By Mark Ravi
In a world that is increasingly flooded with written content, organisations might have only a split second to make an impression on a reader.
While the most important part of any communication is the message, a superficial error in the copy could be the difference between the message cutting through or the intended audience getting side-tracked.
Not everyone reading articles and content will pick up on typos or grammatical errors, but, for those that do, minor errors can infuriate.
Examples abound in various fields where something has been lovingly crafted, only for a small, but jarring, mistake to undermine the whole product.
It was not so long ago that Game of Thrones held the collective imagination of audiences across the world, but the appearance of a stray coffee cup in one scene on the final season was quickly noticed and ridiculed.
Australia launched a new $50 note in October 2019 which was packed with technologies to prevent counterfeiting and make it more accessible, but it was also missing the final letter ‘i’ in the word responsibility.
Even the pinnacle of print journalism, The New York Times, is not immune to making mistakes, to the point where an anonymous Twitter account which regularly points out errors has amassed more than 13,000 followers.
While these examples are public, I’m sure anyone reading this could stroll through their newsfeed and pick out a few typos with little effort.
This begs the question, why are typos so common?
I believe there are three key reasons.
First, people rely too much on the autocorrect functions of digital devices.
While these can spot misspelled words and are getting increasingly sophisticated in understanding sentence structure, they were not foolproof.
Additionally, design programs used to create more visually creative documents might have limited error detection functions and can lead to mistakes appearing in the most visible content an organisation might produce, like posters or billboards.
Secondly, the prevalence of social media has increased the use of informal language to the point where even the use of the full stop has come under fire for its use in interpersonal communications as being aggressive and abrupt.
I don’t suggest that every message anyone ever sends should be perfect, but the more you write and consume that style of writing, the harder it can be to revert back to formal English when necessary.
Finally, many copywriters, social media managers and journalists are having to post across different platforms with greater frequency and less oversight or support from editors.
At best, these sorts of mistakes illicit a simple apology and are quickly forgotten, as was the case with the Australian Government’s misprint.
At worst, they cause tangible damage to the brand of the organisation responsible and can become emblematic of a broader decline in quality, as was the case for Game of Thrones and The New York Times.
Luckily, simple steps can be taken to limit obvious mistakes.
The first step is to be like Santa and check everything (at least) twice. Before hitting submit or publishing a post, take a moment to read through it again to check for obvious mistakes.
Of course, it’s easy to miss the details of something you’ve written and re-written several times, so the next step is to recruit a fresh pair of eyes to do the final check of your work.
Someone reading something for the first time is much more likely to pick up on missing words and errors because they won’t have the writer’s intent colouring their perception of everything on the page.
The next tip is the trust your gut. If you’re reading copy and something doesn’t look quite right, then act on that instinct and spend a few seconds conducting a quick online search to see if this is a problem or situation others have encountered and already solved.
Finally, and most importantly, be consistent. There isn’t always a single right answer about written English and elements like capitalisations, the use of hyphens and preferred terminology often came down to personal preference.
In these ambiguous situations, make sure that your organisation has a consistent approach to ensure all copy uses the same style and spoke in the same voice.
If it all seems like lot of effort to fix errors that only a few people might notice, consider the consequences if mistakes make their way into important documents and the wrong person notices.
Organisations with a reputation for quality that apply for government tenders might lose credibility if their proposal contains obvious errors and shareholders or investors could question the professionalism of a company if an annual report contains typos.
It might not be feasible to invest heavily in proofing every piece of writing you produce, when it comes to important or formal documents there is no reason why your copy shouldn’t be perfect.
However, English is a tricky language and people can’t detect mistakes they do not recognise, so consider engaging professionals to do the job for you.
NOTE: We have deliberately inserted several mistakes that weren’t flagged by Microsoft Word, how many did you pick up on?