I have always loved to read and write and English was my favorite (and best) subject, so it comes as no surprise that my first job at the end of my sophomore year in high school was as a proofreader of English and Spanish law text galleys for a publishing firm in my hometown. Even at that, I make plenty of mistakes and sometimes have to go back in after I publish a blog post to correct an error I missed on the second or third read through.
As a business professional, and being on the receiving end of hundreds of daily emails asking me to look at countless products and business opportunities designed to change my life forever, I write and read a lot of “professional” copy. If I had to guess, I’d say that 80% of every email that I receive has a typo of some sort in it, 60% of every web site that I review has at least one typo in it, and 90% of every squeeze page does, too! Then there are the misspellings. Yikes!
Recently, I was pitched on a new company in soft launch (it actually just launched a few days ago.) This company was touted as the “child” of a much larger, well-known, debt-free network marketing company, and naturally it was destined to be the next big thing. Out of respect for the friend who pitched me, I took a look. I clicked off of the website shaking my head; how could a parent company of that magnitude let their child go out to play dressed like THAT?
The typos on the website were so many that it made me suspicious; the glaring lack of attention to detail was hurting this company’s credibility with me. I’m no superstar, I’m only one little person sitting at my desk in the Texas Hill Country, but I wonder if there were other people who looked at the opportunity and asked themselves whether or not it was legitimate based on the appearance of the website? Did they pass on the opportunity because they got the same vibe that I did?
Ask yourself, “As a professional business person, how do I want to be perceived?” As insignificant as it seems, something as simple as spelling or a typo can dramatically impact your reader’s impression of you, and remember: you never get a second chance to make a first impression. Do you want others to believe that you’re competent or sloppy? Think about it.
If you find that you are now asking yourself whether your customers are likely to want your services if you can’t be bothered with the details of spelling correctly, the answer is no.
They might not click off the page like I did in the example that I gave above, but those misspellings and typos are tarnishing your credibility.
Did I just hear you grumble that that’s what the spell check function on your computer is for? The spell checker is a great tool and should be used all the time, but folks believe (incorrectly) that spelling and grammar skills are no longer necessary.
The Spell Checker
The spell checker is a reference tool, not a magic wand! It will help you to catch errors, but it won’t catch them all. For instance, you can use the wrong word for the occasion and still spell the wrong word correctly.
Last week I received an email from a well-known marketer in the industry who wrote about a great gathering of people and the ensuing “malay.” (“Malay” describes a person of Malay descent, or someone from Malaysia or Indonesia; what this person meant to write was “melee,” a confused mass of people.)
Last night I read an email from yet another marketer who wrote of keeping something “in tack” (intact). In neither of these instances would a spell checker have picked up the error! The spell checker only verifies that the words are spelled correctly, not that you’ve used the proper word.
“Little” words in particular are notorious for being in the wrong place at the wrong time. You should pay special attention to these potential hazards when typing, as your spell checker won’t catch them either.
Here are a few examples of pairs that are often mistaken for each other (and, hence, are often missed when proofreading): “for” and “from”; “it,” “is,” and “if”; “you” and “your.” Because your eyes sweep over them, these little words are easy to miss.
Also, you’ll want to watch to be sure that you’re using these easily confused homophones correctly: “your” and “you’re”; “they’re,” “there,” and “their”; “to,” “two,” and “too”; “through,” and “threw”; and “new,” and “knew.” For a complete list of homophones that you can print out and keep handy, click here.
The spell checker won’t correct new words, and computers and technology continue to create whole new sets of words that you will need to know how to spell when your spell checker underlines them for you. I find that a good desktop dictionary program is a convenient tool for this and other proofreading tasks as well.
A perfect example is the spelling of the “hi-tech” word “email.” In addition to that spelling, there is another version: “e-mail.” For this post, I chose “email” as the preferred spelling. Why?
There are three reasons. One, the word “email” is faster to type since there’s no hyphen and no space. Two, there are fewer opportunities to make typos if you aren’t typing a hyphen. Three, the word “email” simply appears neater and cleaner.
Be sure to proofread your articles, emails and posts for context as well. Make sure that when you string your words together they’re actually saying what you intend to say. You’d be surprised at the unintended consequences of a sloppy read-through. Take a look at some real newspaper headlines with funny, unintended typos:
Woman Improving After Fatal Crash
TV Ads Boost Eating of Obese Children by 130%
Would She Climb to the Top of Mr. Everest Again? Absolutely!
And last but not least, two final proofreading tips: read your article out loud as you’re proofreading it; you’ll pick up on errors that your eye missed when you have to speak the word. And take a break from it before you proofread your work for the last time. When you have the option, let it sit overnight; the intense focus of the writing process tends to blind us to our mistakes; our eye skips over them in our desire to see the whole as the sum of its parts, rather than the parts themselves. After a few hours or overnight, we can take a look with fresh eyes and new insight and our work is better for the effort.
If you still have any doubts about using your brain versus the spell checker, read the following humorous poem. I came across it last night and, as far as I know, it’s by one of my favorite authors: Anonymous. Enjoy!
Spell Chequer Poem
Eye halve a spelling chequer
It came with my pea sea
It plainly marques four my revue
Miss steaks eye kin knot sea.
Eye strike a key and type a word
And weight four it two say
Weather eye am wrong oar write
It shows me strait a weigh.
As soon as a mist ache is maid
It nose bee fore two long
And eye can put the error rite
Its rare lea ever wrong.