I really hope there's no mistakes in this question!
June 24, 2011 2:47 PM   Subscribe

Okay to point out a friend's errors in a professional product meant for public consumption?

A friend of mine is an unemployed writer/editor, and has recently started doing freelance writing. It's not quite a full time job for him yet. He recently took on some jobs that involve updating blogs or facebook pages or the like that are for general consumption. One of them is a pretty big deal organization, at least in our city. Sometimes he'll post links to these pieces on facebook or in his gmail chat status, and I've noticed a lot of errors in them. There are homophone typos (like saying, "he through the ball" instead of "he threw the ball"), or just getting facts wrong, like referring to the character in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo as Elizabeth Salander, or saying that The Killing is based on a German TV show (these aren't actual examples, but these are the kinds of mistakes).

It's the second thing that drives me crazy, and it would drive me crazy even if he weren't a friend, if these posts were just things I was reading. I think these kind of mistakes makes him look lazy (and his editors, too--did no one catch this?), like he couldn't be bothered to google something (he's generally writing about topics he has has only passing knowledge in). It's weird, from my point of view, as I think of him as a thoughtful, conscientious guy, and has been my go-to editor in the past.

I think these kind of mistakes make him look bad and unprofessional. His name is attached to some of the pieces. I would want someone to point out similar errors to me, and it's not like I'm offering subjective advice like, "This is really cliche". But at the same time, I don't want to stick my nose where it doesn't belong, and he hasn't asked for my help. I'm also not sure how much control he has over something after it is published (altho, based on what he's said, I think he basically runs the blogs 100%).

Is it okay to point the errors out to him? What's the best way to do so? Thanks in advance.

(In addition, I should add that, other than these mistakes, I really like his writing).
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (17 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
You: (name), I really like your writing and I've been following you on FB/gmail/etc.

Him: Thanks.

You: I know that I've really appreciated your help with editing my writing in the past. It's so easy to miss those little errors. Would it be okay if I did the same for you? I noticed x in your last piece, and I thought you might want to know. If not, that's totally cool - just thought I'd throw it out there in case it's helpful! Anyway, I think your writing is awesome, and I'm excited to see what you're working on next!

Him: Thanks friend! You're awesome! I super like you a lot! (hopefully)
posted by guster4lovers at 2:52 PM on June 24, 2011

What I would say: "Hey friend, have I told you I've been reading all of your posts? They're great! By the way, I saw a little mistake in one the other day - want me to let you know if I see anything since I'm reading them anyway?"

And if he says no, I wouldn't (and if it drove me nuts, I would probably have to stop reading).
posted by beyond_pink at 2:54 PM on June 24, 2011

Here's how I do it.

My e-mail/im: "Hey, typo: 'he through the ball' here: (link). -Michael"
Them: "Thanks!"

Never say what it should be. Everything is a typo and they obviously know the right answer. Elaborate if they ask. I send little notes like this all the time, and they get fixed.
posted by michaelh at 2:55 PM on June 24, 2011 [21 favorites]

If I were in his shoes, I would definitely want to know, although I find it odd that so many of them have slipped by him. Maybe you could say something like, "hey, the fact checker/editor part of me caught some stuff that you might have missed - would you find it helpful if I told you about them?" I think all you can do is mention it once and then leave it alone if he's not interested.
posted by Neely O'Hara at 2:57 PM on June 24, 2011 [1 favorite]

It's a kindness to warn someone if they're marching into trouble - saving your friend from his errors can only have a beneficial affect on his future employment opportunities. Any creative professional who hopes to make an actual career of their work would do well to adopt a grateful attitude for constructive notes.

How to deliver said notes depends entirely upon the person receiving the note. Some folks are fine with direct criticism and correction, others need a bit more massaging. Your trepidation here suggests to me that perhaps your friend is a bit thin-skinned? Is that the case? Then proceed gently, keeping your helpful intentions to the forefront of your message, and have a confirming source for your corrections at the ready if he gets defensive. Present yourself as an ally plugging a hole in his line, not a critic attempting to breach his ego. Tact is a good thing.
posted by EatTheWeak at 2:58 PM on June 24, 2011

If I were in his position I would be mortified and totally want to know. I try so hard to look for these things myself, before editors see them, because even really good editors are often so busy, I wouldn't expect them to spot everything.

If I were in your position, I would (perhaps I'm a coward) say something to the effect of, "Dude, your editor is slacking. I noticed a few typos he/she let through. Just letting you know in case you want to double check for yourself before you submit anything."
posted by DestinationUnknown at 3:06 PM on June 24, 2011 [1 favorite]

I write for a living and absolutely want to know when I mess up. If he takes it personally, that's his issue, not yours.
posted by Kafkaesque at 3:14 PM on June 24, 2011 [1 favorite]

I agree with michaelh. The less you preface your comment, the less of a big deal it seems. michaelh's suggestion is perfectly low pressure for both you and your friend.

(Perhaps it was meant ironically, but the title of your question--"I really hope there's no mistakes in this question!"--does in fact have a mistake. It should read "...there are no mistakes..." I've noticed that every time I comment on someone's grammar, I make a mistake of my own. I posted a FB comment a while ago wondering if there is a rule for this phenomenon, and no one mentioned one. My husband's academic adviser suggested we should name such a rule because we all make such mistakes, even if we are normally very conscientious about such things.)
posted by Terriniski at 3:20 PM on June 24, 2011 [5 favorites]

Oof yeah. I'd want the help, especially for something as embarrassing as "he through the ball," but there's a right way and a wrong way to approach it. If he's a professional he should be able to handle corrections with grace, but if you're particularly observant/vigilant and he's sensitive, he might feel like you're following him a little too closely with the red pen.

I'd start by taking the most obvious error and telling him "hey, just a heads up, I found a typo here." Follow up with "Do you want me to let you know if I catch anything else?"

If you think you need to cushion it any, you can say you really like his writing and therefore you usually read his stuff anyway, and you want him to look good.

Terrinski: it's called Muphry's Law.
posted by Metroid Baby at 3:29 PM on June 24, 2011 [2 favorites]

I do this with a friend (though he's more of an artist-type than a writer and expects to make mistakes).

Short and simple is best. Long, drawn out intros make it seem like you think it's a big embarrassing deal. Which, frankly, it kinda is, but mutually pretending like it's not is ideal.
posted by the young rope-rider at 3:36 PM on June 24, 2011

I dunno. It would be one thing if these were very sporadic errors, or repeated instances of the same type of problem (improper use of some sort of punctuation, etc.). That would be productive for you to point out.

But if your friend is consistently making all sorts of errors with word choices, citing incorrect facts, and so on – how will you pointing it out really help? He can fix the prior errors, but it's not like saying, "Hey, you used the wrong character's name here" is the sort of advice that he can apply in the future.

I would only say something if you think that these errors are arising due to laziness, and that once his attention is called to them his future diligence will prevent recurrences. If you think that he will continue to make these mistakes in the future regardless (and it kind of sounds that way to me if there's a high volume of different kinds of errors being made here), then I would bite my tongue and stop reading his posts.
posted by dixiecupdrinking at 3:44 PM on June 24, 2011

His editors (and/or their workflow software) may well be the source of the errors you are picking up. Writing for content farms is apparently no picnic. Cut your pal some slack if he's writing that kind of drivel - few reading it are likely to care as much as you seem to care, or even notice the errors that stand out in your mind.
posted by paulsc at 3:53 PM on June 24, 2011

Former paid blogger here. Writing the posts in Word and then transferring to the blog format eliminates a LOT of typos and bad spell-checks. Far easier to do at first--he's probably trying to compose right there in the program, and it's a pain until you get used to it. Factual errors--he should fix those before he gets linked by someone poking sticks at him. (And despite the AOL is Hell link, blogging for $$ isn't exactly the same as stoop labor.)
posted by Ideefixe at 4:44 PM on June 24, 2011


"I saw an error in your 6/15 piece: [error]. BTW, should I point out things like that?"

It's a yes or no. If he says yes, he may be a real writer. If no . . . well, love him for his other traits.
posted by LonnieK at 5:34 PM on June 24, 2011 [3 favorites]

Until I started writing under deadline for a publication, I didn't realize how easily these kinds of typos and errors can slip through. I would revise and revise up until my deadline, and send an article in, and then realize after that fact that somehow in revising I had made a sentence nonsensical, or repeated a word twice, or whatever. So I wouldn't worry about your friend's mental state, maybe he's just getting used to writing under pressure.

With that said, I notice these kinds of errors all the time in other people's writing, and it drives me nuts. When I was writing for an online sports website, my editor would actually introduce these kinds of errors into pieces I'd written, and I really agonized over whether it was okay to tell her. On the one hand I didn't want to correct my new boss, and on the other hand these were articles with my name attached. In the end I decided to send short, polite emailed mentions of the errors when I found them, and she expressed thanks. I think in a professional situation writers prefer to be told about errors and given the chance to correct them. It may make your friend realize he isn't paying as close attention as he should, and fix the situation. Just do it briefly and without making him feel stupid (not that you would).
posted by JenMarie at 5:45 PM on June 24, 2011 [1 favorite]

Point out the spelling mistakes, but that's as far as I'd go with it. I wouldn't get into any extensive critique.

I think these kind of mistakes makes him look lazy (and his editors, too--did no one catch this?)

Most online content/journalism I have been involved in is such a financial clustercuss that, no, one notices or cares too much about standards.

It's weird, from my point of view, as I think of him as a thoughtful, conscientious guy, and has been my go-to editor in the past.

This is actually probably the most concerning about the whole question and why I would not go too hard after him re: his writing. If there has been a significant change in behavior, you're potentially looking at anxiety and depression as having some role to play in it. More than anything, I would look out for him and be as encouraging as possible.
posted by mleigh at 6:40 PM on June 24, 2011

Seconding what Jayder said. I'm a writer, and I tend to make slopy mistakes if I'm feeling strest, or if I don't have any real intrest in what I'm writing aboot.
posted by hnnrs at 10:44 AM on June 25, 2011

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