marketing, writing

The proof is in… the proofreading!

One part of preparing written communications that often gets overlooked and under-loved is the proofreading. When you’ve spent a ridiculous amount of hours writing and editing a document, sitting down to do one final, thorough proofread is probably about as appealing as a commute on the Jubilee line at 8am. With a hangover. In the middle of summer. Especially when you are itching to get started on your next exciting copywriting project. But no matter how painful it may seem to do, I can’t stress enough how important it is to proofread your work properly. The last thing you want is those hours of work wasted because some simple typos and grammatical errors switched off your intended audience. On that basis, here are our simple tips to follow to make sure your proofread is always as thorough as it needs to be.

1. Find someone else to do it.

Now, this isn’t because we don’t love proofreading and want to palm it off on someone else, but it really does help to have a fresh set of eyes look over your document. When you’ve spent hours immersed in a project, it can sometimes be hard to be objective about your own copy and you can become blind to certain errors. However, if you don’t have the luxury of having someone else review your work, it’s best to leave enough time between finishing the document and proofreading it (overnight is usually sufficient), to make sure that you’re suitably refreshed to spot any corrections.

2. Print it out.

Reading a printed document is much easier than reading it on your computer screen. And you’ll pick up more mistakes by proofreading a hard copy. It also helps to have a ruler to hand, to help guide your eye line-by-line through the document, and to avoid the temptation to skim read the more boring paragraphs.

3. Remove all distractions.

The last thing you need when you are proofreading is to hear your phone ringing, or your computer ‘ping’ as a new emails comes into your inbox. Instead, take your print out to a quiet, comfortable place where you can be free from all distractions and focus just on your document.

4. Don’t overdo it.

Only you know how long you can proofread a document for before losing concentration (my short attention span only allows me an hour at a time), so set a timer to the time that suits you and if it goes off before you have finished, take a break and come back to it.

5. Perfect your proofreading technique.

Most of us are pretty fast readers. I can be a very impatient reader at times, skimming over words and sometimes full sentences if I’m particularly interested in the copy and eager to read on. Instead, when we’re proofreading we need to adapt our reading technique and take it slow. Word. By. Word. Including any labelling of charts of diagrams.

6. Become a master of grammar.

Unless you know when an apostrophe is required, and where it should be placed, you’re unlikely to make a good proofreader. Swot up on the basics to make sure you’re proficient enough to spot those niggling mistakes. There are some great resources online to test your grammar and punctuation skills (such as grammarbook.com or plainenglish.co.uk).

7. Refer back to your copy style guide.

As mentioned in one of my previous blogs, it’s important for any piece of copy to remain consistent with a clearly documented style guide. Have a quick read through this (or have a printed copy to hand) before sitting down to any proofreading task, to make sure you spot any deviations from the agreed style so that you can correct them. For example, are all your bullet points and headers in the correct case? And are those bullet points aligned correctly?

Hopefully you’ll agree with these useful tips – please feel free to share your own thoughts on what works for you when proofreading documents!

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marketing

Marketing horror stories… and how to avoid them

Frightened man As much as I like to pride myself on the accuracy of my work, like most people (!) I’m only human and have been known to make the odd mistake. The trick is to recognise what’s gone wrong and learn how to avoid it in the future.

Below are some of the most common marketing horrors that I’ve witnessed over my career (not all are mine, I promise!) and tips on how to avoid falling foul of them. These are all pretty obvious, but mistakes tend to happen when we’re complacent so it’s worth reminding ourselves of these on a regular basis.

Out of date references

Using data to support a point in your marketing collateral can be a very powerful tool (e.g., ‘the average return over the past five years has been X% above the benchmark’). But only if it’s correct and up-to-date. If they’re not current and accurate, stats are at best irrelevant and, in the worst cases, frankly misleading. It’s so important to check your sources and, if you can’t verify a source for a data point, it’s probably best to leave it out. You could be opening yourself up to all sorts of trouble if it turns out it was wrong.

Mistakes in print

We’ve all had that sinking feeling when we’ve worked laboriously on a document for ages, sent it to print in a rush to meet a deadline and the first thing we’ve noticed when we’ve got the glossy versions back from the printer is that glaring typo on the first page. This kind of mistake is not only embarrassing, it can be incredibly costly if documents need to be reprinted to fix the error. I can’t stress how important it is to proof read documents before they go to the printers, regardless of how many other eyes have looked over them. Be meticulous in your proof read – check page references, chart labels, footnote numbers – every word and digit should be checked. And then checked again.

Non-compliant copy

Writing a marketing communication often requires the involvement of a number of people, at least it does in my industry (financial marketing). Of course, you need an experienced and talented copywriter to write the copy, but you also need input from technical product specialists, salespeople, tax specialists and, most importantly, legal and compliance teams. Unless you’re up-to-date with the regulatory changes impacting your industry there’s the risk that the rules have changed and the copy you provide as a copywriter is no longer compliant. And that’s a massive risk for the company with their name on the front of that document. When preparing copy for a client, I always insist that they have a compliance and/or legal expert review the content before the document is publicised, and that their review and approval has been documented.

Missing comments

Getting input from experts such as compliance officers and lawyers is one thing, but it’s then imperative that their comments get included in the final copy. This sounds pretty obvious, but when you’ve got comments coming in from four or five different sources, it can be really easy to miss a comment here or there. The solution to this is to keep strict versioning control over your documents. That means giving each draft a suffix in its file name to denote who the comments are from, the date they were received and what number version of the document it is (e.g., ‘brochure_compliancecomments_2.0_date’). And then always making sure you are working from the latest version.

There’s nothing here that good copywriters and marketeers don’t already know, but by following these basic rules you can hopefully beat the halloween horrors and make sure you get it 100% right 100% of the time.

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