Sunday, June 8, 2008

And I Thought Persuading Businesses to Use a Copywriter Was Tough

Meet Jeff.

Jeff Deck isn't the type of guy you really *want* to meet in person, though. Because if he's showing up at your doorstep, he's probably there to tell you that you've made a mistake.

Searching for a way to give back to the world, Jeff chose as his mission to bring national attention to the pervasiveness of typographical errors, misspellings and poor grammar. Earlier this year, he founded The Typo Eradication Advancement League (TEAL), dedicated "to a more perfectly spelling union."

Together with like-minded public editors armed with black markers and White-Out, Jeff traveled around America from March through May, correcting misplaced apostrophes and misspellings found in signage everywhere.

A man after my own heart, Jeff spent months approaching managers, owners and clerks with his helpful attempts to make them look smarter.

A night in Las Vegas summarizes Jeff's uphill battle. Look what happens inside Circus Circus when Jeff finds a giant typo surrounded in lights:

GREASTEST! GREASTEST! An abomination against all that is right and true. We
needed to inform someone in charge. It was our only hope for seeing this
perversity wiped from the land. The problem was, we couldn’t actually find
anyone in charge… everyone in the garb of Circus Circus was trying to sell us
something. We wandered around until, finally, someone directed us to a
thick-necked man scowling at some register tape. His reaction to our crucial
piece of intelligence?

A blank look, then: “I’ll… uh… have to tell someone
about this.”

Which you can recognize by now, cherished readers, as a synonym
for thudding indifference. We tried to help you, Circus Circus. We wanted to end
the era of you looking like a fool. But it seems that era will go on into the
foreseeable future.

I want you to meet Jeff because you probably have typos in your business material, too.

As a copyeditor and copywriter, I find mistakes, misspellings and flagrantly offensive grammar in all kinds of business material—from e-mails and letters to signage and advertisements.

I understand that not everyone is fluent in grammar. Not everyone can tell when a word is possessive or plural and which of those two distinctions warrants an apostrophe. Not everyone is a spelling champion and no spell-check program can completely prevent us from word misuse.

And if common mistakes like these plague all varieties of businesses in all parts of the country, why you should care?

People know what you mean, regardless of whether you promise to serve the most delicious mochas (correct) or mocha's (ick, incorrect), right?

The best case scenario is that no one notices your mistake. Then there's the possibility that some do notice and they laugh at you. You probably don't care about that either.

But in the worse case scenario, your poor grammar and misspellings can turn off potential customers and clients. Witnessing your gaffe, they may perceive you to be either careless or ignorant, and therefore, not trustworthy. I'm not going to try a dentist who offers free teeth whitening for new customer's.

Another possibility: your mistakes may change the actual meaning of your message, rendering your communication efforts less effective. Many years ago, my parents received an invitation to an educational event sponsored by a large public health agency. Imagine their shock when they showed up the event and its signage and brochures said they were at the city's pubic health event!

In that example, it was just embarassing for the agency and funny for the guests. But at worst, these types of errors can doom your marketing efforts and waste your money.

For these reasons, it's really worth the extra money to hire a professional writer to create your business materials. And if that's really out of the budget, then at least consider hiring one to proofread your most important materials. Rates can be as low as 10 cents per word.

With that little extra care and professional assistance, you won't have to meet in Jeff in person.*
*Good catch, Jeff. No, really, I was just testing you. ;-)

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