Browsing the web this week, I was surprised by how many typos I spotted on marketing and communications sites. There weren’t hundreds or even dozens, but there were a couple of real clangers that made me wonder whether people take as much care to check content published online as they do a printed brochure or magazine.
The most unfortunate typo was on the website of a marketing magazine. In a feature about the senior manager of a financial organisation, the interviewee was introduced as the head of the “baking group”.
For a moment, I was taken in. How novel for a company to have a baking division – presumably, I thought, some social arrangement, getting staff to swap recipes in their lunch hour and chat over flapjacks about the share price and UK property investments.
It was only when I read a second reference a couple of paragraphs later, with the job title including the all-important “n”, that I realised the error.
I’m sure the interviewee saw the funny side of being called the head of baking – actually, an inter-company cookery group is a great idea to engage employees; the literal breaking of bread in a corporate environment – but readers expect a publication or anything produced by a communications or marketing team, or a news service, to be flawless. Continual errors can make readers less inclined to revisit your site.
And a slip of the typing fingers and poor proofreading could lead to more regrettable mistakes. “Head of banking” is only a letter here or there away from being quite offensive.
Aside from the risk of upsetting your stakeholders or customers, avoidable typos can make your content less credible and even risk your reputation for service delivery. If you are careless about the way you communicate, are you taking a similarly casual approach to your core business?
So, do we proofread less online? Does the flitting, quick-scan nature of web readers mean we are less bothered if our digital content contains errors? The growth of social media and the demand for immediate news and information places time pressures on news channels to get content uploaded quickly.
Do we see printed publications as an old-fashioned “good read” that should be enjoyed in comfort, and therefore given more love in the production process, and the Internet as a place we go to for information and unedited comment – a channel that spits out news as quickly as possible? Even if so, does this mean we should skip an important part of the editorial process?
Is online content less permanent, and so less precious? It’s easy to see why a printed magazine would have a longer shelf life than an online article that disappears down the most-read lists fairly quickly. But in some ways, isn’t online content more permanent than a printed publication? People don’t always keep brochures or magazines around the house or on office desks, but online content can always be found, as long as the story hasn’t been removed, and your error-strewn article can be shared more easily.
We also view digital communications as easier to change. Being able to amend and re-upload content is often cited as a benefit of online news channels or PDF magazines. To many, this is a licence to be less thorough in the interests of getting a story published quickly.
Maybe readers aren’t that bothered about editorial correctness online. Magazines and brochures are generally more designed affairs, with imagery to create an impact and an impression. An online news article is usually less fussy. Perhaps the stripped down appearance of online content means organisations similarly strip back the attention given to the editorial processes that get it published. They really shouldn’t.
Ten top tips for proofreading – online or in print
Avoid only proofreading on screen. Print out your article. Not only will it give your eyes a screen break, you’re less likely to miss mistakes on a printed version or be distracted by emails and the Internet. If you must proofread on screen only, magnify your document display, read slowly and follow all the other rules below.
Be consistent. Have your company or publication style guide to hand and double check the format for dates and job titles – “July 3rd” or “3 July”, “says” or “said”, “10” or “ten”, “adviser” or “advisor”, etc. If you haven’t got a style guide, create one.
Read it aloud. Your muttering might sound strange to your colleagues, but it will slow down your reading. You will speed up and your brain is more likely to autocorrect typos and repeated/missing words if you are reading to yourself.
Slowly pronounce longer words, particularly words with lots of tall, slim characters (f, i, l and t), as missing or duplicated letters can be easier to overlook.
Double check words with American or similar spellings, e.g. practice/practise, inquiry/enquiry, aging/ageing, judgment/judgement, program/programme, yogurt/yoghurt. Keep your style guide updated with whatever preference is agreed for alternative spellings.
Proofreading isn’t just about spotting typos or grammatical mistakes. Double check facts – especially the spellings of names and organisations, dates, and the titles of projects and job roles. Don’t assume someone called Andy or Christina spells his or her name the most common way. Getting the basics wrong makes your reporting look particularly lazy.
Use the software spellcheck with caution. It can be useful for picking up misspelled words, but won’t always identify “there” instead of “their” or “led” instead of “lead”.
Get someone else to read your article. They may pick up missed errors, but can also check for sense and tone. What reads logically to the knowledgeable author might lack clarity or explanation to a reader new to the topic. If you’re reading someone else’s copy, leave comments/questions or suggested revisions if anything isn’t clear.
Check your article layout online. Ideally, save it as a draft and review a preview version before publishing. Look for soft returns, the alignment of captions and text boxes, and how well the headline fits the space.
Avoid reading your article backwards. Some people advise this. It might be useful for slowing down your checking of each word, but you’re really just reading an article backwards.