find and replace

Can “find and replace” prevent quarterly commentary errors?

Most people who write quarterly commentary struggle a bit with errors and typos. I wrote about some of my struggles (and solutions) in “Investment commentary numbers: How to get them right.” As I mentioned in that post, I once made a bad mistake, naming the wrong quarter in my employer’s quarterly commentary. That post prompted a reader to email me with his solution for commentary errors.

Find-and-replace solution

My reader starts his quarterly report by copying and pasting the previous quarter’s report. After updating the numbers, he uses his word processor’s find-and-replace function to update the name of the quarter. For example, he searches for “third quarter,” and then has the software replace it with “fourth quarter.”

This is a great solution for a short, structured quarterly report. In this case, the name of the recently ended quarter will always fall in the same place. This means the find-and-replace solution should function perfectly.

Use caution

If you write a more open-ended quarterly report, you should use the find-and-replace solution cautiously. Why? Because your text for the current quarter may also refer to significant events of the previous quarter.

Using auto-replace to substitute, for example, “fourth quarter” for “third quarter” could result in a sentence like the following: “Unlike in the fourth quarter, small-cap stocks performed well in the fourth quarter.” Oops! You don’t want that to happen.

To catch that kind of error, reading the text out loud is probably the most effective technique.

Your suggestions for catching commentary errors?

I always learn from your comments and suggestions. Please keep sending them to me.