Isobel Kent, a specialist proofreader for businesses, highlights some of the pitfalls that business owners can avoid by carefully checking their business content so that it stands up to the competition.
I expect that you know your own business inside out – after all, you’re the expert. But have you viewed it from the outside? Do you know what it looks like to the first-time visitor? Have you asked anyone who doesn’t know you or your business?
One of proofreaders’ strengths is their perspective. They see your content with fresh eyes and test it for accuracy, consistency, sense and sensitivity (e.g. inclusion) – because they are the expert in their business.
By considering what might be happening if your copy is not up to scratch, you can identify ways in which you can improve it to generate more reader engagement with your business and save worry and money.
1. Looking unprofessional
Inconsistencies, spelling mistakes, grammar slip-ups and lumpy formatting all contribute to the first impression and hinder a smooth reading experience. If you don’t pay attention to the detail in your content, the customer or client will wonder if you are going to be able to deliver a high-quality product or experience to them.
Where to start
· Pay special attention to spelling on the home page of your website. Errors can reduce your appearance in searches or mean that you are not visible to your intended client or customer. They can put people off at the first point of contact.
· Inconsistency lessens the impact of your brand. Create a House Style or Style Guide/Sheet and follow it. It will save you time and give your brand cohesion across your content. (For more details and a free template to get you started, drop me a line.) Make sure that all of your content gets as much attention as your home page.
2. Lacking clarity
When your message is unclear, your readers do not engage with your content. They may have to read it again to understand what you are saying, and it gets laborious. If the competition’s message is clear and unambiguous, it has the advantage.
There are also legal considerations here: a misplaced or absent comma or hyphen can lead to a misunderstood message. This can, in turn, lead to allegations such as misrepresentation, unintentional promises that must be honoured, lost revenue and reputation and, of course, legal fees.
Where to start
· Get all contracts (terms and conditions, employee contracts, etc.) and policies checked by a lawyer (for advice on the law) or a proofreader (who will raise queries over ambiguity and may refer you to a lawyer).
· Pay attention to lists – do they need another comma to make divisions within the list clear and disassociate certain words?
· Do descriptions of your products or services have two or more words before the noun (i.e. before the name of the product or service)? Do you need to hyphenate two or more of the words to add clarity?
3. Causing offence or alienating your readership
We all have a responsibility to demonstrate equality, diversity and inclusion. It is easy to trip up here by using ‘he’ instead of a gender-neutral pronoun (‘they’) or repeating well-known phrases without thinking about their origin or impact. There is also a danger of inadvertently revealing a bias, where it is not explicitly declared.
Where to start
· Check your content for similes and metaphors and popular phrases – are they appropriate? Could they offend someone or a group?
· Have you used ‘he’ or ‘she’ as a default when you do not actually know if the person referred to identifies as ‘he’ or ‘she’? If you don’t know, or can’t check, it is now acceptable to use ‘they’ (even in the singular).
· Do you specify a group in your content? Do you need to balance your content by giving other groups a voice? (E.g. rather than ‘mums and dads’, use ‘parents and carers’ – not every child lives with a parent.)
· Check your artwork, graphics and photographs, too.
4. Causing embarrassment
Basic errors can be embarrassing, but the ones that slip through the net are usually those that get missed by the spellchecker: e.g. pubic liability insurance, daft contract, fixed-price contact, bra council. (For more examples, click here.)
Where to start
· There is no substitute for fresh eyes here, I’m afraid. Get a trusted professional to read this through for you or contact a proofreader. It’s very easy to miss things when you are still in the mindset of the writer.
It’s notoriously difficult to proofread your own copy and it’s the proofreader’s job to bring you fresh eyes and perspective so that you have the confidence to publish it and get your business moving. If you are still unsure, drop me a line here.
Isobel Kent is an Oxfordshire-based proofreader and school governors’ clerk and has been proofreading for two years. In the past, she was a school librarian, a paralegal and a personal assistant to directors in a blue-chip company, a pub company and a global DC-power company. She has a BA (Hons) in Music from the University of York and maintains an interest in the arts.