“[…] then the evening came and she found herself sitting by the drawing board again, trying to […]”
Um … wait a minute, is it “sitting by the drawing board” or “sitting at the drawing board”? Damn it, I never remember, and both sound okay to me! How do I check this?!
Oh, the struggles of every blogger attempting to edit their own work. There are thousands of expressions just like the one above, causing us problems on a daily basis.
Is something in or on, at or by, from or with, of or for, “all of a sudden” or “all of the sudden”? There’s really no end to this craze. And this is especially relevant if English is not your first language.
So what to do? What to do if you’re not entirely sure and you don’t want to look silly?
Call a friend? Email a friendly blogger? Shout this out on Twitter?
Sure, that could work, but you can be sure that if you do this multiple times throughout the day, people will hate you.
There’s a quicker and better solution though.
Its name is Google.
Please, hold on! Don’t leave just yet. I promise the trick I’m about to describe isn’t as obvious as it sounds now.
Introducing clever Googling!
Here’s what I do when I’m in doubt like that.
Step #1. I go to Google and search for part of the phrase that I’m uncertain of. I put†the phrase in quotation marks.
Using the example above, like so:
“sitting by the drawing board”
Now, the individual results Google gives me don’t matter that much. What matters is the number of indexed pages:
Not a lot in this case.
Step #2. I start checking other known alternatives. Like so:
Ah, that’s better, over 130,000 results.
In most cases, what this means is that the higher number means proper expression.
Quick. Simple. Correct in most cases.
(Of course, sometimes a common error is more popular than the correct form. But even if that’s the case, can using this wrong form still be considered a serious mistake?)
How to do this properly
To be perfectly honest with you, I use this trick all the time. I’ve truly made Google my lightning-fast blog editor, and I encourage you to do the same.
Now, just a handful of final guidelines.
- If you’re completely clueless about what the correct expression you’re looking for might be, try using the magic “*” character. This star lets Google know that you’re looking for any word that fits the gap. Go ahead, try it with†“sitting * the drawing board”.
- Always put the phrase in quotation marks. This is important. Without them, the method is useless.
- Enclose the word you’re looking for on both sides. For instance, looking for just “by the drawing board” wouldn’t provide me with sufficient context for the returned number to be an accurate representation. Always put the missing part in the middle.
- Use replacement verbs and nouns. Not all expressions are popular enough and they might not return any reliable numbers, but you can improve the results by replacing some not common words with more common ones. For example, if “drawing board” is too specific, I can replace it with “desk” and the meaning remains more or less the same (“by the desk”).
- Mind the context. In some cases, two versions of a phrase can be equally as popular, but that can be due to the fact that they mean two separate things. In such a case, look into the individual results and take a look at the excerpts Google gives you. Here’s an example result for “sitting on the drawing board”:
Is this method fail-proof?
Of course not.
But it’s not meant to be fail-proof. This is just a trick to speed up your editing when you’re stuck and can’t find the right way to express a thought.
What do you think? Will you make Google your personal editor too?
Karol K. (@carlosinho) is a freelance writer, published author, founder of NewInternetOrder.com and a blogger at Bidsketch.com (delivering some cool freelance blogging and writing tools, advice and resources just like what youíre reading now). Whenever heís not working, Karol likes to spend time training Capoeira and enjoying life.