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  • Catherine Jackson

To proofread or not to proofread? That is the question.

The answer is simply that it could be a costly mistake if you don’t.

Mistakes lead to misundersandings. [Sorry, misunderstandings.] Even an incorrect price advertised will find you legally bound to honor it (sorry all you Brits, honour] and that can hit your profits.

The problem is that we’re becoming lazy and expect the computer to do it all for us. Spell checkers won’t recognise the complexities of the English language on your creative, or innuendo come to that. Which there, their or they’re, and which dash, hyphen, en rule or em rule is most appropriate? Neither will spell checkers identify your brand’s tone of voice in crucial collateral such as your company brochure.

Insert the human factor – a proofreader. But beware. Just because people can read doesn’t mean they can proofread. Proofreading is the crucial last stage of production before an item is printed or published. It’s not just a matter of spotting the odd spelling mistake, although that alone can cost your company/brand its credibility. Poor spelling on a creative looks unprofessional[1] and serves to encourage clients to spend their money elsewhere. That’s why a dedicated professional proofreader is an essential part of the quality checking process.

Don't be impotent

Printing howlers date back to time immemorial. A missing word in the 1632 edition of the King James Bible completely changed the meaning of the seventh commandment, which read ‘Thou shalt commit adultery’. (Unfortunately, all the copies were destroyed so it IS still a sin.) The printer was only fined for the mistake. In the 17th century, he could have lost his head for less.

More recently, consider the cookbook publisher [Daily Mail, April 2010] who had the expense of pulping 7,000 books and reprinting them because a recipe listed in the ingredients ‘freshly ground black people’ instead of 'black pepper'. Usually, the proofreader’s recipe nightmare is the 190°F instead of °C.

Take this revolving 6-sheet (pictured right) spotted at Luton Parkway Station on 6th November 2015 ...and my 'recommendation' would be to drop it in the bin!

By far the best I’ve ever seen has to be the article on the importance of proofreading, entitled The Impotence of Proofreading. Clearly, a lesson in not reading your own copy.

Call the professionals

I reiterate. Get it proofread.

Professional proofreaders will have been industry trained and many will hold relevant qualifications. They will perform a thorough read, not just a glance, and pick up on the grammar errors, mixed up tenses, confused plural verb conjugations with single subjects, unnecessary capital letters, misuse of the apostrophe – or no use at all, use of the comma (so many wrong messages are conveyed for the want of a comma, Oxford or otherwise), missing headers and footers, rogue alignment, wrong typefaces and font sizes, irrelevant images and captions, reversed images containing words (oh yes!) …the list goes on.

Clear and concise

Then there’s the question of consistency. There’s no point having guidelines or tone of voice for your brand if there is no consistency in your advert, brochure or website. Website? Yes, don’t forget the website. The way your products and subsequent online sales are communicated will be via the written word. An online spelling mistake can ‘cut online sales in half’[2].

We haven’t mentioned clarity. Treat the proofreader not just as second pair of eyes, but also as your target audience. If your ad/brochure/website doesn’t make sense to the proofreader, it won’t make sense to your customer, so your message won’t be making any impact. You’ve just wasted your marketing budget.

As for tattoo artists, I’m afraid you’re on your own.

So, to anyone responsible for producing your company’s written material, take heed. For your piece of mind [sorry, peace of mind], get it proofread. Visit and see what I can do to help polish your written work.

Sources: 1) Forum of Private Business; 2) National Association of Legal Professionals.

Oxford Learning Institute, University of Oxford; BBC News; Daily Mail.

Catherine Jackson

Copywriter ~ Proofreader ~ Editor

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