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Proofreading isn't that important... is it?

Many people don't realize how important it is to carefully proofread their business correspondence. In my years of experience, I have seen a lot of business letters, brochures, data sheets, reports, instructions and other business and marketing correspondence. And, I've seen a lot of errors. Some common ones include incorrect or inconsistent use of punctuation and poor use of acronyms and, of course, spelling errors.

Incorrect/Inconsistent Punctuation

I commonly see this when reading business correspondence: inconsistent use of the comma in comma-delimited lists. Some people prefer to put a comma before the word "and" in their comma-separated lists (i.e., bananas, oranges, and apples). Others prefer not to (e.g., bananas, oranges and apples). Neither way is incorrect--it's all a matter of preferences. The problem arises when there's a mixture of the use in the same document.

Seems like a silly thing to worry about, doesn't it? Well, it's not. Having this inconsistency shouts out the message that you just can't make up your mind how to list what could be the list of products or services you offer--some of the most common things businesses list in comma-separated form. It doesn't convey a very positive message about your products and services, does it?

An extremely common punctuation error I see is in the words "its" and "it's". This is a tough one because when you add an apostrophe before the letter "s". Without the apostrophe, the word "its" refers to the possessive form of the word "it". Example: "The dog can't find it's bone." This is incorrect, and I see this incorrect usage all the time. The proper way: "The dog can't find its bone." With the apostrophe, on the other hand, you're using a contraction for "it is". Example: "It's hot outside!" is the correct way to communicate that you think it is hot outside.

Having inconsistent use of punctuation broadcasts to EVERYONE that you don't believe in your company and it's products/services enough to bother with the details. And, it looks bad! People notice these things, and it does affect their buying decision. I sure wouldn't buy from someone who puts in their product claim: "Its the greatest thing since sliced bread." Would you?

Poor Use of Acronyms

Something else that can ruin the message you are trying to convey in your written correspondence is poor use of acronyms. Don't start off spouting acronyms when describing your latest and greatest product or service. People may not know what they mean. If there's any possibility that your acronym may be confusing, spell out the words and put the acronym in parenthesis behind them. It's how you formally introduce the person to it. Then, aftewards, you can use the acronym throughout the rest of your document.

For example, you're marketing search engine optimization services. If you start off just using the aconym, SEO, you could be losing a large part of your audience. Here's an example of the proper way to introduce the SEO acronym: "Search engine optimization (SEO) is a vital part of any website owner's internet marketing plan." Once the acronym is introduced, then you can freely use it throughout the rest of the correspondence you're writing. For acronyms behind a name (e.g., John Smith, MCSE) or ones that are commonly known (e.g., RAM), it's not necessary to spell it out in the first instance.

Periods or no periods--that is the question
When using acronyms, not using periods is perfectly acceptable and typically the accepted practice. But, whether or not you use periods in your acronyms, be consistent. Don't put "SEO" in one place then "S.E.O." somewhere else on the same document.

Poor and inconsistent use of acronyms broadcasts volumes about how much you don't want to be bothered with the details. It's kind of like putting on your best suit, then putting gym sock and sneakers on your feet, and expecting to ace that important client meeting or interview. So, take the time to go through your documents to make any acronyms that someone may not know is first introduced with the fully-spelled words followed by the acronym in parenthesis like this: search engine optimization (SEO). But, you don't have to worry about that for acronyms behind names or commonly-known ones. In that case, just be consistent: e.g., "MCSE" or "M.C.S.E.", not both.

Spelling Errors

Sometimes, I've seen websites and printed material that look like someone forgot to turn on the spell-checker. Many times, I've seen the word "received", "their" and a host of other words spelled incorrectly.

Spelling and grammatical errors may seem like very minor details, but they can make all the difference in the world. There's no excuse for poor spelling with automated spell-checkers. So, before printing it out, spell-check it carefully. Most contemporary word processing programs also have automated grammar-checkers, as well. Because people are aware of these things, if they see a brochure or website that has even a single grammatical or spelling error it could be be a deal-breaker, especially if you're new in business and you are not well known enough for people to be kind enough to simply let you know you have an error.

Bad Grammar

With a few noted exceptions, like Sara Lee's famous tagline "Nobody doesn't like Sara Lee" (a double negative), there is no room whatsoever for bad grammar on your business correspondence. Bad grammar, like spelling errors, can be one of the fastest deal breakers around, because you just don't come across as professional. This could have a devastating effect on your sales!

Grammatical errors are a little tougher to find, which is why it's so important that you not only run a spell-checker, but also read through the document several times. Believe it or not, seemingly obvious errors like "these apples is crisp and delicious" or "this machine are fast and dependable" can sneak past just about anyone if they don't pay attention.

The smallest error can creep up and embarass the daylights out of you when you get your print run of 1,000 brochures or datasheets, especially when it's a customer who finds them. A good suggestion: read it aloud. Reading aloud is a great way to catch grammatical errors and improve the readership flow. When you hear it, you're more likely to catch any problems that crop up.

Summing It Up

Your written correspondence's content and flow of readership tells potential customers how much you believe in your products and services. It also communicates your company's level of pride and professionalism. It is the first thing most people see, and it's how they get to know who you are, what you do and what products you sell. If that content has incorrectly spelled or incorrectly used words or acronyms, grammatical errors and poor or inconsistent use of punctuation, you WILL lose business--and fast!

A good rule of thumb is to run the spell-checker, read your document aloud, and make appropriate changes as you find things with which you are not satisfied. Then, run the spell-checker once more, and have someone else proofread your document and mark it up before you send it out to print or post it on the web.

Many times, a fresh pair of eyes that aren't so close to the project can catch those little errors that would otherwise slip by. They could even edit it for you. MS Word has a nifty feature called "track changes". This allows others to make edits, but tracks the changes they make, so you'll know just what was changed. Then, you can decide to either accept or reject the changes the other person made.

Taking the time to properly proofread will save you and your company a lot of embarassment when your correspondence goes to print or is posted to the web. The possibility of error will be greatly reduced and, your correspondence will better represent your company's good name.

Contact me now to find out how I can help you with your web design, writing, proofreading and editing needs.