I am not perfect, I make mistakes. There I readily admit it. As an editor, I make mistakes when I write and I also make mistakes when I edit. But I go over my work multiple times to minimise publication of those errors.
With a friend, we were looking at the website of a major corporation, and neither of us could believe our eyes. Front and centre on one page, a glaring error. Not the type of error that could be excused by being in different countries e.g. “colour” versus “color”. No this was an error any ten-year-old would be able to spot. A basic word was incorrectly spelt, not once, but three times in quick succession. This is a word that is among the 500 most used in the language. It led us to ask, who edits this page? Why had they not done a better job?
It is easy to ask and not always easy to do when you are the manager trying to get a staff member to write the page, while at the same time facing serious time constraints e.g. your boss needed it complete yesterday. The checks and balances can sometimes get forgotten. Worse they get ignored altogether. This is where the errors creep in.
We know that in general fewer people than ever before care about using correct language. For a major corporation to become sloppy and uncaring about the language they use is a bad omen. Web pages for a global corporation are viewed by millions around the world. It can therefore have an influence on how people use language. If a major corporation is sloppy then everyone else can be, seems to be the message. There is certainly nothing wrong with taking an extra step to make sure it is all correct, before publishing a page. Companies, produce hundreds of pages each year and few ever retrospectively correct errors.
Think about it for a moment, there are many tools available to improve the language we use, including:
- Spell checkers
- Proofreading tools
- Grammar checkers
- Readability checkers
Some tools, like spell checkers, are easy to understand. Others are more complex and take time to understand fully. Using them writers have ample opportunity to make sure what they write is correct and many of these tools are available for free, or at a small cost. Large corporations would have no problem paying to use these software tools, but few do. But, ultimately, there is no substitute for engaging a good editor.
Personally, I am extremely self-conscious when I talk about errors on forms/websites etc. The reason – I am certain someone will point out an error that I have made on this page, or something else I helped create.
That said there is a difference between a blog, even one written by a serious writer, and the image portrayed by a business website. Some brand names seem as if they are misspelt words but their origin is often a foreign language word or acronym. They are not misspelt at all, but are a deliberate part of creating a brand image. Writers have to make themselves aware of brand name usage.
On a related subject, I was talking to a 46-year-old housewife, who was telling me that nobody cares anymore about how people use the English language and how we have all become too sloppy. She showed no aspirations of writing the next blockbuster novel, she simply objected to the bad English used on supermarket signs. Her point, it painted the companies in such bad light. She was of course right. I thought about it for a moment and realised that the person who wrote the sign would be on minimum wage and probably cares very little about their job. The other aspect is that they may not have passed many of their school courses.
The types of errors I am talking about are the ones Lynne Truss pointed out in her book “Eats, Shoots and Leaves.” The sign that says “Egg’s $1.66 per dozen” or “Open Sunday’s“. The plurals don’t have an apostrophe, but there are so many signs with showing them. The types of error that Truss pointed out more than a decade ago. These are things everyone should know, but they seem to blight language usage, even for people having the highest level of education. I know this because I remember working with someone having a PhD, he was brilliant at his specialist subject but would write “course” instead of “cause” every time.
“The Balance” points out that some of these errors can be significant, such as: “mixing up the lessor (the building owner) and the lessee (the company leasing the space)” in a rental agreement. Often the only way to correct such critical errors is striking trough the errant words with a pen and making corrections on the printed page.
The challenge is often that businesses have cut cost on so many of the things that they do, they simply spend too little time of quality control. Even if someone spots the error they do not have anyone who available to resolve the problem. After all, it is only a spelling error, it doesn’t impact how the program functions. The truth, spending $100 to $500 to engage an independent editor check their work and it could bring in thousands of dollars of extra business. Psychologically trust starts to dissipate with errors. It may not impact how the program supporting the website functions, but it does impact how it is perceived.
The things your business produces are always in the public eye. You never know who is looking at any of the following:
- Job applications
- Web pages
- Blogs Posts
- Facebook pages
- Product packaging
- User manuals
The occasional error can happen when producing these documents. Occasionally even a professional editor will miss an error, but they catch the majority as well as making the material more readable. But, remember each error seen by the public can impact the brand image.
The Steps an Editor Takes:
There are several steps an editor takes to make sure the presentation looks professional:
- Throw out the trash.
- Eliminate the technical speak.
- Eliminate negatives.
- Is the voice active?
- Open and close with strengths.
- Is it fully described?
- Right-size your sentences.
- Ensure paragraphs are relevant
Upgrade and Improve…
Through these steps a good editor will seek to improve the writing. Every writer is prone to using over-expressive, flowery, language. In addition web content and blog writers will use technical terms associated with their profession, forgetting that some readers do not share their background. Many writers have a tendency to overuse negative statement. Think about it we happily state what we don’t like, when making positive statements is more appropriate.
Many years ago I found passive voice in my writing and did not know how to resolve it. There is a time and place for passive voice, but most of the words we write should use active voice.
What are the strong points? Include them in introductions and/or conclusions. Make sure people are aware of them.
Has the subject been covered in full? For a page to fully discuss something the scope should become clear and the writer should have covered all the sub-topics, or perhaps provided a reason why one will not be discussed (perhaps it is lengthy and deserves separate discussion). Some sentences need shortening, others need lengthening. Part of the role of editing is to ensure each sentence is the right length. This flows into ensuring that paragraphs contain all relevant sentences, no more and no less.
The steps a professional editor takes to improve the presentation should reap results and improve how the public perceives your business.
Other Related Material
Several other pages have been produced by Peter Giblett about this subject, including:
- Business Blog: Online Presence & Need for Visibility?
- How to Analyze/Recognise the Top 5 Trends for Writing?
- Time to Create Longer Articles on your Blog?
- Writing and Editing: Do you Read it Aloud?
- Free-Writing: a Great Method to get your Writing Moving
Buy Peter B. Giblett a coffee to thank him for considering errors found on business sites and the impression it gives.. The images included here are from royalty free public domain sites, like Unsplash, Pixabay and others.