Pointing Out Somebody’s Mistake: 3 Tips

You’re reading a blog or newsletter. The author is making great points, teaching you something, you’re getting a lot out of it. And then you realize the author has made a BIG mistake in the writing. Maybe it’s something misspelled, or a wrong word, or even a tricky bit of grammar that can alter the meaning. What do you do?


So here’s my advice when YOU’RE reaching out to someone about a mistake:

1. Keep it private.
We’re all human and have egos and pride. An email is private and allows the author to save face.

2. Be gentle.
You know what they say about stones and glass houses… Maybe suggest that the word is misspelled (or in my case, the completely WRONG word).

3. Let them know.
Which is worse: being told the fly on your pants is undone or walking around with it open all day long? For me, I’d rather know about it. So if you encounter a major error, please let the author know. Something minor that doesn’t impact the author’s ability to get the point across… your discretion. There’s a fine line between being helpful and falling into snarky.

[Tweet “3 tips for contacting an author about a mistake in their #article”]

See, an interesting thing happened to me last week. The article I wrote last week has turned out to be one of the most shared, most commented upon, and most talked about article I’ve written to date. All this sounds great, right?

Well, it seemed great at first. Until a newsletter reader mentioned to me that I had spelled foreword wrong. And that was hard on the heels of a comment being posted to the blog version of the article pointing out the exact same thing.

Damn! They were 100% right. It was spelled incorrectly. Now, a spelling error in an article or blog post isn’t ideal, but let’s be honest: it’s not the end of the world. But a spelling error in the title (about the SUBJECT of the article) that is then repeated throughout the article is a different story. *Shudder*

And here’s the thing: I KNEW better. I know that foreword has an e in it. The issue was that I kept trying to spell it foreward. Like some weird combination of forward and foreword. And Word kept helpfully putting the little red “misspelled” underline under it. But I just couldn’t see WHY it was misspelled. I know what the deal was: I was still sick with a sinus infection (even though I said in the newsletter I was feeling better, I wasn’t), I waited too late in the day to meet my deadline of the article AND the newsletter while still trying to attend a webinar I’d paid for. I just didn’t give my tired brain enough space to figure out why I was “misspelling” this word. (Heaven forbid I actually got down my DICTIONARY off the shelf!)

I appreciated somebody pointing out my mistake because OUCH: not a good example of my editing skills. And I appreciated the reader who took the time to email me; both from the time it took and because email is a private forum whereas a blog comment is a public forum.

So this all begs the question of what to DO about it.

  • I thanked the newsletter reader for the time and effort in reaching out to me.
  • I fixed the spelling error on the blog right away. (I knew there was nothing I could do about the newsletter; it’d already been emailed out.) But the issue was that the link to the article was getting a bit of traction being passed around social media and the permalink in the blog had the spelling error in it. I figured it was worse to have a 404 Page Not Found than one little permalink with a spelling error in it.
  • But what about the comment on the blog? The comment in and of itself isn’t really mean or snarky. But it DOES draw attention to the error. The error I have since fixed. Do I publish it and thank the commenter? Delete it? Ignore it?

All of this comes hard up against an internal struggle:

How I handle criticism.

I know that making mistakes is a part of life. I know how and why I ended up with such a prominent spelling error. But I also know that I hate to be wrong, especially on something that is my area of “expertise” – writing.

I don’t embarrass easily. Most things I just shrug off. But for some reason, this mistake was absolutely humiliating. Like to the point of angry, embarrassed, frustrated, hurt tears.

It was a misspelled word, for crying out loud!

Nobody was nasty to me. In the whole scheme of things, it’s not really that big of a deal. So what’s the big deal?

Seriously, I have no idea. I don’t know why I reacted so strongly to being called on the carpet for this mistake. No small children were harmed; my reputation isn’t damaged at all. I didn’t lose a job or a client and my dogs (and man) still love me.

But it did make me take a hard look at how I handle and respond to criticism. It reminded me to go out of my way to be gentle with people who are not only writing but PUBLISHING that writing, in any venue. Because it’s a big deal to open yourself up for people to read it and respond; it takes a lot of courage and faith and being thick skinned. And it made me thankful for the EMAIL about the mistake (private) and the choice to publish the comment about the mistake (public.)

How would you handle this in my place? And what about the comment left on my blog? (It’s still waiting for moderation; I haven’t decided myself what I want to do with it.)

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Kim Galloway
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