On the Late Show with David Letterman, one of his longest running bits was Small Town News, where he would read submissions by viewers from their local papers, usually either an odd news item or a typographical error. I was a fan of the show, so when I saw my chance to submit an item from my local paper, The Stokes News, I went for it. The item I submitted was a classified ad with a typo, about a community yard sale scheduled for Saturday, May 32. Long story short, my submission was chosen and appeared on the show in July of 2014.
The point is that when we see mistakes in newspaper ads or magazine ads or billboards or sometimes even in TV commercials, we think it’s funny. Unless, that is, it’s your ad – one you helped create or, if you’re the client, paid to run. Then the humor is usually replaced by embarrassment, indignation, or both.
The best way to keep that from happening? Proofread, proofread, proofread! It sounds simple, but you’d be surprised how often it’s not done, or at least not done well.
There are a ton of websites that offer proofreading tips, so I won’t list them all here, but I do have a few that come from my own experience:
- If possible, don’t proof your own work. Believe it or not, your brain can play a trick on you by reading what you meant to say instead of what’s really on the page. It’s just trying to help, as brains often do, but when you’re proofreading, it doesn’t help at all. So get fresh eyes on the work if you can.
- If you do have to proof your own work, take your time and do it carefully. Skimming is not proofing.
- Be consistent in how you do things. Take note of things like comma usage and where you use trademark symbols and little things like that. Whatever it is, make sure you do it the same way throughout the document or website or whatever you’re proofreading. People notice stuff like that.
- Check names carefully. If you’re naming people and also showing those people in pictures, check carefully to make sure the names match in captions and copy. It doesn’t necessarily have to be spelled correctly (although ideally it should be), just spelled the same way wherever it appears.
And now, just to show you what can happen if your work does go out with a mistake, here are four links to websites full of things that weren’t proofed well. Make sure something you’ve done doesn’t end up on a list like this someday – proofread!