Have you ever read a communication that was riddled with errors? Chances are you thought the person or company responsible for these errors to be any combination of careless, lazy or worse yet, lacking intelligence.
There is no more sure-fire way to damage your personal or corporate reputation than by sending out correspondence with errors. No one is exempt from error; I learned this the hard way as a young PR practitioner when I sent out an outdated press release that referred to an ongoing war that had, by the time I sent it, been officially declared over. Oops. How embarrassing. Fortunately I had a seasoned colleague who taught me how to never make a mistake like that again — but more on that in a minute.
PR agencies, businesses, news organizations and journalists alike all need to make more of an effort to prevent and correct factual, typo and grammatical errors. Web sites and blogs have even sprung up to call out these missteps, but still they persist. Just this past Friday I found three typos in a major daily that will go unnamed…in the first two pages! To me, the errors that are the most egregious, however, are those that involve the misuse of words. Nothing says incompetent and uneducated like the wrong word choice.
Here are two of my favorites:
- Flier vs. Flyer. I can’t tell you how often people get this one wrong. I’ve even had people change my writing from the correct version to the wrong one – that’s how ingrained this error is. For once and for all, flier is the preferred term for an aviator or a handbill. Flyer is the proper name of some trains and buses.
- Insure vs. Ensure. Ensure means to guarantee: Steps were taken to ensure this post is error-free. Insure is only used in reference to insurance: My homeowner’s policy insures me against water damage.
Believe me, there are a lot of others. What pet peeves do you have when it comes to writing and editing?
Errors can be avoided, however, by following a few, simple guidelines that will protect your reputation and that of your company:
- Use a Guide. For us news and PR folks, the AP Style Guide is a go-to source. Others include Strunk & White’s “The Elements of Style” and of course, the good old Webster’s Dictionary.
- Practice. I had a VP at the firm where I used to work who we affectionately called the “Grammar Grinch” due to his obsession with punctuation, style and grammar. He hosted lunches and trainings on writing and editing, filled the library with reference books and put in place a Draconic editing system that we all bemoaned at first, but eventually grew to love and appreciate.
- Quality Control System. The Grammar Grinch required three people to review and edit all documents that left the agency. A little pink sheet with your signature on it ensured (note the usage) that everyone took their role as editor seriously. Not only does a QC system help to catch errors, it also makes you a better writer and editor.
Like it or not, people form a perception of an organization or individual when they read their communications. Make sure you are putting your best foot forward by spending just a little time to avoid errors that ruin your reputation forever.