“Check, check and bloody well check again.” These immortal words were inscribed across the top of the white board in the lecture room where I began my journalism degree in the distant days of 2005. The phrase was penned by my tutor, who had had it drilled into him by his first editor back in his days as a cub reporter for a local paper. I like to think the mantra stretches back down a long line of editors through the ages.
The motto was written in permanent marker as an indelible reminder (at least until the white board is replaced) to each new batch of students that proof reading is essential when filing copy.
I was reminded of this recently when photos circulated on social media and the press of a passenger plane with Cathay “Paciic” emblazoned on the side. If you can fail to spot a missing F when it’s painted in 12-foot-high letters on the side of an aircraft, you can fail to spot it anywhere.
Even the tiniest of typos can have a big impact. Perhaps the costliest typo in history was a coding error in the guidance system for the Mariner 1, an $18.5m rocket designed to perform a flyby of Venus in 1962. The typo – a missing overbar in an equation– caused the guidance system to fail and the uncontrollable rocket was ordered to self-destruct five minutes after launching.
Of course, most errors don’t come with such a high price tag – or as many explosions. But even mundane typos can have an unfortunate impact, especially in fields like media and marketing where words are so important.
At worst, a typo can completely derail the content, rendering a word, sentence, or entire message unintelligible. Even when intent is clear, typos can still be very distracting and spoil the effect of the content. When it comes to material published for public consumption, such as news stories, thought leadership and marketing copy, even a small typo can detract from the piece’s impact – especially if it happens to be an amusing one.
It’s almost unavoidable that some typos will crop up, particularly when it comes to content being written to a strict deadline, or longer pieces such as white papers or reports that might span a few thousand words. And especially just after the Christmas break, when the ability to type has been displaced by too much wine and cheese. Luckily, the solution for spotting inevitable mistakes is so straightforward you can write it on the top of a white board for students.
Checking your own work is always tricky, so to reliably spot mistakes before it’s too late, it’s best to have a thorough system in place that involves at least two rounds of proof reading by both the author and an additional set of eyes. It can be beneficial to run content by a third person who was not involved in the production, as an impartial eye can spot errors that might have been missed. More important content can also warrant further rounds of proofing by more people, but this can also lead to a case of “too many cooks”.
With a thorough system in place and the all-important mantra “check, check and bloody well check again” in mind, you can ensure your content is getting seen and shared for its true value, and not because of an unfortunate typo.