Signs to Watch for How Error-Free Writing Can Improve Your Bottom Line

In my first job out of university, I proofread executive correspondence, newsletters, and other marketing materials. I was often the third or fourth person to review and proofread our materials. One day we received a brochure from another organization. It was beautiful. The graphics were bright and simple as was the wording. This organization only made one mistake.

The brochure slogan offered us “piece of mind”. Did they want a part of our mind? Did they want to tell us what they thought of us? “Give us a piece of their mind”. No. What they’d meant to write was “peace of mind”. They wanted us to not worry.

First Impressions Matter

Like a handshake before a meeting, written content is often the first thing prospective customers see when they’re considering your business. How is your website’s grammar? Are your reviews well written? Whether customers see a website, a brochure, an ad campaign or a simple banner, it’s important to realize bad content could be costing you opportunities.

If your content or blog has a lot of misspelled words, bad grammar, or other badly written elements, customers may think twice about whether or not they want to do business with you. One simple error can change the meaning of your message, distract your reader, and weaken the subject matter of your content.

This puts your business at risk. Even worse, badly written content can weaken your company’s message and affects not only the credibility of the company but of the writer.

Here’s another example:

Several years ago, I taught English as a foreign language in Prague. One of my students was a lawyer who needed help writing and proofing a contract. He wanted it to sound fluent and as though a native speaker had written it. As we read through it, the verbiage was mostly spot on. Until we came to a clause that said an item in the contract would be retrospective. However, as we read the context around it and I drew from him what he wanted to explain, I realized the contract should have said retroactive.

When I explained the difference, he immediately corrected it, then asked me not to review his company’s website (“I pulled this sentence directly from there,” he said. “I’m afraid of what else you might find wrong.”)

Not Just Their Credibility, but Yours

Instant messaging (IM), text messaging, and social media language can help company brands reach more audiences if done right. But, poor spelling and poor grammar are the two most mentioned reasons for a damaged view of a brand. If you’re a blogger or content marketer for a company, it is imperative (important) to check and double check your work before it’s published. Not only can bad grammar affect a consumer’s outlook about a company’s credibility, but yours as well.

According to a Global Lingo survey of over 1,000 people in the UK, 59% would not use a company that ignored mistakes on its website or in its marketing materials. Nearly 75% said they noticed grammatical and spelling errors on a company’s website. These are big numbers when the written word is directly related to a company’s bottom line.

The survey implies (suggests) that businesses which accept improper grammar and don’t proof their written communications will feel the implications (consequences) in their profits. It’s one thing to have badly written content every once in a while if you’re a large corporation, though it isn’t good. But, if you’re a small business, bad grammar can be fatal. Should a mistake occur, it is wildly different if it’s in a social media constraint such as Twitter versus a billboard.

Social Media

Social media messages happen in an instant and mistakes may be laughed about, but are forgotten within seconds as something new pops in. As businesses have risen to the use of social media, it is more important than ever to be vigilant when it comes to typos, misspellings, and grammar structures.

Though text speak and emojis may be used in advertising, email marketing campaigns, and social media branding, they are targeted and specific to their audience. And rarely, if ever, are they written using bad grammar or plagued with misspellings.

But, if a banner or billboard is allowed to have a mistake, it can easily damage a company’s reputation and make people wonder about the quality of the product or service.

Not all grammatical and spelling errors are directly on a company’s website or marketing materials. Sometimes, a badly written consumer review can affect the company’s image and credibility. In fact, an NYU professor found that websites with grammatically correct product or service reviews had higher sales. This is such an important factor, Amazon hires MTurk workers to fix errors in customer reviews. By fixing spelling and grammatical errors, Amazon learned this led to an increase in their revenue.

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Raising Google Rankings

When you’re competing for business, SEO helps customers find your business and decide if they want to shop with you. Not only is good spelling and grammar good for sales, it also raises website ranking. In other words, well-written content is more likely to be liked, shared, and linked. Though some blogs may have laxer standards, if you’re writing a company’s blog, it should be written with the same care you’d write any of their content.

Mistakes to Watch for and How to Fix Them

There are at least 5 common mistakes everyone makes. It doesn’t matter if you’re a non-native speaker or a native speaker. We all make them and we all need to make sure they get fixed before we publish something online or in print.

Here’s a quick list:

Its/It’s – the first “its” is possessive. A quick example: The dog chased its tail. The second “it’s” is a contraction of “it is”. A quick example: It’s (it is) important to proofread your writing.

 To/Too/Two – “To” is a preposition used to express (mean) direction or motion. A quick example: I’m sending the article to my publisher. “Too” is an adverb most often used to mean “also”. However, it can also mean excessively (too much). A quick example: The coffee was too hot. Did you think so, too? “Two” (2) is a number. However, when writing numbers there is a general “rule of thumb” (best practice) to follow; for any number ten and below, write it out (one, two, three). But, if the number is over ten, it should be written as a number (11, 12, 13).

Apostrophe Mistakes – It’s important to know when to you use apostrophes and how to use them.  Apostrophes show possession. My mother’s house. But, they are not used after a possessive pronoun. His, hers, its. A quick example: My mother’s house is too close to its neighbor.

 Run-on Sentence or Comma Splice – I have a terrible habit of writing run-on sentences. Sometimes, I have to proofread my sentences and decide if I can make two sentences out of one or just need to separate my thoughts. A run-on sentence is a long sentence with no proper punctuation (comma, period, colon, semi-colon) or appropriate conjunction (and, or).  A quick example: One of my clients once counted 56 words in one of my sentences and that’s too long.

A comma splice is what happens when you try to fix a run-on sentence, but the clauses have no correct conjunction. A quick example of what not to write: One of my clients once counted 56 words in one of my sentences, that’s too long.

Me/Myself/I – “Me” is always the object. “I” is always the subject. “Myself” is only used if you’ve referred to yourself earlier in the sentence. A quick example:  It is hard for me (object) to describe how I(subject)  felt when I saw myself (earlier reference) in the mirror.

 These are just a few of the most common mistakes. Other examples can be found here and here. But, for the last five years, businesses have been working to eliminate grammar and spelling mistakes in the workplace. A study from the Society for Human Resources and Management found that 45% of businesses planned to create and increase training for grammar and other language skills. In one business, employees were fined (a penalty fee) 25 cents for saying “like”. This is just language in the office. How much more important is it to businesses to have proper grammar in their written materials available to the public?

The best way to make sure you prepare and submit error-free copy is to edit, edit, edit. Whether you hire an editor, read it yourself out loud, ask a friend to read it, the important thing is to proofread your work.

The first step is to step away from your work when you finish writing. By taking a break and doing something else, you’ll be able to come back to proofread your work with “fresh eyes”. This will help you catch mistakes, weaknesses, and poor wording more easily.

Next step is to read your work out loud. Sometimes it’s easier to catch errors when you hear them. When you’re simply reading your work, it’s easy to skip over errors because you don’t realize they’ve been made. But, if you read out loud, you may be able to hear and catch mistakes like run-on sentences, repetition, or misused words.

Another way to proofread is to read your work backward. It forces you to read slowly word by word. By doing this, it challenges you to comprehend (understand) each word individually and disrupts the natural flow. Sometimes, this forced slow down helps you identify (catch) any errors in your writing.

 After distancing yourself from your writing, read it out loud and backward. Then, it’s a good idea to ask a friend to read it. Sometimes, it can be difficult to catch your own mistakes because you’re used to seeing something spelled or written a certain way. This is when it’s a good idea to have someone else check your work. This just helps to guarantee you didn’t miss any errors and they can help you determine if the wording flows well, is understandable, and is ready to be published online or in print.

In Other Words…

Proper grammar and accurate writing influence public perception of a company brand. Additionally, it demonstrates (shows) professionalism and credibility of not only the writer but the company causing customers to more likely buy from a company they trust. Whether you are a freelance blogger or in-house content marketer, your clients are your customers. By developing well-written, error-free copy, it will not only increase your clients’ bottom lines but yours, too.

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