Let’s talk about typos. They’re so embarrassing, right?
I once misspelled an executive’s name in the subject line of an email – to her. (My new contact lenses were blurring my vision.)
A friend misspelled his own byline at his first newspaper reporting job. (He was nervous on his first day at work.)
Another friend misspelled the name of a location in the most highly-anticipated court case of the year. (She had left her blue light blocking glasses at home, so her eyes were straining from the blue light that was coming out of the screen).
My front-page editor wrote a headline about a government program costing $5 billion — instead of $5 million. (The “m” and the “b” are so close on the keyboard.)
The point is: Everybody makes typos.
The second point is: That’s no excuse. Neither was my blurry vision nor my buddy’s nervousness nor the headline writer’s fat fingers. I know my eyesight is bad, so I should really have visited somewhere like SharpeVision to get my eyes fixed. My friend knew he’d be nervous, so he should’ve taken a breather before sending off his article. And my editor should’ve been more careful about where he was placing his fingers.
Have an anti-typos system
Editing is important. So is proofreading.
Every communications operation must have a process to prevent typographical errors. It’s the best way to prevent them. It might be the only way. (An automated spell check helps just so much.)
- Because a single, simple mistake can distract from your message and undermine your credibility. Making sloppy errors gives opponents something to talk about instead of the substance of what you’re trying to convey.
- It might indicate you’re capable of more substantial mistakes. If you don’t know the differences between “their,” “they’re” and “there,” then why should anyone rely on anything else you’re writing?
- Quality control requires someone with heightened writing and editing skills.
Rigor pays off against typos
When I was a reporter at daily newspapers, I faced rigorous editing and proofreading before my stories made it to print. Generally, a content editor questioned a reporter about substance, story flow, context and accuracy. Next, ideally at least two copy editors picked apart spelling, grammar and other points. (“Hey, is this really $5 billion with a B? You sure it’s not $5 million with an M?”)
Businesses and corporate communicators might not see the value in that kind of investment. Maybe you don’t have time. Your executives’ acumen sets them above such prosaic worries. No one will mind “it’s” instead of “its.”
Think again. How much time will you spend correcting a mistake or explaining a typo? What happens to your executive’s reputation? Your employees’ cooperation?
- At the very least, have a colleague go over everything before you publish – even when publishing means just hitting the “send” button on a group email. Double that for anything going to the public, press or boss.
- Watch out for overactive autocorrect. (NSFW hilarity at Buzzfeed: The 30 Most Hilarious Autocorrect Struggles Ever.)
- A friend makes this good point, which I’ve found true for me, too. “If I print out a message, I’ll catch errors I didn’t see when I proofread on screen. I wonder why that is?”
- And run a final spell-check before sending to account for any errors made during the editing process, especially if other people have worked in the file.
Mistakes will get through sometimes, still.
But with systematic editing and proofreading in place, all communicators can lower their error rate. That should matter, wherever you’re working.
ADD TO YOUR LIBRARY
“The Elements of Style” by Strunk & White. The definitive guide for decades.
“Everybody Writes” by Ann Handley. A smart update for the digital age.