Let’s start with a fairytale

Once upon a time, there was a girl called Cinders. Cinders always worked hard and thought herself practically perfect in every way. One night, Cinders found herself surrounded by boxes and boxes of brochures. Earlier that day, very angry people had called her, Cinderella illustrationwanting to know why their information was all horribly wrong and what  was she going to do about it! Cinders did her very best to calm the angry people and set to work righting the mistake.

She toiled long into the night, adding a corrections sheet to every single copy of the 5000 brochures, wearing her manicure down and wiping away her tears of frustration.

Cinders learned a great lesson that night. Never again would she boast about being practically perfect in every way. She would always check her work properly.*

Meanwhile, in real life, it is so easy to make mistakes in your business communications. Your biggest mistake will always be thinking you’re infallible. You’re not! Miss out a decimal point and your offer for £1.99 off goes out as £199 off! Don’t spot a spelling mistake and you may well be tweeting about boobs rather than books! Big businesses make these mistakes too and, in a world of text speak and business jargon, customers are increasingly turning away from businesses using bad grammar and spelling. Hubspot’s compiled some of the worst offenders for our amusement.

So, what can you do to stop your business from turning into cinders overnight? (Dreadful pun, apologies)

Here’s some thoughts to bear in mind when you’re writing any of your business communications.

Spellcheck is there for a reason!

No one is perfect – use the Spelling & Grammar as well as the Word Count options in MSphoto of Guardian letter Word. Word Count gives you several readability scores and there are other tools for readability which are also handy to bookmark. There isn’t a perfect spellchecker in the world so a good dictionary will also help you (and no, Urban Dictionary does not count).

Talk to me, baby!

Read your text out loud – people with dyslexia have been doing this for years as it’s
incredibly hard to spot errors when you’re just silently reading through text on a screen. Reading your text out loud allows you to realise where you might have misspelled a word or your sentence doesn’t make sense.

Write English like wot I does?

No matter the medium, get someone else to read through what you’ve written – preferably someone with a very good grasp of written English. Anyone with a humanities or arts Masters or PhD is usually a fantastic grammar checker and may relish the opportunity to attack your text with a big red pen.

Don’t rely on your supplier to spot your mistakes!

If your text is going to be sent to a printer, ask for print proofs to be sent to you so you can check they haven’t added any mistakes – it happens more often than you’d think! Also, don’t rely on a graphic designer to spot your mistakes – they’re concentrating on the layout of the page not what is written on it.

Don’t try to be ‘down wid da kidz’

Social media doesn’t have to mean taking shortcuts in writing – you never see Stephen Fry using text-speak and he’s got over 6 million followers! Facebook and Google+ posts should be concise yet informative. Tweets obviously need to be concise but short sentences look far more professional than “C U @ our nxt sale on wkd” (Okay, I’m not that good at text-speak either!). You can use a capitalised letter “I” to break up your tweet:

@susebbcustomers Come to our great sale I 25% off all furniture I 3.4.14 9am-5pm I 25 Main St, BN1 #furnituresales

Editors and proofreaders are worth their weight in gold

Any long form materials, such as annual reports, catalogues, white papers and evaluation reports, will nearly always benefit from an editor and a proofreader checking them. Editors will check for all mistakes and will also look at consistency, making sure the text makes sense as well as fact checking and grammar. Proofreaders are highly skilled and can zero in on any final errors like hawks – if they’d seen the print proofs for Cinders’ brochure, they would have saved her many, many tears. If you want to find a good proofreader or editor in the UK, check out the Society for Editors and Proofreaders’ members’ directory.

Know when to let go!

Don’t slip past your deadline because you’re worried your text isn’t pitch perfect. Oncephoto of Philip Roth errata book slip you’ve checked it for spelling, grammar and consistency, someone else has double-checked it AND you’ve checked the final proof, send it out into the world. No one’s perfect, we all make mistakes. The trick is to pull your big boy pants on, admit to the mistake, don’t play the blame game and correct the mistake as soon as you can.

As long as you’re keeping all of these areas in mind when you’re creating your communications, you’ll hopefully be able to avoid any big mistakes that could cost your business money, time and a fair bit of embarrassment too!

If you’ve got a document you think needs editing, I specialise in long form copy-editing so get in touch now. Alternatively, comment below or tweet me if you’ve got any fab examples of truly painful marketing spelling mistakes.

* This story may have been exaggerated and the names changed for dramatic purposes

Cinders photo by Clotho98 from Famous Fairy Tales – illustrated by Lois Lenski, with Creative Commons
Guardian letter photo by Brett Jordan with Creative Commons

Philip Roth errata slip photo by Erik Statten with Creative Commons