Why PR and comms professionals must be eagle-eyed proofers

Why PR and comms professionals must be eagle-eyed proofers

Claire Walker

Claire Walker

So, we’re all in PR and comms which means we communicate and influence through the written word. Typos and errors break up the ‘voice’ that readers hear as they read your written words. It’s a concentration interruption. An irritation. People stop reading.

There’s nothing worse than looking back at an email and realising you forgot the ‘l’ in public, or the ‘o’ in account to blow your credibility. Spellcheck is not always your friend either, especially if it changes ‘does’ to ‘dies’ or ‘deck’ to ‘dick’ (you laugh, but that has really happened to me). The autocorrect on your smartphone can also immerse you in a lot of boiling water, though I won’t reveal those disastrous word replacements or this newsletter would never get through your firewall.

We are human beings, so we all make mistakes. We’ve all been there, shrivelling in horror and embarrassment.

eagleAre standards dropping? Are minor typos in an email tolerated? Possibly. It’s true that fewer people get quite so hysterical about typos these days, but it’s still critical to produce excellent quality written work. You never know when you’ll be faced with a new boss or colleagues that demand the highest standards, even in emails. Watch out too for the client with a degree in English Language from Oxford, and a very short fuse for sloppy written work. They won’t be putting up with any misplaced apostrophes, split infinitives or incorrect adjective order. You’ll be fired.

We should know better, but as with all skills, you need to practice to keep those proofing skills sharp. To be credible in the PR and comms industry you need to be able to write as well as any journalist.

My top tips for error-free writing are:

1. Keep your focus
Don’t try and proof a document if you aren’t in the right mindset. If possible, remove yourself from your usual workspace, and ensure you won’t be distracted or side-tracked by your colleagues, phone, or other work. You need your full concentration to do a great and thorough job. Try a 20-minute hypnotherapy session with Thomas Hall on how to improve your focus and concentration.

2. Print it out!
Further to point one, print out the document you are proofing. Proofing documents on a screen makes it easy to miss minor details and gloss over sections, rather than checking it all in detail. Take your printed document, a red pen, a ruler and a highlighter to your secluded proofing space. I like to go through line by line on the page with a ruler, circling and highlighting mistakes on the page as I go. This helps me ensure I’ve captured everything, and helps the person correcting the errors to spot the fixes quickly too.

3. Proof your copy backwards
When proof reading, it’s easy to miss details by reading the copy itself instead of focusing on the individual sentences. You need to remove yourself from the subject matter to be exhaustive, and an easy way to do this is to proof your document from the back to the front. This will force you to take each sentence individually, rather than losing yourself in the content flow.

4. Make a list
If you’re worried you may miss certain errors, prepare a list of mistakes to look out for before you begin editing. This will include obvious things like spelling and grammar errors, but also keep in mind finer details such as checking the numbers in a list are sequential, or font and spacing inconsistencies. After you’ve done your initial proof read, go back through your list and tick off the items to ensure you’ve captured everything.

5. Check it twice
Finally, even the best proofer can miss something, so have a second person proof the document if time permits. This will be the safety net that (hopefully) guarantees your work is free of tense inconsistencies, too much passive voice, or that unfortunate autocorrect that gives you expletives in your copy.

If, in between the mulled wine and mind-numbing Christmas TV repeats, you crave some intellectual stimulation and believe you could brush up your English grammer, visit this fantastic website and use the lessons and online exercises, which are free. Thank you to Jennifer Frost. Her website is rich with help, support, advise and guidance.

Just checking… did you spot the deliberate typo? Actually, there were two. Grammer should be grammar, and advise should be advice.

If so, did spotting these mistakes give you a ‘schadenfreude’ feeling? You are not alone. We all make mistakes, and we all feel better knowing others do too. Practice to be perfect, but always have someone proof read your work to be sure.

And if “seasons greetings,” “seasons’ greetings,” or “season’s greetings” flummoxes you, try “greetings for the season” or “happy holidays” instead – or visit Jennifer’s website.

Meanwhile, “season’s greetings” to you all.

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