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Proofread to Perfection: Typo Prevention Tactics for Copywriters

by Marcia Yudkin

It once happened to me: the word "pubic" in my book where it should clearly have been "public." And in an expensive mailing, I once caught my fax number where my phone number should have been, just before the piece went to the printer.

Typos can foul up your message, offend your client or readers, damage credibility, trigger unnecessary costs and prevent interested people from being able to respond. Ensure that your message conveys the correct, intended information by following these nine steps.

1. Proofread on paper, not on a computer screen. Point a pen at words on the page to slow down your eye, so you see what is actually there rather than what you expect to be there.

2. Let your printouts sit overnight before finalizing them. Rereading after time has lapsed helps you spot glaring errors.

3. Actually dial all phone numbers to make sure you haven't transposed digits or worse. Test all URLs by clicking on them, and carefully examine zip codes and street numbers.

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4. In a recurrent publication, like a newsletter, or an email you're adapting for a new occasion, make sure you've appropriately changed all dates, program titles and no-longer-relevant information that occurs deep in the piece.

5. Is it LexiConn or Lexicon or some other variation? Confirm the spelling of all place names, company names and people's names. Things like Colombian coffee but Columbia University are tricky to remember.

6. Look up any unusual words in the dictionary to check their meaning, connotation and spelling. I was once embarrassed by having half a dozen subscribers to my newsletter inform me that I had written "inertia" where I meant "entropy."

7. Don't forget to look carefully at headlines and subject lines. I'm not sure why, but the larger the font size, the harder it can be to catch mistakes that in retrospect appear to be staring one right in the face.

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8. Read your copy out loud. This often helps you catch instances where you've omitted a word, changed things incompletely between drafts or inadvertently dropped a line or paragraph.

9. Take a close look at stated prices. Missing decimal points, the wrong number of zeroes, switched numbers, shipping costs updated in one spot and not another and so on are common errors.

Above all, do not assume anything. Some years back, a famous mail-order company barely averted disaster when its back-to-school catalog arrived in millions of homes. The catalog invited shoppers to call a phone number that belonged to a much smaller company instead of them. The mega-retailer had to pay the other company an unnamed sum of money (surely six figures) to immediately take over the misprinted phone number. The misprint's cause was an employee who "knew" a toll-free number starting with 877 should really have started with 800.

And that doesn't begin to top out the monetary harm that typos can cause. In my files, I have a case where a misplaced comma in a contract triggered $2.13 million dollars in additional payments owed by one of the parties and another where an investment firm lost more than $18 million because of a typo in an order for a stock trade.

Details matter!

Copyright 2009 Marcia Yudkin.  All rights reserved.

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