Employing a Professional Proofreader

This is an article I wrote for NZ Business and Management Magazine.

It’s in the November issue, which is out now.

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You’re a business that prides itself on communicating effectively to its clients and prospects. You produce brochures, flyers and other written marketing material. Your website is a major component of your communications plan. Your company produces some or all of the following: proposals, reports, spreadsheets, business documents, articles for publication, tables, newsletters (including email newsletters) and letters.

Any of the above apply to you? Yes? Then let me ask you another question: Have you employed a professional proofreader to review all your written work before it is released? Many of you will have answered No to this question, probably for one (or more) of the following reasons:

  1. Why pay a professional proofreader when a colleague/my PA/a friend) will do it for free?
  2. I use spell check. What more do I need?
  3. My marketing people take care of that.
  4. I write pretty well, so I don’t need it proofread.
  5. We can’t afford it.
  6. Getting too nit-picky with grammar and punctuation isn’t necessary. No one’s going to notice anyway. Right?

Wrong. According to a 2013 Global Lingo poll, 74 percent of consumers notice the quality of spelling and grammar on company websites. Nearly 6 out of 10 consumers say they would not use a company whose website included poor grammar, as they would not trust it to provide a quality service.

Consumers are savvy. They’re paying attention – even when you’re not.

Every written text intended for public presentation needs to be clear, easily understood and error-free, because mistakes can cost your business money, clients and your professional reputation.

Good writing matters. So how do you ensure yours fits the bill?

Employing a professional proofreader is a great place to start. So let’s address the other objections above:

  1. You could ask your colleague/PA/friend to proofread your material, but there’s no guaranteeing the end result. Proofreading is a specialist skill.
  2. Spellcheck is not God. Spell check will knot fined words witch are miss used butt spelled rite. (This is because spell check can only detect if words are spelled correctly, not if they are used correctly.)
  3. I love marketing people, really I do. But just because they’re experts in marketing doesn’t mean they’re experts in grammar, punctuation and style.
  4. Most people think they write pretty well. But if it’s not your specific area of expertise, it pays to ask for help, just as I would if I were, say, selling insurance, or calculating bank interest rates, or running the country. Ahem.
  5. Mistakes are costly. In 2010, Penguin was forced to destroy thousands of copies of a cookbook after a member of the public pointed out that one of the recipes called for salt and “freshly ground black people”. Can you afford not to employ a professional proofreader?

Let’s look at what a professional proofreader can offer you.

A proofreader will take any piece of written work – including your website – and check it for errors in punctuation, spelling, grammar, layout, consistency and format. The goal is accuracy. The English language is a complex beast, and many of us don’t have a grip on all its intricacies and potential pitfalls. Proofreaders are experts in spotting mistakes often missed by writers.

Most proofreaders are also copy editors. Copy editing involves a thorough proofread, as well as making adjustments to improve the document. The goal with copy editing is two-fold: accuracy and improvement. A copy editor will not only fix mistakes – he or she will make adjustments and suggestions that will ensure your writing is better – clearer, more compelling, and fit for purpose and target audience.

There are different levels of copy editing, from the most basic edit through to a thorough shake-up, involving substantial rewriting and restructuring.

How do I find a good proofreader?

Word of mouth is always best. Google has its place, but use discernment. There are many proofreaders out there, some good, some not so good. Make contact with a few, and observe how and when they get back to you, and how they answer your questions. Talk to them on the phone or in person if possible. Ask them about their qualifications and experience. If they offer a free trial, take them up on it. This will give you a good idea of whether they might be a good “fit” for your business.

Before they start work, clarify (and put in writing) exactly what you want them to do, whether it be a basic proofread or a more thorough edit of your work. If you’re unsure, ask. A good proofreader will give you an honest assessment of what they think is needed, but they won’t go beyond the agreed brief (i.e. if you ask for a basic proofread, that’s all they’ll do – and that’s all they’ll charge for.)

Invest in a properly qualified, professional proofreader and you can be confident that the end result will be writing that is clear, correct, consistent and compelling. And that’s got to be good for business.

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