6 Steps to Avoid Costly Typos

Typographical errors can have serious repercussions for your small business. They damage your credibility, cause confusion for customers, and can prevent customers from reaching you. Here are some tips for making certain that your materials are letter-perfect.

“To be or to be.” That’s how one of the most famous sentences in the English language began several years ago in a new edition of Shakespeare’s “Hamlet.” Six professional proofreaders failed to catch the mistake, which received national publicity and gave the publishing company a red face.

Similarly, the Wall Street Journal once devoted eight column inches to ridiculing a conference on critical thinking that sent out a press release referring to the conference’s “world renown” researchers “in field of thinking” such as our former surgeon general “C. Everett Coop.” (He spells it “Koop.”)

And more than bad publicity was at stake when L.L. Bean’s back-to-school catalog invited people to call a phone number held by a Virginia company instead of the Maine-based mega-retailer. L.L. Bean paid the Virginia company an unnamed sum of money (surely six figures) to immediately take over that misprinted phone number. The cause: someone in the production department who “knew” that a toll-free number starting with “877” should really have started with “800.”

Typographical errors can have serious repercussions for your organization. Misspellings and grammatical flubs damage your credibility, omitted words cause confusion for customers and numbers that get printed wrongly can prevent buyers from reaching you. Here are some tips for making certain that your materials are letter-perfect.

  1. Let your printouts sit at least overnight before   finalizing them. Rereading after even half a day has   lapsed helps you spot errors you can’t find when you’ve just typed them in.
  2. Actually dial all phone or fax numbers to make sure you haven’t transposed digits or worse. It’s common for people to confuse their own phone and fax numbers, for instance. Test URLs in the same way, and carefully examine ZIP codes and street numbers.
  3. In a recurrent publication, like a newsletter, or a letter you’re adapting for a new recipient, make sure you’ve appropriately changed all dates and no-longer-relevant information deep in the piece.
  4. Confirm the spelling of all place names, company names and proper names. Often the reference desk of a public library will check atlases and business encyclopedias for you over the phone.
  5. Take another look at stated prices. Missing decimal points, switched numbers, shipping costs updated in one spot and not another all bollix up the ordering process.
  6. Double-check your headlines and any corrections or additional copy inserted at the last minute. Mistakes there are hardest to see.

Not convinced that misspellings make a difference? Recently in Wellesley, Massachusetts, a man handed a bank teller a note that read: “Give me your 10s and 20s and no die pack.” Distracted by the misspelling of “die” for “dye,” the teller had to reread the note to realize that this was an attempted stickup. Indignant, she crumpled up the note and told the guy, “I’m not going to give you any money. Now get the hell out of here.” He obeyed, his message having failed to get across.

Marcia Yudkin <marcia@yudkin.com> is the author of the classic guide to comprehensive PR, 6 Steps to Free Publicity. Visit her web site at www.yudkin.com.

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