You may have written an insightful and groundbreaking whitepaper or the cleverest social media post. If you’ve made a typo or a grammatical error, though, your hard work might not have the effect you had intended.
First impressions, especially in this age of short attention spans, are of utmost importance. One misspelling or misplaced apostrophe in your blog post, email subject line or digital ad can turn off potential customers. Believe it or not, your very credibility can be negatively affected by the improper use of grammar. Details really do matter.
Careful proofreading can help you avoid embarrassment and even loss of revenue. If you’re not the world’s best speller or you’ve forgotten your lessons in English class, don’t despair. We have a few best practices to share with you.
Proofreading tips and tricks
Your first line of defense against errors is yourself. But don’t be afraid to rely on colleagues, family or friends for help. Here are a few easy-to-implement tips.
- Whenever possible, ask someone else to read what you have written. A second set of eyes is always better than one. If you don’t have that option, take a break and step away from what you’ve written and return to it with fresh eyes. You might spot errors you didn’t notice before.
- Some people advocate reading backward so that you’re focused on each word. This can help you check for spelling errors but you could still overlook missing words or other problems related to context. If you plan to try this method, also plan to read everything forward and out loud. You might also catch overused words or run-on sentences more easily this way.
- You can use your word processing software’s built-in spell-checking program. Keep in mind, though, that it probably won’t catch more subtle problems. For instance, “to,” “too” and “two” are all legitimate words that are often used incorrectly.
- Confirm the spelling of companies’ and people’s names. While it’s possible that no one else will notice except for those whose names are misspelled, they may be the most important to your business.
I’ve compiled a list of mistakes that I have noticed are becoming all too common lately, along with some general suggestions.
Don’t hyphenate adverbial phrases, such as “organically grown.” A simple way to remember this is that you don’t write “really-pretty shoes” so you wouldn’t write “environmentally-friendly car.”
Be careful with subject-verb agreement. An example of this error is “one in five people need braces.” The subject is “one” so the verb should be singular: “needs.” The correct phrase, then, is “one in five people needs braces.” Another example is popular in those lawyer commercials. I’m sure you’ve heard “If you or a loved one has mesothelioma…” or something like it. To prevent yourself from committing this grammatical sin, split up the sentence when proofreading. “If you has mesothelioma” is clearly incorrect. The easiest way to fix this is to insert “have” after “If you.”
Pay attention to your usage of similar words like “it’s” and “its.” “It’s” is a contraction meaning “it is,” and “its” means belonging to it. What helps me with this issue is always saying “it’s” as “it is” when I am proofreading. You will quickly realize when you’ve used the wrong word. Similarly, “you’re” and “your” are frequently mixed up. The same trick can work for these. Read “you’re” as “you are” to make sure you’re using the right word.
Pluralize properly. I have seen everything from Mondays to videos have misplaced apostrophes. In other words, they’re spelled Monday’s and video’s when the writer clearly intends these to be plural and not possessive. When in doubt, don’t add an apostrophe to make a word plural. There are some exceptions but these are fairly rare.
While it’s not a spelling or grammatical mistake, lack of consistency can also reflect badly on your company. Consider creating a style guide for all your employees and any external resources who update your website, post to your social media and create marketing materials. This would include things like whether you use the Oxford or serial comma (this is when you use a comma before the “and” in a list of items), if you capitalize all the words in your blog titles or not and when, if ever, you should use first-person.
Besides books you may have on hand, including a dictionary, clients’ business cards and industry-specific materials that could assist with spelling, there are also online resources at your disposal.
The website dictionary.com can help you ensure you’re using the correct words and spelling them properly. The synonym tab is a good source for alternate words.
Review additional tips and common mistakes on this infographic from Marketing Profs.
If you need more in-depth proofreading, contact us at klg communications. We have experience proofreading websites, brochures, blog posts and other marketing content.