You’re a great communicator, and your English skills are good. And anyway, you have a spellchecker. Why waste valuable time going over material that is probably good to go?
Whether it’s an annual report, an email, price quote, advertisement, meeting agenda, or blog, your written material is going out there – to someone else who will form an opinion about you, based on what they just received. This brings us to the first and most crucial reason why proofreading is important:
1. Proofreading protects your reputation
In business, and indeed in most areas of life, we want to excel. It’s not enough just to be satisfied with our own performance; what really matters is how others perceive our work. As ProofreadingPal says: “You want to demonstrate that you’re a credible source and a professional.” If we produce written material that contains errors, it sends a loud message, “I’m not very good at this!” Is there any recipient of your work that you would be happy to send that message to?
Writer M.T. Wroblewski in Small Business – Chron.com notes that “mistakes and imperfections in any kind of work convey carelessness, and in the workplace, the stakes are even higher: A piece that is ridden with spelling, punctuation and grammatical errors is difficult to read and undermines the credibility and authority you probably have worked hard to achieve.”
2. Proofreading improves your message
Even if spelling and grammar are not an issue, you still need to be sure that your message is as clear as possible. Clumsy, complex sentences can be confusing. Even worse, they could convey a completely wrong idea.
Sometimes a mistake in copy doesn’t obscure the intent at all; it could be perfectly clear what you meant to write. So, does it matter? Yes, because written mistakes are distractions that hog the limelight. When you have worked hard to put together a convincing sales pitch, or a visual presentation for a meeting, or a set of instructions for a new employee, you don’t want the mistake to be the only thing the reader remembers.
Writer and editor Helen Baldwin illustrates this with an example from an optometrist. The company advertised “free rectal photography with every eye test.” We can only suppose they meant “retinal.” But the damage has been done: the company’s reputation has taken a hit and become the butt of proofreading jokes (pun intended).
3. Proofreading impacts your bottom line
Incorrect or incomplete information can impact the overall cost of a project. Baldwin gives another example, where the email and web address on a business card didn’t match – two letters were transposed. Anyone trying to send an email would receive an error message. Reprinting the cards costs time and money. Even worse, potential sales would be affected.
The cost to your business is not just in lost sales through confusion, but also lost customers among those who expect a better standard of the companies they deal with.
What you can do
Whatever written message you are working on, whether it’s an email, an advertising campaign or a note to the tea lady, stop and reread it before you dispatch it. If it’s wrong, fix it. This simple habit will catch many mistakes.
Most professional proofreaders will read aloud to catch awkward phrasing and unintended meaning. If that’s not possible, at least try to imagine how it would sound if read out loud. This will eliminate many errors.
What should you do if commas and semicolons are simply not your thing? You don’t have to become a grammar nerd or a punctuation Nazi. Not everyone has the knack. Depending on the nature of your business, you may choose to pay for professional proofreaders to polish your work.
But it may be more practical, especially for one-off or smaller items, simply to know who in the organisation is good at this. Closet proofreaders usually can’t stay secret for long… they’re the ones with strong opinions about apostrophes and document formatting. Have a trusted colleague read over your work before it’s released.
Not proofreading is like getting dressed for work in the dark, and without a mirror. Maybe you’ll get it mostly right. But when someone else points out your odd socks or your crooked tie, don’t you wish you’d had that last look and fixed it yourself? Proofreading is that last careful step to protect yourself from your own imperfections. A little extra time spent to get your business documents just right will send a subtle message that you care about maintaining a high standard in all your work.