The Importance of Proofreading

Okay, yes, typos can be silly. We’ve all been there: in a rush, trying to dash off one more email on the way to a meeting or dictate an urgent text before getting in the car, and we end up sending “Mail teh reprt to Seatle” and “I’m blocked by a Norman’s paid machine” (no, Siri, I said an enormous paving machine, thanks).

For emails, texts, and other transient missives, it’s generally not a big deal. There will be a hundred more coming down the digital pike. But a typo, transcription error, or grammatical mistake can become a larger problem in more permanent or widespread communications.

Most of us don’t spend our lives on camera, so the written word is what represents us to the outside world. Letters. Cards. Memos. Reports. Articles. Résumés. Academic papers. Even blog posts. And just as people behold you visually and make a snap judgment based on your looks (your clothes, your hair, your jewelry, shoes, accessories, piercings, tattoos), people read what you write and make a snap judgment based on how you present yourself in words.

Not every photo caption needs to be polished and punctuated. There’s nothing wrong with the verbal equivalent of hanging around in yoga pants and a faded concert T-shirt on a Saturday afternoon at home. But if you’re going for a job interview, a formal party, or even dinner with the in-laws, you should put some thought and effort into your appearance. The same rule applies to written communications.

When you send an email to your boss or your client, write up a white paper on your company’s latest study findings, or send out a tweet to 300 million people, you need to review it first.

SOTPIf you don’t fix typos, grammatical errors, punctuation mistakes, and dropped words in your writing, you convey to your audience that you didn’t care enough to glance over what you wrote even once. It’s sloppy and unprofessional. That’s not a good look on anyone.

And don’t just rely on your software to fix it for you. In college I had an electric typewriter with a built-in spellchecker which had a mistake in its database: it insisted she;s was correct and she’s was wrong. I ignored its protest every time; eventually it got huffy with me and stopped working. (I bought a Mac.)

Okay, that’s an easy one to spot. But what about the ones you can never quite get right, like occasion and necessary? A spellcheck will catch ocassion, but it won’t catch tenant when the word you were thinking of was tenet, and it can’t tell you when to put a hyphen in real-time.

That’s what a proofreader is for. A proofreader will read what you wrote and make sure it says what you mean to say, and that what you intended is what’s actually on the page. A proofreader will spot I’m sending the report to everyone the team and add “on.” You may not see it because the on is in your head. You know what you wanted to write, so your eyes blip over the missing preposition. Your reader will not.

The bigger and more important your audience, the more critical it is to read over your work with a gimlet eye, and get another pair of eyes to do the same. A good proofreader will point out that Raleigh is in North Carolina (not South), straighten up your hyphens (real-time if it’s an adjective, real time if it’s a noun phrase), and get the lead out when you meant led. I’m not saying you have to get legal to sign off on every email, but you should read it over once or twice before hitting Send.

And for the love of all that is good and right, if you work for Volkswagen, you need to check that your billboard which is being posted above an interstate highway does not spell the name of your brand Volkswagon.