In 1962, NASA launched the Mariner 1, an interplanetary probe on its way to Venus. Minutes after takeoff, the probe exploded due to a single missing hyphen in its code, costing NASA $80 million.
In December 2005, Japan’s Mizuho Securities introduced a new member to its portfolio of offerings, and priced it at 610,000 yen per share. Less than a year later, a typo by one of the company’s traders resulted in the sale of 610,000 shares at one yen apiece, resulting in a loss of $340 million.
In each of these situations, small typos cost businesses millions of dollars. Naturally, you want to avoid typographical errors, whether you’re sending an email, preparing a marketing piece, or mailing a client letter.
With a little proofreading, you can catch typos, spelling and grammatical errors, and misplaced punctuation before they cost you sales and customers, or cause you embarrassment. If you’re not sure where to start, try the following strategies to improve the quality of your text.
1. Don’t Rely Only on a Spellchecker
If you work digitally, you know that many word processors – such as Microsoft Word – come with their own spelling and grammar checking programs. But these programs won’t catch everything. Spellcheck might not pick up on homophones (words that sound the same, but are spelled differently), and it won’t help you decide between often-confused words such as affect and effect.
For best results, you may want to plug your content into multiple programs and checkers. Some of the most popular editing tools such as Grammarly Proofreader, PolishMyWriting, Ginger, and Slick Write will help you find mistakes that your typical word processor might miss.
2. Read It Aloud
Unless you have an audience, you likely don’t read out loud. In fact, you read much faster when you let your eyes, rather than your mouth, do the work. The brain understands familiar words without needing complete input from individual letters, so you can skim quickly and still absorb information.
But when you proofread, take time to say each word out loud, not just in your head. The auditory input will help your brain detect errors that you may have jumped over otherwise.
Additionally, reading aloud lets you see where pauses occur naturally. If you haven’t taken a breath for a while, you may have a run-on sentence that needs dividing or a particularly long sentence that could use simplification.
Reading out loud can help you quickly spot awkward word placement, repetition, and gaps in information. When you hear your work, you can also get a greater sense of your overall tone, and tell whether you are too casual, formal, chatty, or serious.
If you have a smaller article or post, try reading it backward word by word, to spot typos – read it forward for content.
3. Re-Read After Making Corrections
After reading over your project, you’ve likely made a few corrections. But sometimes your corrections can cause additional problems. When you insert a forgotten word, your sentence may seem ambiguous. When you remove a troublesome sentence, you might delete essential punctuation. And when you add an explanatory paragraph, new information may conflict with earlier statements.
As a general rule, read through your document several times and focus on different editing aspects each time. For example, the first round might focus on sentence structures. The second round could dissect your word choice and spelling. The third round might double-check facts and figures.
If your deadline allows, give yourself time to set the text aside for a few hours (or days) so you can approach your project with a fresh set of eyes.
Don’t Be Afraid to Ask for Help
When you practice these techniques, you can find typos and mistakes you may have missed. However, proofreading your own work is difficult, and even the most experienced editors might not see problems with their own writing. As we always remind clients, the person who writes (or types) the copy will inevitably miss his own errors. Your brain knows what you intended to type, and sees that rather than what you did type.
Before you print a final copy of your next project, hire an expert (or ask a close friend, family member, or coworker) to quickly review your work.
Use these techniques for notes, emails, blog posts, marketing materials; basically, everything you plan on sending out. Take time to proofread even the simplest of copy! Your piece will look cleaner and more professional as a result, and you’ll save yourself potential embarrassment as well as possible financial penalties.