Do We Need Proofreading in the World of Digital Advertising?

In a culture where ROFL does not bring to mind the piano-playing dog from The Muppets, where entire sentences are not only abbreviated to initialisms, but we have actually learned to interpret such shorthand and extract meaning from it, what role do accuracy and correctness play in written communication?

When the modern brain, especially the modern brain of anyone with a cell phone and internet access, has adapted to be able to deftly interpret our ever more rapidly evolving language, and parse meaning from seemingly random collections of letters and emojis, does it matter if fat thumbs tapping tiny keyboards at lightning speed produce errors? If we are aiming for clear communication at top speed in a medium that will be swept away with the SEO tide within hours, do we really need to be so, er, fussy and worry about a few typos?

The answer is “YES,” and here’s why:

Andrew Hindes, president of PR and marketing copywriting firm, The In-House Writer, posits that credibility and clarity, as well as professionalism and posterity, are as important as ever in the digital age. No matter how tech savvy or ADD your audience, typos and “grammatical errors indicate ignorance or carelessness … and may cause [readers] to question the accuracy of the content.” Advertising already has a reputation for twisting the facts or, in some cases, even outright lying to sell more units to consumers. Sounding authoritative and reliable is more important than ever if brands want to make connections with savvy and often skeptical target audiences.

Correct punctuation and grammar are still critical to clear communication. If you don’t believe me, Google “serial comma JFK” and click on the first image. In advertising especially, when potentially millions of client dollars are on the line, you do not want that kind of potential for misinterpretation.

Hindes also makes the point that errors make the creator behind the work seem unprofessional and sloppy. Those are not qualities that get you new — or repeat — clients.

And as far as posterity, even though it seems like a tweet has the life span of a gastrotrich (a hermaphroditic, aquatic, um, pocket lint, that has sticky tubes it uses to stick to other things and it lives for three days, I checked:, if you dig deep enough you can find just about anything that was put on the internet ever. Which means embarrassing errors are potentially there to make you look stupid to infinity.

Obviously, no one is perfectly perfect, and today’s digital consumer is pretty forgiving of errors since the internet is fraught with them and timeliness has become a far more important quality than, well, quality. But to make sure you are presenting the cleanest, tightest creative you can, here are some tips for polishing your own work if you aren’t lucky enough to have a proofreader squatting in a cubicle nearby:

  1. Run spell check. If you have time for nothing else, run spell check. It’s a quick and dirty tool that, while it won’t necessarily catch all the mistakes, catches a lot of them.
  2. Read your copy out loud to someone who has not seen it. Errors or missteps in the writing are easier to hear than to see, especially if you’ve been staring at the page/screen forever. Do this at the draft stage, then again when you think it’s ready to go live. If you can’t read it out loud to someone, still try to enlist a “fresh” reader. They will not be as prone to unconsciously correcting errors in their head as they read, the way we do when we are close to a subject and know what it should say rather than seeing what it actually says.
  3. If you have the time, do the old-school trick of taking a ruler or a sheet of blank paper and reading your work line by line. Visually isolating each line makes errors stand out more. If you have more time, read each line backward to spot misspellings. This is especially useful when proofing hand-lettered copy.

So, until there’s an app for telepathy, if clients want the best chance of connecting with their audience, taking that last step of running your creative through a proofing process is never going to be a waste of time, even IRT, because, as someone once chiseled into a stone tablet in a cave somewhere, you don’t get a second chance to make a first impression.

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