Commentaries

The Vanishing Art of Proofreading

By Penelope Hillemann on August 1, 2011

Do you get the feeling that a typo or grammatical error here or there is no longer a big deal in these days of real-time communication and instant publishing? It ain’t necessarily so.

A July 13 BBC News article by Sean Coughlan reported that misspelled words on an e-commerce site can have such a negative impact on credibility (perhaps leading users to suspect that it is a fraudulent “phishing” site) that online revenues may fall by as much as half.

Continuing the conversation a few days later in the New York Times’ “Opinionator” blog, Virginia Heffernan noted that spelling errors on websites can substantially affect Google search rankings. She also discussed the declining vigilance against errors among big-name book publishers, who no longer employ “battalions of full-time copy editors and proofreaders to filter out an author’s mistakes.”

As the daughter of a journeyman printer/proofreader who learned to do his proofreading upside-down and backwards in the days of movable type, proofreading has always been in my bones. It’s rare that I overlook a misspelling, grammatical mistake or usage error in anything I’m reading, and I cringe at the punctuation errors that seem especially likely to crop up in signs: “Prices slashed on all car’s!” or “Special today: chicken wing’s.”

Proofreading is in our bones here at Neuger Communications Group, too, and it’s one important way we deliver on one of our core values: excellence. It takes a serious investment of time to carefully proofread every piece of client work (sometimes several times, such as when we see printer proofs and then do press checks on a major print piece, or when we separately proof both the HTML and plain-text versions of e-newsletters we produce).

We could skip all that proofing and save countless hours of staff time. Our fees would undoubtedly be lower – but so would the quality and value of what we produce. We don’t think that’s a good bargain, and we don’t think the results would reflect well on either us or our clients. As the articles mentioned above demonstrate, not only can mistakes have a real impact on an organization’s credibility and image, they can also affect the bottom line.

So we do what it takes to make sure that no ad, print piece, e-newsletter, website, or any other project leaves our office until it is as polished, grammatically correct and typo-free as possible.

But we’re not stern, inflexible editors. We appreciate the richness and evolution of the English language, and we know that different projects call for varying levels of formality, colloquialism, creativity and humor. So sometimes, in the right situation, we might even approve a piece that uses the word ain’t.

About Penny

Penny joined Neuger Communications Group in 2004 and advises a wide variety of organizations, from healthcare and higher education to nonprofits and consumer cooperatives. She especially enjoys exploring the essence of a client’s business or area of advocacy to guide development of a new name, brand, graphic identity, website or communications campaign. An avid birder, she has been known to exclaim in mid-meeting about an eagle or heron she has spotted flying by. Read More »

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