10 Common Proofing Mistakes (That Make You Look Bad)

I can’t help it: grammatical errors, typos and layout mishaps literally jump off the page, pleading for me to fix them. Whether I’m glancing over a restaurant menu, driving by billboards, or navigating my daily inbox of emails – they’re all there, making me cringe on behalf of the individual or company that committed serious proofing crime.

Truth be told, I wasn’t always this way. It has taken me 9 years of working in marketing communications – with an emphasis on copywriting and editing – to sharpen my skills. You see, when you stare at words and design layouts all day, you become really great at finding those sneaky errors. You also become obsessed with red pens and earn nerdy editing nicknames like Hawk Eyes (true story).

At Modern Postcard, our team gets the opportunity to work with an awesome scope of clients on a daily basis, from small businesses to mega brands. Since I’ve seen the good, the bad and the ugly, I’d like to share the 10 most common proofing errors many companies tend to miss when creating their own marketing collateral or direct mail pieces. These tips of the trade will help your brand look super professional, and help your company avoid the backlash of embarrassing mistakes.

1. Don’t fall into the unnecessary apostrophe trap.
The 1980s called and want you to stop using an apostrophe between the year and letter S of a non-possessive year (i.e. 1980’s). The same goes for terms that are plural, only needing the letter S added to the end. Apostrophe mishaps for non-possessives and plurals occur all the time, so think twice about the word or number you’re writing before placing an inappropriate apostrophe. Common misuses are: R’s, 2’s, 1980’s, The Johnson’s, etc. Corrected uses are: Rs, 2s, 1980s, The Johnsons, etc.

2. Say no to ampersand abuse!
Unless an ampersand (&) is being used in a short headline, please spell out the word and in all of your body copy. Paragraphs filled with &s are distracting and unprofessional.

3. Don’t go font crazy.
When it comes to fonts, less is more. It’s typical among professional designers to choose a maximum of 2 different fonts per piece: one for headlines, one for body copy. Maybe 3, if there are special circumstances. Too many fonts or use of hard-to-read fonts can make your marketing piece look cluttered and amateur. Stick with a clean design and consistent use of fonts to look like a pro.

4. Consistency is key.
Good news: there are a few grey areas when it comes to copywriting, all in the name of adding stylistic features to your marketing piece’s design. However, the key is being consistent in your grey area design decisions. For example, if you choose to show your headlines in purple lowercase typography, that’s perfectly fine. What really matters is, every headline must follow suit so your design decision is intentional across the page.

5. Look closely for extra spaces and missing letters.
When reviewing your copy or design, keep a close eye on unusual gaps between words, caused by an accidental extra space. Also, make sure all words are complete, not missing any letters. You’d be surprised how many ans were supposed to be ands.

6. Know the difference between it’s and its.
Commonly confused, it’s is a contraction for it is. Its is the possessive for it. Example 1: The Company and its marketing team are increasing SEO efforts this year. Example 2: It’s going to be a great year for The Company!

7. Make sure your copyright info is up to date.
Welcome to 2015. Please make sure your copyright (©) information is up-to-date on both your website and marketing collateral. It’s a common oversight, so double-check and update as needed.

8. Don’t leave widows hangin’.
A widow is an editing term, referring to a single word (or short series of words) hanging at the final line of a paragraph. Widows typically spill over from the previous line of copy and tend to look bad. To correct a widow, a designer can adjust paragraph margins to get the word(s) back on the previous line, or the editor can reduce the copy to get a clean paragraph, free of distracting widows.

9. Keep your leading level.
Leading (pronounced “led-ing”) is the vertical spacing between sentences in your copy. While it may not be noticeable to the average eye, it’s a common mishap to have strange spacing issues between sentences, paragraphs, bullet points and more. Make sure you work closely with design for consistent leading – and spacing, in general – between all portions of your marketing piece. Your customers’ eyes will thank you when the flow of your marketing piece is spot-on.

10. Keep it simple, keep it smart.
You’ve heard this before, but truly sticking to it can be a challenge. Avoid using ten-dollar words when 5-dollar words will do. Keep your headlines and call-to-actions short, easy to understand and approachable. If you’re finding a piece is getting overly complicated with too many messages, break it out in to a 3 or 5-piece campaign with a simple message and single concept. In the end, it’s better to engage your customer base multiple times with a strategic campaign, than to jam-pack multiple messages into a single marketing piece.

By Jessica Biondo, Marketing Communications Associate, Modern Postcard

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