It’s something we talk about a lot but thorough proofreading is a vital part of PR.
Whether it’s a shop sign, two-line tweet, or a 50-page brochure, spelling mistakes, rogue apostrophes and poorly written copy can imply a lack of care that customers might also assume applies to the way you conduct business.
At Izzy PR, Michelle Jackson takes care of most of our proofreading, ensuring no copy goes out the door unchecked. Here she shares her top tips for weeding out some of the most common mistakes.
To apostrophe or not to apostrophe
This one catches people out all the time. An apostrophe either denotes possession or a missing letter. The position of the apostrophe can also tell you if the noun in a sentence is singular or plural.
I took the dogs for a walk. This sentence talks about more than one dog but doesn’t refer to anything belonging to the dogs – no apostrophe needed.
The dog’s going for a walk. In this instance, the apostrophe indicates a missing letter – the i in is. The unabbreviated version of this sentence would be ‘The dog IS going for a walk.’
The dog’s paws were dirty. In this sentence, the paws belong to the dog and so a possessive apostrophe is necessary. The apostrophe is before the s, indicating that only one dog is being referred to.
The dogs’ paws were dirty. Here, the apostrophe is after the s which indicates more than one dog is being referred to.
Sadly, the English language is rarely straightforward, and this rule does become trickier when applied to the word its and this is a very common mistake! An apostrophe is only ever used in this word when it is abbreviated from it is to it’s – it is never used to indicate possession. For example:
It’s time for the dog to have its dinner. This is correct – no apostrophe is needed in the second its even though it refers to the dog and the dinner that belongs to it.
Hands up who was taught at school never to use a comma before the word ‘and’? Unfortunately, that’s not always the case. Using one in this way is known as the ‘Oxford comma’ and can be really important for clarity. Here’s a good example:
This book is dedicated to my parents, Joan Smith and God. Hmm, is this author really saying that God is his actual father?
This book is dedicated to my parents, Joan Smith, and God. That all important comma tells us the author is referring to three separate groups of people – his parents/Joan Smith/God.
A standard comma can also change the meaning of a sentence:
Let’s eat Mum! You want to eat your mum?!
Let’s eat, Mum! Ah, you’re inviting your mum to eat!
Quite simply – always use a spellchecker! It never fails to amaze me when non-existent words somehow make their way to a website or printed document when they would almost certainly have been picked up by a spellchecker – such as definate instead of definite or seperate instead of separate.
Also, be careful of words that sound similar but have different meanings – except/accept, inquiry/enquiry, effect/affect, for example.
To be certain, simply consult a good old-fashioned dictionary, either online or paper – but make sure it’s in UK English unless you’re writing for a US audience.
How to proofread
When checking a document, most of us read quietly to ourselves which often leads to skimming words and sentences and therefore missing mistakes.
A trick we use is to read everything out loud – even the punctuation. This method focuses your concentration on each word, full stop, question mark and capital letter, ensuring a more accurate read.
It’s also important to think about how you give written feedback to a writer when checking text. Giving really clear directions on where errors have been spotted can save a lot of time, for example, instead of:
Comma missing after dog.
It’s much clearer to say:
Page 3, second paragraph, 4th line down, in the sentence ending ‘…and then fed the animals’ there is a comma missing after dog.
As many of us are preparing festive documents, materials and cards, I couldn’t end this blog without a special note about common mistakes to look out for at this time of year:
Season’s greetings – the greetings belong to the season so the apostrophe goes before the s.
Merry Christmas/happy New Year – Christmas and New Year are official holidays so should be capitalised BUT merry and happy need not be unless they are at the start of sentence.
From the Smiths – if you run a family business and you are signing off a card with your family name, you simply need to add an s to pluralise it – no apostrophe is necessary.
If you’d like help with proofreading a document, no matter how large or small, drop us a line at email@example.com