In my past life in a communications department, one of the tasks I was regularly given was to do the final checks on magazines and leaflets before they went to press. This activity tended to follow a pattern:
- Document written by manager from one department or other (sometimes with input from team, sometimes not, often very last-minute).
- Document sent directly to design studio to put into magazine format and ‘prettify’.
- Document sent by print team to communications team to proofread before print run of several thousand. (Usually with an impending deadline.)
- Enormous email sent back to design studio containing all the corrections to be made before document was suitable to be sent to the public. (This was in the days when you couldn’t annotate Adobe Acrobat Reader PDFs electronically without buying the pro version.)
- Disgruntled email received by communications team from design studio, who’d spent a lot of time making the document look nice, asking why there were so many corrections needed. (A classic case of ‘shooting the messenger’?)
- Disgruntled email received by communications team from manager who’d originally written the document in question, asking why the design studio were stressing about the changes that needed to be made. (Messenger. Dead.)
My point is this:
Any document going out to the public – whether it be a beautifully printed and bound book, a four-page leaflet or a web page – is a sales pitch for the author, organisation or individual. However beautiful the finished product looks, glaring typos will make many readers question the quality of the service or work provided, as touched upon in my blog entry in November last year, Are spelling mistakes costing you money?
In the publishing world, you’d never get an author submitting their work directly to the typesetter to be laid out ready for print. There will, at the very least, be a diligent copy-editor checking the whole text for
- correct formatting;
- spelling and grammar;
- factual accuracy;
- internal consistency; and
- adherence to the house style or style guide.
After the manuscript has been copy-edited it will be typeset (i.e. made to look like an actual book rather than a Word document) and then passed in its typeset form, usually as a PDF document, to a proofreader for a second read-through. The annotated (either on paper or electronically) PDF will then be returned for the typesetter to make the amendments before the book can be approved for print.
So why do people cut corners so often? The case discussed at the beginning of this post was a cash-strapped public body, so perhaps they’d be reluctant to hire a copy-editor or proofreader separately, but all it needed was for the writer of each document in question to send the original, in Word, to the communications team before it went to the design team. That way the errors in the original would have been removed at a sensible point in the process, everyone would have been happier, and a lot of time would have been saved.
Next time you’re writing a document for print or a web page to go on your site, think of this post… (And think of me!)
P.S. As a footnote to the story above, shortly after I left the department, the communications toolkit we’d developed was due to be rolled out to all staff. One of the guidelines was to send all printed publications to somebody in communications to be correctly formatted, edited and proofread before the design stage, and mentioned that perhaps using the style guide set by the organisation (‘conveniently’ located about six mouse clicks away on the Intranet site) would be useful. Hopefully this would also be applied to the website (although I had more doubts about this as it was based on a content management system and the people allowed to write for it varied vastly in their abilities). I wonder if anything has changed in the last four years?