My inner nerd has been given a frightening amount of free rein this last couple of days, as National Proofreading Day (in the US) on Friday made it okay to be pedantic!
I try not to grumble too much when TV adverts contain a grammatical error, or when a newspaper prints a typo. After all, nobody loves the grammar police. And rules are made to be broken, aren’t they?
Well, I think we can hold ourselves to a higher standard than that, can’t we? Many years ago I heard the expression ‘excellence in execution’ and I can’t recommend it enough as an entrepreneur’s motto, especially when it comes to your communication. It shows your professionalism. It shows you care about detail. It shows potential customers and clients that you’re serious about your brand.
And it’s not just about spelling. Is your content consistent? Is your message clear? Or are you inadvertently saying something you don’t mean to say? I remember a shop-fitting company offering “free standing racks” in an advert many years ago. Grammatically, this means standing racks that are free. The company meant to say “free-standing racks”, which means racks that stand without being fixed or fitted. But they had published an offer, and legally they were bound by it. They were obliged to give away those racks to anyone who replied to the offer, and the lack of that tiny hyphen cost them thousands of pounds.
Don’t lose lots of money for the sake of a punctuation mark!
Like it or not, people do judge the quality of your content – whether it’s a first sift of pitches, tenders and job applications or the shop window that is your landing page. It tells them something about you; wouldn’t you want it to tell them something amazing?
You’d be surprised how much you can develop your skills as a proofreader, and without it feeling like you are back at school. To get you started, here are just five easy ways to up your proofreading game, and add a polish and a sparkle to your business content.
Make a style guide
If you do only one thing, do this. A style guide will repay you the time you spend writing it, many times over.
Most importantly, a style guide will help you develop a consistent voice, making it easy to identify and recognise your content. It will also save you lots of time; you won’t have to keep checking a certain style or spelling because it’s there on your list.
This is a good place to list the words you know you trip over (and we all have them), with a quick definition that works for you. If deciding between affect and effect, drawer and draw, they’re and there slows you down, build this list and just spend a fraction of the time checking it when you need to.
Then decide, for example, whether you want to capitalise job titles, if you’ll use digits or words to write out numbers, and what symbols you’ll use instead of words – so that your content is always consistent. (Hint here though: the more capitals and symbols you use in your content, the longer it takes for the brain to recognise word and letter shapes – and if it’s harder to read, it’s more likely that your audience will give up on your content.)
Use a spellchecker – but don’t trust a spellchecker
Technology gives us so many helping hands in business. Spellchecker will do wonderful things like hunting out your speedily-typed gobbledegook and checking if a word is a real word. But it won’t necessarily tell you if it is the right word.
For example, homophones (which sound the same although they are completely different words and spelled differently) are all recognised, even if you mistyped ‘threw’ instead of ‘through’. (Or my pet peeve – and I see this all the time in online marketing materials – ‘a sneak peak’! A ‘peak’ is what is what you find at the top of a mountain. But spellchecker doesn’t recognise this and nor does it correct the word to ‘peek’, which is the word that means a quick look…)
Running the spellchecker is a great first-check, but don’t trust it to do the whole job. Nothing (as yet) is a substitute for taking the time to properly proofread your content.
Double-check facts, then check them again
Remember that when we proofread, often our brain sees what we expect to see. As Mark Twain noted: “You think you are reading proof, whereas you are merely reading your own mind.” Slow down from your normal reading speed, but especially take extra time and care to check facts and figures, names and dates – factual errors can cost you time and money.
They also damage your reputation. One of the first pieces of advice I was given as a 16-year-old journalist was this: people won’t remember what a great story you wrote about them – they’ll only remember that you spelled their name wrong. Great advice, and I make effort to live by it every day.
Be your own continuity checker
Continuity errors in films are like ear-worms, and enough to take the sheen off an otherwise brilliant movie. They have the same effect in written copy, unfortunately.
On a practical level, check all the elements of your content – do they belong together? You wouldn’t be the first person to put the wrong picture in, but not notice it because the content was clean. And if you’re producing a customer newsletter, make sure any adverts on the page sit comfortably with the neighbouring copy.
Then look for consistency in your writing. For example, if you describe something as blue at the start of your content and then describe it as green later on, your reader will be confused. More importantly, your reader may then deduce that you don’t know what you’re talking about – and that’s when potential customers will decide they don’t trust your brand.
And if they don’t trust your brand, they are not going to buy from you or work with you.
Review with fresh eyes
There’s often a sporting challenge among professional proofreaders, to find an error or a typo in even the cleanest and most reviewed piece of content! And you know what? There usually is.
Ask someone else to read your copy for a sanity check (especially good if you have someone who’s hot on spelling and a natural with a red pen), or at least put your content to one side for a few hours or overnight and then return to it for a fresh look. You’re much more likely to see what is really there, rather than what you expect to see.
These are just five ways to help you make sure your content is highly professional – after all, how else do you want to be seen? That ‘excellence in execution’ is one of the most important things in your business toolkit if you are to build a really trustworthy brand reputation.
We hope this helps you – and remember, we share ideas and how-to hints and tips every week in our blog, with our love and compliments! If you haven’t already, sign up to get it directly to your inbox each week, and make sure you never miss a thing.
Until next time…have a great week!