You’d be shocked (I hope) at how many people I’ve heard say, “This doesn’t need to go through proofing—it’s clean enough,” (no, it’s not) or, “We don’t have time for this to go through proofing,” (too bad—make time). Let me say, with all the authority in me, that proofing is important. It ensures the quality of a message and the readability of written content.
Your Copy Needs Proofing—Regardless of How Well You Write
I would think everyone has enough pride in their work to want it to be as polished as possible. We can all agree it’s better to have correct spelling, grammar, and layout (font, margins, image quality, etc.) than it is to have errors. So why is it so incredibly difficult, and sometimes downright painful, to get people to have their work proofed?
Here are four of the most common reasons people think they don’t need proofing, and why they are oh-so-terribly wrong.
YOU THINK: I’ve already reviewed it.
BUT REALLY: There’s a 98% chance you missed something.
I’m sure you did well in English class. I’m also sure you don’t have the trained eye for detail and breadth of grammar and linguistics knowledge a professional proofer or editor has. Even if you did, you’d still need to have your work reviewed. Professional writers and editors—the people most qualified to write “clean” copy—have extensive proofing and editing processes.
Take me, for example. I am a professional writer. I graduated with honors in English writing from a reputable school and have attended workshops and conferences to keep my skills sharp. I am the person people go to when they want something SERIOUSLY proofread. But at least five other people have edited and proofread this blog besides me. And they had (many) edits.
Having a proofer does not mean that you are a bad writer. It is not a reflection of you or your skill. Everyone makes mistakes, and even if you review your work with a fine-tooth comb, you’re too close to it to catch errors. You’ve seen the words too many times, and your brain knows what you’re trying to say, so it will sometimes bypass otherwise obvious errors. You need someone who knows how to proofread to look at your work with fresh eyes; you just do.
YOU THINK: There’s no time for this to go through proofing.
BUT REALLY: You need to make time.
Proofing seems to be one of the first things to get cut when the clock starts ticking. Overwhelming odds are, if something doesn’t go through proofing, it will have errors. Maybe they will be big, like incorrect spelling or glaring grammar mistakes. Maybe they’ll be less noticeable, like poor sentence structure or weird formatting. Either way, an error is an error, and nothing is more unprofessional or insulting than receiving a message riddled with mistakes.
The best way to combat a lack of proofing time is to plan ahead: create a proofing process and include time for proofing in your timeline. Quick turnarounds are sometimes unavoidable, but proofing is not the place to cut for time. It’s better to be a little late and have it right than it is to have it on time and messy. Nothing says “I don’t think you or this task are important enough to dedicate real time to” than submitting a written piece riddled with typos.
YOU THINK: Little errors aren’t all that important as long as people understand what I’m trying to say.
BUT REALLY: There’s more to proofing than just making sure your piece is readable.
Maybe your audience will know what you’re talking about. Maybe the mistakes you made and missed won’t affect the overall message. That doesn’t mean your copy is clean. The little-known truth about proofing is that a proofer or editor is not looking at your piece from just an audience perspective. They are also looking at it in the context of your branding (is the marketing copy written in the company’s tone and style?) and from a legal point of view (is there anything here that could be misconstrued?).
Proofing for legality may seem like the last thing on your mind when you’re writing a report or advertisement, but consumers and businesses really do take advantage of those mistakes. I’m not exaggerating—there was a $10 million dollar lawsuit over a missing Oxford comma (i.e. putting a comma before the “and” in a list, for example: “a, b, and c,” instead of “a, b and c”) not too long ago. (As a side note, this one event had proofers and editors everywhere yelling, “HA! SEE? THIS IS IMPORTANT!”) If you’re still unconvinced, look at this article on the top 10 most expensive typos in history.
The bottom line is mistakes, even little ones, can hurt more than your reputation—they can hurt your bottom line.
YOU THINK: There might be errors, but I doubt anyone will notice.
BUT REALLY: Oh, they’ll notice.
Anyone who has ever posted something on the internet can tell you—no matter what the platform or how long the copy—the general public loves to point out errors. Even tiny ones. Even ones that don’t really have an impact on your messaging. Even ones that aren’t strictly wrong, but could have been done better.
Even small mistakes speak to who you are as a brand, product, and person. If you received something with typos, you’d think the sender was either lazy, uninterested, or a combination of the two. Would you ever buy something from someone like that? For a brief moment, let’s remember that business and relationships are both earned—and no one earns anything by saying, “This is good enough,” when you know there’s a way to make it better.
Having your work proofread is not an “if-we-have-time” type of thing. Distributing unproofread material pushes the well-thought-out message of your content into a supporting role and puts the unintentional mistakes in the spotlight. Those who forgo proofing sell themselves—and all the work their team puts into their product, business, and messaging—short.
The mistakes you make (and miss) all come back and say things about you: what do you want your work to say? If you want your marketing copy to say the right things about you, get in touch with us today.
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