Category Archives: Cautionary tales

How a missing comma can cost you a job

I used to manage a staff of writers and editors. One of my least favourite parts of the job was scanning  through the hundreds of resumes I’d receive in response to a job posting. (Really, hundreds. And that was before the economy tanked. Just imagine how many people are competing for new jobs these days.) It didn’t take much for me to eliminate a candidate. A spelling error in a cover letter, a misused semi-colon, or (worst of all, and surprisingly common) the misspelling of my name or the company’s name might get an otherwise decent candidate overlooked. Hiring managers simply don’t have the time to give you a chance if you don’t put in the time to send in a perfect cover letter and resume — especially for writing or editing jobs.

A recent article from the Telegraph offers some tragically funny examples of how poor punctuation and grammar can send your resume straight into the “no” pile. Here are some of the worst blunders:

– My interests include cooking dogs and interesting people.

– I am a pubic relations officer

– I was responsible for dissatisfied customers

– I have excellent editing and poof-reading skills

– I am a prooficient typist

– I was responsible for fraudulent claims

– While working in this role, I had intercourse with a variety of people

You can see more resume errors in the full article, available here.

What a difference a hyphen makes

I was passing by a funeral home today when I noticed a sign in the window that said:

“No cost pre-planning available.”

I read this to mean that cost pre-planning was not available. (This is, after all, what the sign says.) I thought this was an odd thing to put in the front window, since people probably want to have the ability to pre-plan the cost of their funeral.

Of course, after looking at it for another moment, I realized what they meant was:

“No-cost pre-planning available.”

Ah, yes. That one little hyphen would make it a much less confusing sign.

Obama’s a great orator, but he still confuses me, myself, and I

What I mean, of course,  is not that I’m confused by President Obama’s speeches, but that he has a tendency to choose the wrong pronoun when referring to himself. Like many people, he seems to have had the “Suzy, Sally, Billy, and I” pattern drilled into his head as a child to the extent that he finds it difficult ever to say “Michelle and me,” even when that’s the correct choice (as in, “Thank you for inviting Michelle and me to this event”).

Here’s a great article from the New York Times that explains why Obama’s preferred pronoun construction in incorrect, and how past presidents stack up in their pronoun performance.

Watch your loaded language

Besides the terrible image quality (my fault — no proper camera nearby), what’s wrong with this ad for a Clarins free gift promotion at Sears?


While it is nice that the promotion allows you to choose one of four different skin-care sets, the phrase “right to choose” is entirely inappropriate here.

Why? It’s loaded language. It’s a phrase that — like it or not — references a woman’s right to choose to have an abortion. That thought will enter the mind of almost every person who reads the ad. Perhaps no one told the ad writers at Sears that abortion isn’t an issue they should allude to in their copy.

I’m all for cheeky word play and clever pop-culture referencing. Done well, it can make an ad for a dull product sparkle. But make sure the cultural reference you make is appropriate, unless you’re specifically trying to stir up controversy.




I’m not sure a granite hairdryer is a good idea

When editing corporate copy, I see a lot of simple mistakes that end up making the business sound pretty goofy. Here’s a typical example of a common mistake:

Suites have newly renovated bathrooms with granite counter tops and hairdryers.

The granite counter tops sound great, but those granite hairdryers are probably pretty heavy…

The problem here is that the adjective (granite) looks like it’s modifying both nouns (counter tops and hairdryers). The simplest way to solve this problem is to switch the sentence around:

Suites have newly renovated bathrooms with hairdryers and granite counter tops.

Are you scaring potential customers away by unwittingly threatening them with extra-heavy small appliances? A good editor can save you from embarrassing mistakes that cost you customers and leads.

I know it’s the Internet, but still…

I’ve said it before: I understand that the Internet is not a medium known for its focus on grammatical correctness. Still, you’d think a site claiming to offer job opportunities for freelance writers might try a little harder than most. That’s why this is a little distressing:


I can almost forgive the wonky capitalization and inconsistent use of end punctuation. But a question with no question mark and a contraction with no apostrophe are really beyond reproach — never mind the missing hyphen.

This ad could have benefited from a once-over by a “natural born” editor. If you’re spending money on advertising, it only makes sense to invest in a quick proof-read to make sure you’re not embarrassed — or even driving potential customers away.