Proofreading

What happens when you don’t proofread?

Publishing and marketing move at such a speed that often there’s no time for proofreading.

Even if you don’t worry about commas in the right place or correct use of apostrophes, proofreading ensures that basic information is correct.

This is what happened in several cases where text was not proofread properly:

  1. Editorial staff accidentally mistyped a contact phone number for an event listing so that a private individual was annoyed by nuisance phone calls and the event organiser lost customers.
  2. Marketing staff at a theatre provided incorrect performance dates for a newspaper events guide so readers could have missed out on seeing a production.
  3. A PR agency included the logo of its client in a press release but never referred to it in the text, instead mentioning the parent company. The confusion required research into the relationship between the company and its parent to make sense of the press release.

Getting basic information right is essential. Proofreading often highlights simple but important errors. It also highlights confusion or unclear meaning where the reader has no idea what the writer is trying to say.

How much do errors and confusion cost businesses in lost customers or sales? Is it worth building time for proofreading into production schedules?

Checking your content

Few people like checking documents. If something’s been a battle to get finished, you probably just want to see it out the door.

The problem is that things change fast and what was correct a week ago has now changed. It’s not good if you print thousands of brochures telling your customers to go to a web page that doesn’t exist or call the wrong phone number.

Today I’m proofreading a long document which includes lots of web addresses: I’ve found that some of them have changed, especially government ones, which are always changing.

Dates and prices are other details which need to be checked. Getting the right date but the wrong day (or vice versa) is common: always check a calendar. You’ll be glad you did when you get lots of people at your event or wish you had if you didn’t check it.

And, finally, proofreading ensures that your documents make sense. With so much text flying about, I give up if I can’t understand something because of the way it is written; many other people do too.

Even if you can’t wait to see the back of a document, make sure someone checks it before it goes to print or on the web. Apart from achieving your objectives more successfully, you’ll find yourself building a reputation for being a reliable source of information if everything you put out is accurate and up to date.

After yesterday’s blog, are you cutting your text down?

z2zine tomorrow: Too much to handle

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What difference does a single letter make?

I’m surprised that people continue to argue about the need for correct spelling, grammar and punctuation. If you’re in any doubt, try working as a proofreader.

We regularly proofread material produced by companies, councils, universities, schools and other organisations, and frequently grind to a halt because we can’t understand something.

In novels or poems, writers sometimes aim to entertain through using language that is a challenge to understand. This is not the case for companies or organisations dealing with customers who need information fast and in an easy-to-understand format.

So when you read a brochure or letter where you have to stop, go back and re-read a sentence three times to figure out what the writer is trying to say, you know that something needs changing. Perhaps there’s a word missing, a plural noun with a singular verb or three sentences crammed together in one.

Rather than being there to annoy us, spelling, grammar and punctuation aim to make text easier to read and understand. They can also make reading and writing more enjoyable and more effective, especially for companies producing marketing material to sell their products and services.

Accuracy is also very important. Would it matter to you if you published an advert with one wrong digit in the postcode? Would it make any difference if a newspaper published the wrong date for an event you were holding? (This happened to me recently – it was the newspaper’s mistake.)

If we use the language tools available to us to make our material as easy to understand as possible and we check all details to make sure our material facts are correct, we do all we can to help our communications achieve the best results for business.

After our last blog, have you decided how well print and digital communications work for you?

z2zine tomorrow: What is there say about my business?

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Use a style guide for consistency when writing for print or web sites

We’ve been doing a lot of proofreading lately, which brings to mind just how useful a corporate style guide for writers can be.

It’s quite common for businesses and other organisations to have visual style guides, but the actual content is often forgotten until a proofreader points out all the inconsistencies.

A style guide can be as simple or as complex as you want: covering basics from always writing brand names in capitals – or not – to whether specific words are hyphenated.

Once simple rules are written down, it’s much easier to remember them when you come to write a word and think “company policy is to hyphenate this word” or “we write that with a capital”.

The result is greater consistency, more effective communication and less time spent ironing out inconsistencies every time you want to publish a brochure or web site content.

The value of accuracy

We all do it: jot things down, bang out an email or a blog. Does it matter if we get a number or something else wrong? Apart from being sloppy, usually not. So is that all right? 

I don’t think it’s an excuse. What’s the point of a number if it’s wrong? How many feet have I got? Two or three? The whole point of numbers is that they are precise to a .000000000001 (or however many more zeros you care to insert).

I’m writing this after proofreading large documents for several large companies and identifying lots of typos and inconsistencies. Is that bad? No, that’s the whole point of proofreading. Often, the people producing a document will be too close to the words and will have edited them too many times to be able to spot mistakes. Designers are also under pressure to lay out documents without time to check them. By building proofreading into the production process, any errors or omissions can be spotted and corrected before publication.

So does it matter? Yes, if the price is shown as £50 instead of £500 or readers – your customers – can’t understand what you’re trying to say in your document.

Finally, it helps ensure some elegance in the writing. Awkward, artificially abrupt language can work well when used for effect, but if you want someone to understand something quickly and easily, simple and elegant language is recommended.

So the value of proofreading is in ensuring that your readers get accurate information and can understand what you’re trying to say.

Spelling criteria

What are the criteria for deciding how to use this word?

Criterion, the singular form of the noun, means:

  • a standard or principle used to judge something or make a decision

Criteria is the plural form of the noun. 

Return frequently for our A to Z of word and spelling tips plus copywriting and proofreading hints.

Spelling bureaucrat

Don’t get tied up by the red tape of this B when tangling with a bureaucrat.

Bureaucrat – the noun can mean:

  • official usually employed by a government or public body (especially one determined to stick as closely as possible to set procedures)

Bureaucracy – the noun can mean:

  • over-complicated administrative procedures
  • government dominated by state officials

Return frequently for our A to Z of spelling tips plus copywriting and proofreading hints.

Spelling accommodate

It’s helpful to remember that both verb and noun forms accommodate two cs and two ms.

Accommodate – the verb can mean:

  • to provide housing or space
  • to oblige
  • to adapt to

Accommodation – the noun can mean:

  • rooms, lodging or building where someone can live or stay
  • adaption
  • convenient arrangement

Return frequently for our A to Z of spelling tips plus copywriting and proofreading hints.

How to work with a proofreader

The client, a business, called to ask how much it would cost to proofread their client magazine. We asked for a word count and a possible sample of the text. Seeing a sample gives us an idea of how much work is involved. Poorly written material can take two or three times longer to proofread than good writing, as much of the time is spent figuring out what the author really means and how it should be amended or whether it needs more advanced editing.

Having agreed the price, dates are set for when the draft magazine will be available and when the annotated text needs to be returned to the client.

The text arrives as a PDF on the agreed date and we proofread it, checking spelling, grammar and punctuation, seeing that it makes sense, marking up inconsistencies and generally making sure it is all fine. We mark up the PDF with electronic notes in Adobe Acrobat.

When completed, we email back the PDF so that the client can read the annotations on the PDF using Adobe Acrobat Reader.

The client is very pleased. It’s all gone smoothly and the magazine will go to print free from error.

That’s how proofreading works – more details at www.proofreadingresources.co.uk

Their, there, they’re!

Their or there or they’re?

They sound and look similar, but their meanings are different, so how do you know which one to use?

Their (adjective) means belonging to them.

There (adverb) means in or at a place.

They’re (verb) is a shortened version of “they are”.

So you could say, “They’re putting their things over there.”

For spelling, grammar and punctuation tips and advice on copywriting, editing and proofreading, please visit our www.z2zine.co.uk blog regularly.