“Car Goes Falls,” or Why Proofreading is Important

Today the San Francisco Chronicle ran an online AP story about a fatal accident in Los Angeles. A car plunged off the third story of a parking garage and landed upside down, killing the driver. Within a couple hours, the story had more than 40 comments on it… not one of them regarding the actual story. No, every single comment was poking fun at the headline:

“1 dead after car goes falls from LA parking garage.”

Admittedly, some of the comments were pretty funny (“1 fired after copy editor goes fails” and “I can haz journalizm degree?” were a couple of my faves). SFgate.com later fixed the headline, but the damage was already done – a painful reminder of how a simple typo can distract people from the actual news and simultaneously damage credibility.

As PR professionals, we are often tasked with writing on behalf of executives or even entire companies. We all make typos and spelling errors from time to time, but when it’s more than your own reputation on the line, you want to be sure your writing is clear and error-free. Here are a few of my favorite proofreading tips:

  1. Re-read everything again any time you edit. In other words, if during the course of proofing you make any changes, give everything another read-through to make sure that edit works. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve made what seemed like a tiny tweak to a sentence, only to go back and realize that change affected the entire paragraph. Make sure you can get a clean read from start to finish before calling something final.
  2. Print out your work. Oftentimes people find that viewing their work on something besides a computer screen forces them to really focus on reading, rather than letting their eyes go on autopilot.
  3. Read your work out loud. This often helps you to catch run-on sentences or those that don’t flow as well as they could.
  4. Have someone else proof your work. It doesn’t matter how well you write or how well you think you’ve proofed something; a second set of eyes will almost always catch something you didn’t.
  5. If you do opt to have someone else proof your work, be sure to review their edits. Apart from punctuation or grammatical errors, there are times when your work may have been better prior to their edits, or when additions from another reviewer conflict with the surrounding content.
  6. Take a break. Although there are times when deadlines don’t permit this, when possible, I highly recommend walking away from your writing and working on something else for a while. I often find that I return reenergized, and am able to find things I didn’t notice before.
  7. Finally, don’t rely on spell check. Some of the most embarrassing typos I’ve seen were words that were spelled correctly but had vastly different meanings from what the author intended!

These are just a few tips I’ve picked up over the years, but I’m sure others have even more creative tricks. What are some of your favorites?