed to comply, then a bouquet of Helen’s favorite perfume filled the room as the book finally relented and opened – I watched in startled fascination as each letter began to fall from the page to the floor, like termites shaken from a stick. I could not help but cast it into the fire, such was my trepidation.”
Ollie gave Julia his most quizzical, sympathetic smile. He raised his glass in a silent toast to his muse, then threw back the liqueur for good measure. Now, if that tall, wee tale wasn’t outrageous enough…