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Proofreading Quizzes–Test Yourself!

In today’s New York Times online, you will find a proofreading quiz, “Red Pencils Ready?” by Philip B. Corbett. Try it!

Hint: Corbett’s quiz includes one or two errors per passage. I am sharing that hint since I identified many more “errors” than The Times did. That’s because I would have simplified several passages for easier reading.

Now try my quiz below. Hint: It contains 10 errors.

The principle reason for the follow up meeting is to talk about how we will handle inquiries from the press. We are already receiving a large amount of calls from the media, and we want to insure that our statements compliment our print strategy. As a HIV-AIDS advocacy organization, we must discretely manage information and the affects of any publicity. If you receive inquiries you cannot handle, just foreword them to Britta or myself. 

Did you find 10 errors? Look again. But don’t feel bad if you miss some. My Microsoft grammar and spelling checker did not find any!

Check the corrected passage below.

Corrected Passage:

The principal reason for the follow-up meeting is to talk about how we will handle inquiries from the press. We are already receiving a large number of calls from the media, and we want to ensure that our statements complement our print strategy. As an HIV-AIDS advocacy organization, we must discreetly manage information and the effects of any publicity. If you receive inquiries you cannot handle, just forward them to Britta or me. 

Make sense? I’ve written about many of these errors here, but you can find the explanations all together in Clarity, Conciseness, Zing, and More.

Thanks to Marcia Yudkin for pointing me to the Times quiz.



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By Lynn Gaertner-Johnston

Lynn Gaertner-Johnston has helped thousands of employees and managers improve their business writing skills and confidence through her company, Syntax Training. In her corporate training career of more than 20 years, she has worked with executives, engineers, scientists, sales staff, and many other professionals, helping them get their messages across with clarity and tact.

A gifted teacher, Lynn has led writing classes at more than 100 companies and organizations such as MasterCard, Microsoft, Boeing, Nintendo, REI, AARP, Ledcor, and Kaiser Permanente. Near her home in Seattle, Washington, she has taught managerial communications in the MBA programs of the University of Washington and UW Bothell. She has created a communications course, Business Writing That Builds Relationships, and provides the curriculum at no cost to college instructors.

A recognized expert in business writing etiquette, Lynn has been quoted in "The Wall Street Journal," "The Atlantic," "Vanity Fair," and other media.

Lynn sharpened her business writing skills at the University of Notre Dame, where she earned a master's degree in communication, and at Bradley University, with a bachelor's degree in English.

12 comments on “Proofreading Quizzes–Test Yourself!”

  • Doh! I missed discreetly – which didn’t quite look right – then counted two in foreword to get to ten. Good lesson to double-check when things don’t look quite right (obviously can’t depend on spellcheck!).

  • Just looked up discrete vs. discreet and realized I hadn’t ever thought about those two words being spelled differently. I have a lot to learn!

  • Rita, glad you liked it!

    Val, don’t you love it when you learn something new? I’m pleased that you did.

  • In British English (or is it just me?) we’d say “… to Britta or myself”. How “wrong” is “myself” here?

  • Oh dear – I missed “compliment” and “number”. The ‘number vs. amount’ rule trips me up every time.

    Thanks for posting this! I think I’ll grab your guide.

  • Hi, Clare and Khat. I apologize for the delay in responding.

    Clare, “myself” is wrong in the U.S., although you see it often. The only correct use of it in a similar construction would be “I divided the work between Britta and myself” or “I gave Britta and myself a treat.” It’s reflexive–it has to reflect back to the word “I.”

    Khat, I cover 60 confusing word pairs and trios in my “60 Quick Word Fixes.” (Click the box in the right column to learn about it.) For only US$7, it offers a lot of information. Good luck!


  • Sometimes using ‘myself’ can be the lesser of two evils. A former boss used to use ‘I’ where he should have used ‘me’, but he was a very smart man. To discreetly change it without questioning his intelligence, I would reconstruct the sentence as you did above and use ‘myself’ as it wasn’t as direct as changing it to ‘me’. He always accepted my change. Cowards way out, but it worked.

  • I stopped reading when I caught the mistake you made on your very first “correction.” The word “principal” refers to a “person,” and the word “principle” refers to a “law” or “primary” position of an issue. Therefore, you changed a correctly used word in the first passage to one used incorrectly in the second passage. Personally, I think you could use a good proofreader.

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