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Are typos costing your business?

Rosemary Gillespie - Sunday, November 02, 2008

Can you read the following? 
 
Aoccdrnig to rscheearch at Cmabrigde uinervtisy, it deosn't mttaer waht oredr the ltteers in a wrod are, the olny iprmoetnt tihng is taht the frist and lsat ltteres are in the rghit pclae.

I bet you could read every word. And I bet too that you’d never send a client a document with this many typos. But if you do send a document with even one typo, it could be costing your business.

Let's get back to that paragraph. You could read every word because we read words as whole units, not as individual letters. Our brains use our experience of English to make assumptions about what’s coming next. 

The flipside is that sometimes our assumptions are wrong. That’s why we occasionally miss typos when we’re proofreading, especially if it’s a document we’ve written ourselves.

A survey by the UK’s Royal Mail cited poor grammar and atrocious spelling as potentially costing British businesses billions of pounds every year. In most cases, email was the culprit. The survey found that:

• 75% of customers do not trust companies whose written communications contain errors.

• 30% of potential customers refuse to deal with organisations whose written communications – including emails and letters – contain mistakes.

For a real life example of how typos can literally cost money, the BBC reported last year that the Bank of Kazakh had released newly printed bank notes into circulation with the word bank misspelled.

It is incredibly difficult to proofread your own work. There's no doubt about that. But if you have no choice, here are five tips to help you avoid costly mistakes: 
 
1. Print the document and read it out loud to check it is grammatically correct and conveys the right meaning.

2. Read from the last word to the first. Start at the end of the document and read each word in turn, from the last to the first. When you read each word in isolation, you are more likely to spot typos.

3. Know what mistakes to look for. We often repeat the same mistakes:

  • missing narrow letters (e.g. ‘i’ - offical, opportunites, instnctively)
  • using extra letters  (e.g. acccountancy, narrrow)
  • mis-spelling long or technical words (e.g. physiothearapy, implenemtation).

4. Spell checkers won’t pick up typos which are correct spellings, or words that sound the same but have different meanings.
 
Last year, for example, I proofread an annual report for a big Australian bank only to find the word 'divided' had been used a few times instead of 'dividend' - a pretty significant typo for a publically listed financial institution.

Other examples are:

  • causal/casual
  • form/from
  • unclear/nuclear
  • their/there
  • site/sight.

5. Double check all the headings and page numbers. This is where most mistakes are made, especially in long documents such as annual reports, proposals and tenders. Check that all the fonts, colours, headings, titles and numbered sequences are consistent. And if you have an index or contents list, don’t forget to check that the page numbers match the list.




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