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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The importance of a letter

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The way we communicate with each other has undergone a sea change in the past couple of decades. Whether it’s work or personal, emails are far and above most peoples preferred medium of communication. So much so, that it’s hard to believe that email didn’t really exist before the 1990s.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I think that emails are great. I love the way you can communicate one message efficiently to multiple recipients. I find it extremely helpful that I can review and correct what I communicate before actually committing to send it. I love the fact that my message will instantly ping into someone’s inbox without delay (when they get around to reading it and replying to it is another matter!). But are we losing something by replacing more traditional methods of communication with this ‘fast food’ version? Or are we underestimating the importance of a simple, traditional letter?

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Finding the right balance

We’ve all been marketeers at some point in our lives. Whether it’s marketing ourselves on our CVs, our second hand cars on Autotrader, or even trying to give something away on Freecycle, we’ve all had that moment staring at a blank page wondering where to start. We want to appeal to our audience, but we’re also very conscious (or at least we should be!) that we don’t want to mislead them either. And striking the right balance is no mean feat.

It appears that, despite years of marketing experience, I can sometimes get that balance wrong. Having eventually had enough of an old printer taking up valuable space in my shoe box of an office, I decided to turn to Freecycle and let one of the good people of Wandsworth take it off my hands. For free. With a brand new set of ink cartridges. You’d think they’d bite my hand off at the chance. However my overly honest description (a slightly wonky yet perfectly usable paper loading tray) must have sent alarm bells ringing, as two weeks later, it’s still sitting here smiling up at me like an old friend.

To me, marketing has always been about more than selling a product or service. It’s about providing information. Having worked in financial services for my entire career, I’m conscious of the regulator’s call to be ‘clear, fair and not misleading’ on a daily basis and this guides each and every piece of work I do. Sometimes investors will decide to buy an investment product based on my marketing brochure alone, so I feel it’s important that they understand how it works, warts and all.

However, it seems not everyone operates on the same guidelines. I recently came across a rather shocking video on my Facebook feed, highlighting some of the tricks employed by the food industry to get us to buy certain produce. Apparently ‘farm fresh’ doesn’t mean my chicken has been plucked straight from a sunny meadow in Dorset after a happy life of roaming free. At best, it means there was a window in his hen house in which he lived beak-to-beak with thousands upon thousands of other poor fated chickens.

But this does highlight a challenge that us marketers face on a daily basis: the need to appeal to our audience whilst not misleading them. Most marketers worth their salt will have the strong sales and communication skills to help the audience feel a product is something they want. But the best among us will also have that little cautious voice in our heads, asking if we’ve been clear enough for the audience to know for sure that a product is what they want. And it’s this ability to strike the right balance that distinguishes the best marketers from the rest.

 

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