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Writing Errors Ruin Your Credibility

by Court Blatchford

My boss tells a story of learning the value of proofreading the hard way: He had a job as a proofreader at the local newspaper one summer in his college years.  He proofed a typeset galley of a story about a Mr. Aas.  When the paper came out, they realized he had missed the typographer’s error of replacing the second “a” in Mr. Aas’ name with an “s.”  Needless to say, it made an ass out of him.

Get the Simple Things Right

Embarrassment is bad enough. But such errors can ruin your credibility, a potential disaster for an advertising or PR firm, when words are our main currency. A recent web “writing tip” article from WordRake, the editing software company, agrees.  It said typos, grammatical slips or incorrect word usage make clients wonder, “If they can’t get the simple things right, how can I trust them to straighten out the more complicated stuff?

The lessons learned about the perils of such errors have been translated into Crosby Marketing’s policy that someone other than the writer must proof the copy. Often such errors occur because the proofreader is the writer, who is the worst person for the task.  Writers often will see what they “meant” to write.  As the WordRake article suggested, “Every writer needs an editor.”

WordRake concluded: “We all make mistakes; we’ll never get it 100 percent correct. But at the level at which we write, we have to be correct almost all of the time….  Your credibility rides with every sentence.”

The Internet Impact

In proofreading, as in all marketing today, you must consider the Internet impact. Proofreading has become even more crucial in the Internet age because “netspeak” creeps into copy.

E-mail and online texting, plus the ubiquity of blogs, Facebook, and Twitter, have led to a language revolution – the creation of “netspeak,” a stylistic shorthand or slang.  Basically, it substitutes letters, numbers, and keyboard symbols for sounds and words, such as “C” for “see,” allowing users to communicate more quickly when their fingers are doing the talking. Acronyms have become an integral part of computer conversations, such as “4NR” for “foreigner” and “@TEOTD” for “at the end of the day.” Today, you’ll find online dictionaries of this “net lingo.” You’ll also find it in marketing copy, most often written by younger practitioners, who get used to the slang in everyday personal communications.

In checking copy, computer programs’ spelling checkers are helpful, but they don’t negate proofreading.  There’s a long poem that for years has playfully cautioned against relying on spelling checkers. The first two stanzas of the original “spell checker poem” make the point:

I have a spelling checker
It came with my PC
It highlights for my review
Mistakes I cannot sea.

I ran this poem thru it
I’m sure your pleased to no
It’s letter perfect in its weigh
My checker told me sew.

Netspeak’s impact on marketing can be much greater than spelling errors or use of symbols and acronyms. If your reader/customer has to translate your language to understand it, you may create a barrier to your brand message.

So, the point of this discussion is not just about the value of proofreading or the intrusion of netspeak – it’s about the mistake of not understanding their impact on our credibility and our ability to communicate with the customer.

Court Blatchford

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