Are spelling mistakes costing you money?

A while back, I was asked by a friend and ex-colleague if I’d be able to put an ‘idiot-proof checklist’ together for a local further and higher education college to use to proofread documents they were producing.

Well, not exactly.

Although I could suggest people systematically check each piece of written work they produce and make sure they’re not just relying on their computer’s spellchecker, that wouldn’t really be advice worth paying for:

I’d feel a fraud trying to put together some kind of ‘checklist’, as a lot of the work is just a case of having a good ‘feel’ for spelling and grammar, a decent dictionary or two, and reading carefully.

Instead, I chose to focus on other things the organisation could do to ensure consistency. As the college produces a large volume of written and web content, including an annual prospectus, my first suggestion was to develop a ‘house style’:

They’d probably be better off trying to write a ‘house style’ manual if they don’t have one of those already, so all their communications are consistent, and making sure that any documents going out to the general public/online are read through by someone other than the writer (ideally a professional proofreader or editor, but at the very least a second pair of eyes) – people tend not to notice their own mistakes.

The website was my second point of focus:

Your website is probably the first thing most people go to for information, and as you are often trying to ‘sell’ the college, it would be best to focus time and energy on making sure anything that goes online is rigorously checked. I appreciate that if it’s coming up with tweets and things are added by lots of people via content management that it might be difficult to ‘police’ spelling/grammar/style to make sure it’s entirely consistent and ‘correct’ – but if documents are uploaded in PDF (for example, I just had a quick look at the website and opened the ‘Equality and Diversity Strategy’ on there) they really need to be tightening things up. I noticed quite a few mistakes and inconsistencies in punctuation, capitalisation, etc. in it, including reference to ‘a Inclusive Culture’ in a heading, and this doesn’t support statements on the website and promotional materials about the quality of teaching and learning. I know many people won’t be bothered, but there will be others who care, and it’s getting increasingly difficult to get people into higher education as costs of learning rise.

I finished off my email by suggesting that they ought to at least hire a proofreader to check documents that are very important, such as prospectuses and large PDF documents – after all, I have a business to run and need to self-promote as well!

I’ll end with some comments on lost revenue from web entrepreneur (or webpreneur, but I can’t get my head round that word) Charles Duncombe (apologies for the three-year-old link), and leave you to decide whether it’s worth taking a DIY approach to the written material you produce…

Mr Duncombe says that it is possible to identify the specific impact of a spelling mistake on sales.

He says he measured the revenue per visitor to the website and found that the revenue was twice as high after an error was corrected.

“If you project this across the whole of internet retail, then millions of pounds worth of business is probably being lost each week due to simple spelling mistakes,” says Mr Duncombe, director of the Just Say Please group.

Spelling is important to the credibility of a website, he says. When there are underlying concerns about fraud and safety, then getting the basics right is essential.

“You get about six seconds to capture the attention on a website.”

Taken from

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