Proofreading Tips - Happy New Year of the Monkey!

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Discussion Points plus Five Spellings from the Conference Fringe 


Happy New Year of the Monkey – reason for all these animals later... 

The SCBWI Conference in Winchester in November 2015 included a Fringe skill share on Proofreading Tips. Here’s a further look at some of the discussion prompts I offered at this session. We looked at choosing titles and character names with marketing and the digital world in mind. Using topics first looked at here   we agreed it’s essential to try out the initials of your title to anticipate a usable hashtag or website name. ‘Usable’ here merely means not confusing or silly. You’ll know what I mean when you’ve tested those initials and imagined trending. 

Though you can’t copyright a book title you can, of course, buy the appropriate domain name. This is a moot point, self-publishers, at what point do you buy a website name? And which extension (.com,, etc)? Further new dilemmas for writers include: 

  • check your title when run together with no spaces. You don’t want a child, a troll or the Press to try this first and find a hilarious or rude juxtaposition 
  • avoid punctuation marks in your title, as they are not used in domain names and hashtags
  • avoid words with alternative spellings 

The fringe session included a discussion of our most frequent typos, so here are Five Spellings and Handy Hints Thereof. These are the five words I see misspelled most often. They may not feature in your work in progress, but you never know when they might be needed in your covering letter... 

1 separate not seperate 

Separate has ‘a rat’ in it. That’s the handy hint that goes through my head, mind and brain when I’m about to type separate. It might work for you, and to remind you we’ve now arrived at the appropriate Chinese Zodiac Animal: 

2 definite not definate 

Definite does not have an ‘a’ in it. It may help if you remember another word in this family – definition (I don’t see this misspelled as often as definite). 

3 independent not independant and then there’s dependent or dependant as appropriate 

Independent – here’s another one that does not have an ‘a’ in it. The antonym (opposite) is dependent, again without an ‘a’. 


– following on from the two adjectives above we have this noun which does have a letter ‘a’ and refers to a person who relies on another, especially a family member, for financial support. 

4 stationery and stationary 

The way to remember the correct spelling here is with the assorted paper goods including envelopes beginning with ‘e’. So that’s stationery. 

And if you like you can have stationary (traffic). 

5 supersede not supercede 

It’s easy to imagine supersede should have a ‘c’ because it’s the only ‘sede’ word, whereas there are six with ‘cede’: accede, concede, intercede, precede, recede and secede. 

The difference occurs because all the ‘cede’ words originate from the Latin cedere (go) and supersede comes from Latin super (above) and sedere (sit). So we also have preside (‘before sit’), residual (‘back sit’ ), dissident (‘apart sit’), subsidiary (‘under sit’) and sedentary (too much sitting). 

More Proofreading Tips next month.

Catriona Tippin has been a member of SCBWI since 2006 and helps organise venues for SCBWI North East. Details of her writing and illustrating here. She proofreads study guides, house magazines and publicity material for national educational organisations, in addition to working on a variety of proofreads and copyedits for the growing self-published world. Her monthly column is intended to give you food for thought, remembering “Any correction of the speech or writing of others will contain at least one grammatical, spelling or typographical error” (McKean’s Law, named after its inventor Erin McKean, editor of the Oxford American Dictionary).


  1. This was a great session - so good to have the condensed version here!

  2. Need to find a spelling on a word fast? Try Google. When ever I need to check the spelling on a word I open my browser and go to Google and type in the word I am looking for. See more oxford online grammar checker


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