The Importance of Proofreading
in Business Communication
by Chad Rueffert


When eye 1st decided to right my columns on this topic, eye was wearied that my viewers, would be board as doornails.


Because, truth be told, proofreading is probably the most mind-numbing job there is - outside of road repair sign holder or DMV photographer.  But it’s important.  Very important.  Win or lose a big new client, get sued and lose money important. 


While I was in college I worked for the National Center for Atmospheric Research in a little division that created software to analyze satellite weather data.  For ten bucks an hour I wrote and proofread manuals designed to teach non-meteorologists how to use the software.  I would have rather worked at the DMV.  But it taught me how to proofread, and that skill has served me well for the last two decades.


Nobody really worries about proofreading until they get in trouble for not doing it.  Lose a potential new customer to the competition because you misspelled their name in your sales materials and you’ll have a new attitude towards proofreading.  Order 10,000 brochures with the wrong phone number and you may lose your job.  Make a mistake in a legal document and you may lose even more. 


Most proofreading problems are not nearly so dramatic.  A new customer of mine asked me to review his website and make suggestions for improvement.  In ten minutes of proofreading I found more than a dozen spelling, grammatical and factual errors.  No customers had ever complained, but they certainly noticed.  And worse, I’m sure they noticed that on the very first page, in the mission statement, the words “attention to detail” were touted as the company’s main selling point.  Sloppy grammar, spelling and fact checking speaks volumes about your organization’s commitment to quality.


Part of the problem is that word processing software has made people lazy.  Go back and re-read the first sentence of this article.  There are ten errors in that one sentence.  Microsoft Word® offers some of the most sophisticated spelling and grammar correcting software in the world and still found nothing incorrect about my introduction.  No software is ever going to catch a mixed metaphor or even the substitution of “wearied” for “worried.”  It’ll catch some incorrect comma usage but never identifies homonyms.  It just doesn’t know that I have “readers” instead of “viewers” or that using “1st” instead of first is a stylistic mistake.


So now we know that proofreading is important, mistakes are common and costly, and that software is not the answer.  Below are my best suggestions for improving the accuracy of your business communication through careful and effective proofreading.


Buy the Associated Press Stylebook 

While this is primarily a journalistic tool, and doesn’t always apply to creative or business writing, it is invaluable for those times when you’re just not sure what to do.


Buy a dictionary

This is self-explanatory.  If you own a business or manage a department, buy a dictionary for everyone who works for you.


Employ multiple readers 

Different eyes will catch different mistakes.  This also serves the CYA purpose of sharing the blame if a mistake makes it through to printing.  If you make proofreaders sign-off on a document you’ll encourage a more thorough approach!


Read out loud 

This is the oldest trick in the book.  Most readers naturally skip certain common words.  By reading out loud you force yourself to use and examine each word.


Check facts as well as grammar and spelling 

The biggest proofreading mistakes are the factual ones.  If your ad says the sale goes from 9 to 5, double check to be sure!  Look up addresses in the phone book.  Call to verify phone numbers.  Check with the person herself to verify the spelling of her name.  Getting the “who, what, where, when” part of your writing wrong can be far more devastating than the incorrect use of an apostrophe.


Cut out the crap 

The easiest way to ensure your work is factual, accurate and grammatically correct is to keep it as short and simple as possible.  Never say, “It is clear to me that the circumstances you refer to in your previous communication fail to accurately depict the situation.”  Instead say, “The facts in your last letter were incorrect.”  The same goes for marketing.  “Due to factory-overstock conditions in southeastern China we are reducing the sticker prices of all furniture effective immediately” just doesn’t have the same impact as “Furniture Sale Today!”  Plus, you don’t have to worry whether or not to capitalize “southeastern” or hyphenate “factory-overstock.” 


For the important stuff, hire a professional

When it absolutely has to be perfect, hire a professional to write, edit or proofread your document.  There are a variety of local writers who will take on the task.  Alternatively, you can try www.scribendi.com.  For 24-hour turnaround, they charge only 1.7 cents per word for business document proofreading.  This article is about 850 words and would cost me less than $15 to have professionally proofread. 


If you follow these suggestions you may save yourself money and headaches.  You’ll definitely find your business communications will be more accurate, contain fewer mistakes, and be more concise and understandable as a result.