50 Ways to Test Your Proofreading Skills

I am excited to announce Error Quests, a new product we just released. It is a collection of 50 short excerpts from business messages, each one containing just one error in grammar, usage, word choice, sentence structure, or punctuation. Your job is to find the single error according to business writing standards in the U.S. and Canada. (American spellings are used.)

Here is a sample Quest. Can you find and correct just one error in it? 

Error Quest 24
We are pleased that you have made your travel plans. Once you arrive at the airport and retrieve your baggage, you will be able to get a taxi just outside the baggage claim area. A typical one way fare from the airport to our conference center is $40. The trip takes approximately 45 minutes in rush-hour traffic.

Error Quests comes as a printed booklet and as a PDF. In the printed booklet, you can find the solution to each Error Quest just beneath it (no peeking!). In the PDF, you can click for the solution, and it will appear on the screen right below the Quest. Try this PDF sampler of five Error Quests.

Well, did you find the error in Error Quest 24?

Here is the solution:

The error involves the adjective one way before fare. It should be rendered as one-way. The hyphen is required to link the two parts of the compound adjective before the word fare. If the sentence had read “A typical fare is $40 one way,” no hyphen would be required because one way comes after fare rather than before it. Similar examples requiring a hyphen are two-door cars, three-week trip, 10-minute breaks, and 20-year drought.

Of the 50 Quests in the booklet, 44 have appeared in our monthly e-newsletter Better Writing at Work; 6 are new Quests.

Many people have told me how much they enjoy testing their skills each month in the newsletter. Their positive comments gave me the idea to collect the Quests into a handy booklet of quick proofreading tests. Each Error Quest presents an error I have found in clients' writing–nothing rare or ridiculously difficult.

Interested? Error Quests as a booklet or PDF is just US$9.95. Read more.


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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. She grew up in suburban Chicago, Illinois.


  1. I’m enjoying your blog, Lynn. Error Quest 2 reminded me what I learned to help distinguish principal from principle. The principal is our pal. That was a long time ago!

  2. Thanks, Lynn! I am a newbie to your work, and I enjoy these tests. I do have a question regarding the last sentence in the paragraph that begins “Many people have told me…” – shouldn’t it read “clients’ writings? Thank you in advance for clarification.

  3. Hi, Suzanne. I remember that memory device from childhood too. Yet the error you refer to in the online sampler is one people constantly get wrong. I believe the reason for the error is the memory device itself. It makes people think the principal of a school is the only meaning that uses “pal.” But several other meanings use “pal” rather than “ple” too.

    Thanks for commenting.


  4. Hi, Christine. Interesting question! I have never seen the plural word “writings” used to describe business documents. The idea is always rendered as “writing.” I review a client’s writing, not his writings.

    Thanks for encouraging me to think about the word.


  5. Lynn,

    I have seen (or heard) “writings,” plural. It implies “manuscripts,” not just one, and it usually involves literary manuscripts rather than business material.

    A madeup example: “Emily Dickinson’s writings were discovered in a locked trunk after her death.”

    The dictionary definition at http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/writing appears to have at least two meanings that could be correctly used in the plural.

    Marcia Yudkin

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