The importance of proofreading

Posted in: News

Proofreading is one of the final steps that writers go through before their work is published. Proofreaders are valuable to writers and publishers alike. This is because they comb carefully through a writer’s work to find any errors, before the public gets to read it.

Errors can damage your reputation. If your work goes out to the public with mistakes and inconsistencies, it can send a message of a lack of care and attention, lack of professionalism. In personal correspondence, typos can suggest a low level of intelligence. It can even damage existing, loyal relationships.

According to University of Sheffield psychologist Tom Stafford, we can be blind to typos, particularly our own, no matter how careful our proofreading. This isn’t necessarily because of stupidity or carelessness: it’s because of the way our brains work.

Our brains are not designed to catch every detail of high-level tasks. Rather it generalises simple component parts, so it can focus on more complex tasks. As Stafford explains: “We take in sensory information and combine it with what we expect, and we extract meaning.”

When we write, and thereafter proofread our own work, we are already aware of the meaning we want to convey. Therefore, we expect it to be there; and don’t always notice when it’s not.

There are some tricks you can deploy to make self-editing easier.

  • Walk away from your writing for a few days, and then revisit it with fresh eyes
  • Read it several times, looking for specific errors each time: grammatical errors and sentence fragments; correct use of verb, tense and pronouns; punctuation; consistency
  • Always run spell-check, and ensure you have your system set to the correct version of English. American English has several different spellings for common words, uses ‘z’ where UK English uses ‘s’, and other inconsistencies that are easily noticed
  • Look for commonly muddled words: their/they’re/there and our/are: a computer spell check won’t always pick them up
  • Reading from the bottom up is particularly helpful to identify spelling errors
  • Reading your paper out loud is a useful way to check punctuation

Proofreaders are on the look-out for typos and spelling errors, and PUGS – punctuation, usage, and grammar errors. They’ll also spot inconsistencies.

We do recommend getting a professional to give your print a proofread, to avoid any potential embarrassment. Here’s what can happen when you don’t.

Eats, Shoots & Leaves is Lynne Truss’ bestselling, humorous, defence of proper punctuation. Ambiguous, and slightly obscene, it cleverly demonstrates how a misplaced punctuation mark can completely change the meaning of just three words.

A headline writer at The Pratt Tribune regrettably missed a hyphen from the title of an article about Disability Mentoring Day at Pratt High School in Kansas. Students actually received first-hand job experience, not a “first hand job experience” as reported.

Placement can also be a problem. In December 2001, Waitrose demonstrated why you shouldn’t put a bald person on the front cover, across the centre fold. Placing articles side by side, so that headlines are adjacent is known as tombstoning in journalism. It is also sometimes called bumping heads.

In March 2022, The Daily Telegraph’s front cover showed a photograph of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, (then) HRH The Duchess of Cornwall, and (then) HRH the Duchess of Cambridge, with a small title of “Nice Enough to Wear”. Immediately below this, was a large-font title of “Witchcraft threat to children”. A picture of the Queen also made the front page of the International Express (Canadian Edition) in February 2015, alongside a headline announcing, “Hunt for Britain’s Cruellest Criminal”.

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When in design, it’s common practice to use placeholders while waiting for real copy. In 2017, a Cambridge newspaper forgot to replace the text, and the paper went to print with 100pt headline copy that read ‘100PT SPLASH HEADING HERE’.

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The 1997 first edition of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone was printed with an error on page 53. The list of items Harry requires for Hogwarts includes 1 wand, twice. The error was corrected in the second edition print run.

Publishing the first 7,000 copies of Pasta Bible by Lee Blaylock proved an expensive mistake for publisher Penguin. Australian copies included a recipe that should have called for ‘salt and freshly ground black pepper’ but inexplicably replaced pepper with people. This deeply offensive error cost Penguin $18,000 to fix.

And typos aren’t a modern problem. There is a 1631 version of the King James bible, which lists the seventh commandment as ‘Thou shalt commit adultery’. Known as ‘The Wicked Bible’, there are only nine of the original editions left, after King Charles I ordered so many to be burnt.

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Sign-written vehicles often deliver hilarious, if unintended results. Fails include the Starbucks van which, when open, reads SUCKS, or the Pendennis van, which opens to reveal Penis.

Homophones, and similar-sounding words are another area writers can be tripped up.

Imagine being the coffee shop ordering a raft of menus offering expresso instead of espresso. Or the bakery that asks customers to use tongues (instead of tongs) to make their selection. Old Navy made a costly mistake when it released its Superfan Nation collegiate t-shirts in 2011, omitting the apostrophe from the word ‘Let’s’.

Other hilarious examples include signs that advise “Shoplifters will be prostituted” or “Executive Bored Room”. Lyndon B. Johnson would be devastated that his name was associated with a School of Pubic Affairs (May 2012).

If you’re expanding your business overseas, it pays to get a native speaker to do your translation. In the early 1970s, American Motors released its model, Matador. In Spanish, the word means killer. The model was only manufactured over two generations (1971-1973). Ford launched an ad campaign in Belgium with a slogan that should have read ‘Every car has a high-quality body’. The translation actually read ‘Every car has a high-quality corpse’. German car manufacturer Mercedes-Benz introduced itself to the Chinese market under the shortened name ‘Bensi’. They quickly changed it to ‘Benchi’, which means ‘run quickly as if flying’. The original Bensi means ‘rush to die’.

The importance of professional proofreading services cannot be underestimated. If you want a printer who has an eye for detail, you’ve come to the right place. Contact a member of our team today on 01625 870000.

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