Errors: What Impression is your Business Giving?

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.

 

Basic Errors

red lightWith 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.

 

Tools Available

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.

 

Nobody Cares…

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.

Open sunday sThe 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.

 

Challenges

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:

  •  Forms
  •  Job applic­a­tions
  •  Web pages
  •  Blogs Posts
  •  Facebook pages
  •  Product packaging
  •  User manuals
  •  Contracts

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:

  1. Throw out the trash.
  2. Eliminate the technic­al speak.
  3. Eliminate negat­ives.
  4. Is the voice active?
  5. Open and close with strengths.
  6. Is it fully described?
  7. Right-size your sentences.
  8. Ensure paragraphs are relev­ant

Upgrade and Improve…

Upgrade by Geralt CC0 Public domain image from PixabayThrough 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:

 

 

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.

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