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Benefits of an in-house proofing service for agencies

Proof reader David Williams shares some unbelievable copy blunders and discusses the true value of a dedicated, in-house proofing service for agencies.

David Williams

Author: David Williams

Proof Reader

Date posted: 12/03/2021


Let’s face it, you’re probably not. The rest of us are fallible, and we’ve all seen online listicles of language howlers committed by major corporations who ‘should’ve known better’.

Some people wonder how much these things matter.

Well, one school of thought is that whatever your product or service, one thing you’re selling is competence. You want your customers to see you as professional and reliable, and anything that looks like an error works against you. So it’s reassuring to know your agency has someone looking out for that aspect in your text, in the same way their studio creatives and artworkers are looking out for style and adherence to brand standards in your visuals. Not many agencies offer a proofing service, but they probably should, and Purple do.

Proof readers and copy editors aren’t just for misspelled words; after all, you’ve run your copy through a spellchecker, right? But there are many things a spellchecker won’t pick up:

  • A correctly spelled word that’s not the one you intended (the frequent appearance of ‘defiantly’ in social posts by people misspelling ‘definitely’ so badly that their autocomplete thinks they mean a different word entirely).
  • A missing word (in one famous mistake, the compositors setting a 17th-century reprint of the King James Bible accidentally omitted the word ‘not’ from one of the Ten Commandments).
  • A sentence that, after many edits, switches from the second person to the third and back again, or from the present tense to the past.
  • Lost formatting: the difference between ‘109’ and ‘109’ is important!

There’s also stylistic consistency – both within documents and against any house style guidelines you may have. Single quotes or double quotes? UK or US spelling and punctuation? And so on.

The reputational impact of errors can be measurable. The owner of one travel agency said an ad accidentally promoting ‘erotic’ travel options (instead of ‘exotic’ ones) lost them 80% of their customers.[1]A BBC News article reported that one online entrepreneur estimated a website’s sales may be halved by the presence of a single error.[2]Many of us associate typos in online content with phishing attempts, so anything that causes a moment’s doubt in a site visitor’s mind can make them exit rapidly.

While much online content can be corrected relatively quickly, in some cases the damage may already be done. Twitter has no edit function, so if you tweet a gaffe, you can only delete it and hope people haven’t already shared mocking screenshots. Downloadable content cannot be recalled, and print media can be costly to replace.

A particular benefit of proof readers and copy editors is having somebody to critically interpret amends instructions. For example, evaluating the knock-on effects when you ask your agency to move a chunk of content to a different part of the document: do any reference citations need re-ordering? Does the first instance of some defined term now need to be spelled out somewhere else? Have the artworkers/typesetters correctly interpreted what you meant? One major dictionary publisher had to issue a 7-page erratum PDF and bring forward issue of a revised edition after an internal amends request was misinterpreted – an instruction along the lines of ‘some entries have usage notes; please delete these’ was taken to mean deleting the entries rather than the usage notes!

Having someone in-studio keeping watch over these things adds up to a shorter review cycle: fewer rounds of amends and less frustration for you and your reviewers.

So in the absence of a papal contribution, a Purple contribution may be just the ticket.