Friday, March 21, 2014


I was pleased to receive a special discount coupon from a retailer recently.

Pleased, that is, until the coupon's terms and conditions raised a pretty important question.


There are a few grammatical/proofreading problems with this list of terms, including inconsistent use of upper-case letters. (Why are the P on "Program" and the T on "Transferable" capital letters?) The incorrect spelling of "redeemable" suggests a too-quick proofread on its own; but even if that word had been spelled correctly, was the retailer really trying to tell me this coupon is not redeemable at all?

It's likely that bullet was supposed to provide extra information to clarify the circumstances under which the coupon can't be redeemed (e.g. on certain types of merchandise, on the purchase of other training programs) -- but due to the too-quick review of this coupon, the writer didn't notice it was missing.

When you need to leave something blank because you don't know the answer, use a placeholder

In professional writing, you sometimes need to write a document when you don't have all the final details.

For example, when writers in a publicly-traded company draft a news release about something the Board has yet to approve, they'll use a bullet or another symbol to show where the missing information goes (e.g. "Today, the Board declared a dividend of $ * per share").

This allows a writer to write around the missing information, but puts something in the text to flag that there's information missing. A search for the symbol in Word helps you fill in the information quickly once you have it.

If my coupon-writer had used this approach, his/her text might have looked something like this:

"Non-redeemable toward **************"

That would have been much tougher for the proofreader to miss.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

"Dear Salutation"

A retailer sent me this postcard last month (I've taken out the company name). What caught my attention was the opening line.

"Dear Salutation"

This proofreading error reflects a deficiency in the production process, as opposed to grammar or spelling. Here's how it easily could have happened:

1) A copywriter was employed to write the text for the postcard. The copywriter used the placeholder "Salutation," as is common practice, to show where the customer's name should go (e.g. "Ms. Lee Lockhart" in my case). The copywriter would have expected the production department to insert the customer name in the space where "Salutation" appears, so my card would have said "Dear Ms. Lee Lockhart," whereas someone else's could have said "Dear Ms. Jones."

2) The copywriter's text was sent to a graphic designer, who designed the postcard using the writer's copy as provided. The graphic designer may have been a rookie (unfamiliar with the use of placeholders like "Salutation" in copy) or may have been asleep at the wheel... or maybe it was someone else's job to coordinate the merge of customer names with the layout, and that someone forgot to. Either way...

3) The graphic designer's text went to print, as designed, with the placeholder copy intact.

Check your text and your process

My PR Major students know about a map that almost made its way into an annual report I was printing; the city names were all spelled properly (I had proofread them dozens of times), but I only realized after the final signoff (and mere hours before it was too late to catch the error) that some of the city names weren't in the right spots on the map.

That near miss haunts me to this day.

Proofreading has to go beyond checking spelling and grammar - check every part of the production process for errors.