Overlooking small details can be a big mistake for PR professionals. Misspellings, bad links and poor planning can erode your credibility with clients, coworkers and bosses.
Here are 10 ways to help you catch mistakes before they affect your career:
- Start at step one. Review all of the input before getting started on a project. Be sure you know where the main focus should be and what the goal is before putting your pen to paper.
- Back to basics. Spell the company name right. This sounds really simple, but mistakes do happen. Add your company or client’s name to your Microsoft Word dictionary to avoid the embarrassment of a simple misspelling. Learn how through Microsoft Support.
- Go out in style. A style guide can help you and your coworkers produce consistent work that gets it right every time, such as standard wording for a disclaimer or a phrase that’s always capitalized. To save even more time and effort, you can copy and paste often-used verbiage from a style guide to help you avoid typing mistakes.
- Let Me Google That For You. Does the product require a ™ or ® mark? Do you have the entire company name? Google will become your best friend for making sure the details are correct.
- Kill a few trees. Print out every piece of work you produce and review before passing it on to the next level. Your eyes could be glazing over small mistakes on the computer screen. If you feel guilty, plant a few saplings and be sure to recycle your bad drafts.
- Save the comments and criticism. The best way to learn is from your own mistakes. Keep notes on things you often forget to do or have done incorrectly in the past.
- Think like Jason Bourne. Don’t trust anyone or anything. People may inadvertently give you the wrong number or a misspelled name. Always double check information or compare it against valid sources, even when the information comes directly from the client.
- Don’t become the weakest link. Try out every Web address to be sure it goes to the appropriate place, whether it’s a Web page or e-mail. If you’re working on a print piece, type in the exact address shown to check it out – even if it looks correct and you know exactly where it leads.
- Be personally responsible. Do you assume that someone else will check the links? Do you hope someone else caught any potential spelling errors? Never assume and double check everything to ensure its correctness.
- There are no stupid questions. But, try to find the answer yourself first. There’s no shame in asking questions, but it’ll save everyone time if you try to find the answer yourself. (Go back to No. 1 and 4 to learn how.)
Small, simple details are the easiest to miss. And, they may affect your credibility more than one big, unexpected mistake. Detail-orientation is an acquired skill. By paying close attention to the work you do, the things your produce will be more thorough. The devil is in the details.
I wrote an article for the FORUM for the Fall issue. Somehow it was published saying I was a student at Boston University. The Flint Journal published a news release about me, and got the context completely wrong.
At my various PR jobs, I’ve seen newsletters go out with a completely wrong Web address, misspelled words on materials, and promotions for events on the wrong dates. Every time we realize mistakes like these get past us, we wince.
Ugh. We know better. We really do. But sometimes you’re in a hurry, are pressured to get it done or maybe you just don’t notice.
Then it happens and you say, “I’ll know better next time. I’ll proofread it.”
Here are tips on how to make sure those mistakes don’t make it past your desk.
- Print it out. The simplest way to catch your mistakes is to read a paper copy of your writing. Often, you breeze over mistakes on the computer screen.
- Read it out loud. At work, I avoid doing this by moving my lips as I am reading, so it is similar to reading out loud. But, the way you read and the way you hear are two different things.
- Check the subheads. Are you initial-capping one and not the others? Are they all in bold? Do you have a colon following one of them, but not the others?
- Check facts, numbers and addresses. It’s easy to switch 830 with 803, and it makes a huge difference if it’s part of a phone number.
- Take a break. Come back and read it later. It will help give you a fresh perspective.
- Keep a list of mistakes you commonly make. I keep post-it notes of AP Style mistakes I commonly make. Before proofreading, I look at my list so I remember which ones to look out for.
- Check Web site links. If the link isn’t correct, you won’t be driving your audience to the right place.
- Proof for different things. After an initial read-through, go through it for specific things, such as spelling, grammar, punctuation, AP Style, etc. It will make your proofreading job more thorough.
- Remove words with little value. One word we commonly use is “that.” Often you can reword the sentence and remove it. For example, “The new system that enables people to create widgets will be released in March,” can be changed to, “The new system enabling….”
- Check the headline. Sometimes I forget to even write the headline in my first draft. Be sure you’ve written a headline, and make sure the headline makes sense still.
What tips do you have for proofreading?
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As a very straightforward type of person, I sometimes have trouble writing with emotion.
This has been a struggle for me since I started writing copy for various items for a great nonprofit that helps prevent child abuse.
Here are a few things I try to remember when writing copy that requires emotion:
- Create an impact. There are many different ways to do this. For example, I find the fact that as many as one in every four children will be sexually abused before the age of 18 to be very impactful. It shocks me every time I read it.
- Use descriptive words. I try to write as concisely as possible, especially since people have so little time these days. My motto is “Get to the point.” But, when writing with emotion, I’ve realized I need descriptive words to make my copy more effective. So the statistic isn’t just a statistic. It’s a heartbreaking statistic.
- Give a call to action. If possible, tell people what they can do. You’ve been tugging at their emotions. You have their attention and they are asking how they can help. If you want to donate to the organization I am helping, shoot me an e-mail and I can give you more information. That’s my call to action for this post.
Although I am learning how to be a better writer, this is something that doesn’t come easily to me.
How do you add emotion to your copy?