The Devil is in the Details

How Errors in Grammar and Spelling Can Derail Your Business

© Diane M. Aull

I recently received an invitation to a grand opening celebration for a new advertising agency opening up in our (very small) town. The owner of this agency had gone through the trouble of getting a full-color glossy invitation printed up. It was to be a gala event — there was to be a ribbon-cutting, and she had hired a caterer and musical entertainment.

However, I didn’t attend the ceremony, and I probably won’t be making use of her services, either. Why? Pretty simple, really.

The invitation itself contained at least five errors in the copy: one misspelled word, one word usage error and three words capitalized inappropriately.

Now, maybe you’ll say I’m being overly picky. But if she and her agency are that lax in their attention to detail on such an important invitation for themselves, well, what is there to reassure me that they’ll cross the T’s and dot the I’s when it comes to my projects?

Not everyone will notice, and not everyone will care. But there are enough people out there who are just as picky as I am to make it worth your while to pay attention to the details.

Nothing will brand you as "small-time" faster than error-laden copy. I know not everyone can afford to hire a professional copywriter to craft the text for their Web sites, press releases, brochures, and flyers. But you can’t afford not to proofread everything carefully before it goes to print.

For those who prefer to do it yourselves, here are a few tips:

  • Use your spell checker, but don’t rely on it 100 percent. Your spell checker can catch many mistakes, but it can’t catch everything. For instance, if you use the word "there" when you should have used the word "they’re", your spell checker probably won’t flag that as an error.
  • If your word processing software features a grammar checker, use that, too — but don’t count on it to catch everything, either. A good, properly configured grammar checker will identify additional errors that a plain spell checker would miss. But, like a spell checker, an automated grammar checker is no substitute for careful review by human beings.
  • If possible, get someone else to proofread your writing. When you read something that you wrote yourself, your brain tends to see what you meant to write, not what you actually put down on paper. Someone else is much more likely to catch errors and unclear wording than you would be.
  • If you can’t get someone else to proofread for you, don’t proofread immediately after writing. If you must proofread your own work, try to let at least one overnight go by before you try to proof it. That way, your brain has had a chance to rest. You’ll be looking at your writing with "fresh eyes" and you’re more likely to catch errors or poorly-worded sentences and phrases.
  • Keep a dictionary and grammar reference handy. When in doubt, look it up! It’s better to spend an extra few seconds verifying the spelling of a word or the correct grammatical construction to use than it is to send out a document with errors.
  • If need be, consider getting some writing instruction. Many community colleges offer writing courses, and you don’t have to pursue a degree to take a class. There are online courses and tutorials available, or there are "teach yourself" books available to help you learn how to avoid most common mistakes. I’ve listed a few that I’ve used and recommend at the end of this article.

Just taking an extra few minutes to thoroughly edit and proofread your writing before you send it out can pay dividends in an enhanced business image and, potentially, more clients or customers.

Recommended Resources:

Copyediting: A Practical Guide
The first three chapters of this book cover how to get work in copyediting and may be of little use to anyone not interested in that career path. However, chapters four through seven are invaluable for any writer. These chapters point out many common errors and the correct usage and style in a clear, concise and well-organized fashion.
The Associated Press Stylebook
If you’re planning to write a lot of press releases for newspaper publication, or just want your writing to have a professional style, you will find this reference book helpful. It covers everything from the proper mode of address for members of the British royal family to rules of capitalization to advice on how to avoid gender bias in writing. (Revised in July 2002)
Lapsing Into a Comma: A Curmudgeon’s Guide To The Many Things That Can Go Wrong In Print—And How To Avoid Them
A humorous yet informative book, this volume could be considered a companion to the Associate Press Stylebook. The author, a chief copy editor for the Washington Post, doesn’t always agree with the "official" AP style, but he makes a compelling case for his side of the arguement in each situation, and he does so with wit and clarity.

This article may be reproduced on your website or in your e-zine as long as the content is maintained intact and unchanged (including links) and the following paragraph is included in its entirety, including "live" links:

Copyright © Diane M. Aull, an online consultant for small and mid-sized businesses. For more information about her services, visit NineYards.com or BootstrapSEO. For resources and tools for home based workers, visit Torka's Home for Wayward Girls.

For any other intended use, you must contact me in advance. If you do use this article on your website, I'd love to know about it; please send me the URL!

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