Typos and the art of not looking stupid

Typos are simple but deadly errors. We use these tricks to keep our copy clean.

Typos: every copywriter’s nightmare. You’ve stressed for hours over a piece of copy, carefully crafting the tone of voice, giving a nod or two to the keywords, varying sentence structure, clipping your style into its most pristine rendition. You hand it over triumphantly. First feedback? Not, ‘This is beautiful,’ but:

‘There’s a typo in the second sentence.’

And there it is – obvious as anything, and yet you’ll have read it over two, three, ten times before passing it on.

OK, so maybe the Bristol road painters didn’t have that luxury, but now the number 62 pulls up at a bup stop

Turns out that not being able to spot your own typos is a brain thing – this Wired article explains why proofreading’s tough.

But it’s just a typo – what’s the big deal?

Typos are snags in the copy. They disrupt the flow of the words, like a nail sticking out of a plank of smooth wood. They distract the reader – because now they’re thinking ‘I wonder who edited this’ rather than ‘wow this sounds amazing’. Most of all, they look sloppy – if the copy hasn’t been read by more than one person before being published, then who’s to know if it’s worth reading at all?

Typos hide in plain sight

They lurk in headlines, as this Google AdWords horror from Jeep neatly demonstrates. Typos evade spell checkers – ‘pubic school’ is a terrifying example of What Happens When the Letter ‘L’ Goes Missing.

They also hide in subtly incorrect phone numbers, link URLs and email addresses.

Don’t have a proofreader or copywriter to hand?

Here’s how to get rid of typos.

  • First, run a spell check – blindingly obvious, but make sure you do it. However, don’t trust the results completely, and be wary of Word’s idiosyncratic view of the world. Make sure you check any words you’re not sure about by using one of the online dictionaries in our guide to copywriting tools.
  • Change the format – switch the font to something unusual. Courier is a safe bet. At the same time, bring the margins in and boost the text size to something Magoo-friendly, like 14pt. It’ll force you to slow down and read.
  • Print it out – if you can catch all your typos by proofing on screen, great. But it’s harder to read copy on-screen. Much harder. Read what Scientific American’s report on screens versus paper has to say about it.
  • Check the obvious stuff first – dial the phone number, make sure the links resolve and double-check the email address.
  • R e a d  v e r y    s    l    o    w    l     y      –      find a quiet corner and read the copy out loud. One. Word. At. A. Time. This helps you spot any missing words or grammatical goofs. If your copy reads well out loud, it’ll read nicely inside someone’s head too.
  • Get rid of double spaces – on a PC, type ‘CRTL + H’ for search and replace. On a Mac, use ‘SHIFT + OPTION + H’. Then type two spaces in the ‘find’ field and one space in the ‘replace’ field. You’re welcome.
  • Check the ends of sentences and bullets – it’s common to see missing full stops at the ends of paragraphs. Are yours present and correct? Check the ends of bullet points too – but be wary of putting full stops at the ends of very short bullets. The simplest advice is to apply a rule consistently to every bullet in the same list.
  • Concentrate on names – of people, countries, brands… whatever. If you’re writing about burgers, is it MacDonald’s, McDonalds or something else? Powerpoint or PowerPoint? Does Lycra™ need a capital letter and a trademark symbol sitting all high and mighty in superscript?
  • Get the client’s name and product name right – this deserves a category of its own, because we see it so often. Vodaphone, anyone? The Jeep ‘Cheroke’ example from earlier is further proof that this happens all the time.

Of course, you also need to know your way around the nooks and crannies of the language. For a bigger list of how we go about making sure our copy is spot on, read our guide to reviewing your website.

And if you’re still not sure, call a proofreader. A word, incidentally, which Word doesn’t think exists.

Want to know a bit more?

Call Alan on 0203 603 7740, or email copywriters@blackad.co.uk