How to Avoid Costly Proofreading Blunders

TechTopics No. 12    (PDF version)

For most people, writing is either a rewarding creative process or a laborious chore. Regardless of which camp you fall into, the tedious and tiring job of proofreading is a task few enjoy.

This TechTopics will be helpful to anyone who is responsible for final approval of documents for publication.

It is extremely difficult to effectively proofread your own work. We encourage you to have someone else do your final proofreading. We also know that this isn’t always possible.

In business and professional writing, there are times when simple errors become memorable for the wrong reasons. Take the proofreading experience of Janell Wojtowicz, formerly an editor for a small Iowa newspaper.

While writing an article about a church event, Janell meant to type “United Methodist Church.” Instead, she accidentally typed “Untied Methodist Church,” warranting a call from the pastor a few days later. “He jokingly asked, ‘Do you know something about my church that I don’t?’” Wojtowicz recalls. “I learned an important lesson that day: spell check is not the answer to all our proof-reading problems.”

Following are tips to help you avoid embarrassing—and costly—bloopers and blunders.

Mistakes to Avoid

  1. Stating the obvious. This mostly appears in titles and headlines. “Rain Creates Wet Roads,” “Winter Brings Colder Temperatures” and “Clothes Dry Faster in the Dryer, Survey Says” are statements that will certainly make the writers look foolish.
  2. Inappropriate translations. If you are not using a professional translation service or a native speaker for foreign language writing, you may want to squeeze them into your budget. Remember the infamous mistake made by Chevrolet when they tried to market their Nova model in Spanish speaking countries? If you don’t, all you need to know is that “No Va” in Spanish means “It does not go.”
  3. Poor math or wrong numbers. 55 percent, 30 percent and 25 percent don’t add up to 100 percent, so always do your math. Take note that most months of the year are 30 or 31 days long. This may seem incredibly elementary, but you’d be surprised at the number of retailers who have sales on the 31st of June or September.
  4. Bad choice of words. You may not have intended the pun when you wrote “Automobile Plant Profits Crash,” but it’s one that is easy to overlook. Here are some other examples from Richard Lederer’s Anguished English: An Anthology of Accidental Assaults Upon Our Language: “Reagan Wins on Budget, but More Lies Ahead” and “Juvenile Court to Try Shooting Defendant.”
  5. Confusing word order. Here are some more examples from Lederer: “Enraged Cow Injures Farmer with Ax,” “Stolen Painting Found by Tree” and “Two Sisters Reunited after 18 Years in Checkout Counter.”
  6. Misstated headlines. You see them regularly in local and metropolitan newspapers: “A Guide to Pinpointing Your Child’s Leaning Problems,” “Volunteers Search for Old Civil War Planes.”
  7. Photo or art errors. A major midwestern newspaper once printed a story about a newspaper carrier who was murdered while on the job—and directly underneath it they had put a Help Wanted ad for carriers. In another example, an advertising agency sent photographic artwork to a client for review, without realizing that the client’s competitor was shown in the background of the photo! These bloopers are worth a good laugh, but you don’t want it to happen to you.

Following are guidelines for more effective proofreading

Note: Recruiting another set of eyes to review your document will give you needed perspective on content and readability.

While it’s not glamorous and can cause headaches and back pain, proofreading your document is definitely worth the hassle. The time and inconvenience doesn’t compare with the disaster that a serious error would create for you.

Portions of this bulletin were adapted from an article by Steve Druley published by Article Resource Association.

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