The proofreader’s guide on who to vote for

Firstly, apologies for the lack of bloggage the last three weeks. School holidays and competing work demands forced my hand! I thought I’d return this week with something topical (as opposed to tropical, since a foreign holiday is not on the cards any time soon), as election fever is definitely upon us.

Following various articles doing the rounds on social media about basic errors and typos appearing in the various parties’ election propaganda, I thought it’d be interesting to decide (theoretically, of course!) who to vote for based solely on which party had the least number of mistakes in their literature. It would be easy to use this forum as a soapbox for singling out a particular party who many have accused of being ‘uneducated’, but I’m going to do my best to remain impartial here.

BBC News ran the story of Sebastian Kindersley, the Lib Dem MP who managed to misspell ‘language’ in his campaign leaflet. It wouldn’t have been such a bad error if it hadn’t been part of a sentence about tightening up English language tests for people moving to Britain.

The BBC also had a good article this week, ‘Misstakes and mispellings’, which was all about orthographic crimes committed by those competing to represent our communities in Westminster.

It’s not all been the candidates, their promoters, publishers and parties at fault, though – in my neighbouring district, the council preparing the postal ballot papers managed to somehow misspell one of the parties’ names!

I’m not going to try and duplicate what’s already in these pieces. Instead, I thought I’d be more scientific about it and total the number of mistakes made in each party’s campaign leaflet (based on local literature delivered to my house in the district of Copeland, West Cumbria, UK – I can’t comment on similar literature elsewhere).

As of today (Friday 24 April), I have received pamphlets from four different competitors: the Tories, Labour, the Lib Dems and UKIP. I’ve actually received many different missives from UKIP, but for the sake of fairness I’ll only tally the mistakes on our candidate’s main leaflet for the ‘science bit’ (I may refer to other errors at a later stage).

After counting up the errors, here are my results (in alphabetical order, lest I be accused of having a preference):

Conservatives = 12

Labour = 14

Liberal Democrats = 10

UKIP = 13

As you can see, there isn’t a lot in it. I guess we’re looking at a hung parliament with no clear majority…

Let’s take a closer look:

Conservatives (12)

Despite the number of errors, most of these were pretty minor, with most being issues with spacing or punctuation. The worst offenders for me were.

helped by our Help to Buy and record low interest rates.

‘Scheme’ missing after ‘Help to Buy’ here.

first time buyers.

Should be ‘first-time buyers’.

Labour (14)

Labour didn’t do as well as the Tories here, with some odd punctuation choices and illogical and inconsistent capitalization of subheadings. So we had

There’s a lot of hard work still to be done: but our brightest days are ahead of us.

Odd punctuation; would expect a comma rather than a colon.


Massive new nuclear investments in Copeland and Barrow means that

Should be ‘mean that’.

This investment won’t just make our major road safer, but it will boost business and bring our communities closer together.

Should read something like ‘make our major road safer; it will also boost business…’

Budget cuts imposed by the coalition

Should be ‘the Coalition’, at least according to the Coalition’s website.

My favourite (or least favourite?) of all was this horrible sentence:

Budget cuts imposed by the coalition have caused us tough times, but with Labour’s local plan to protect and develop our health services, to invest in and improve our schools and training facilities, to regenerate our town centres and to create an opportunity economy for everyone in Copeland means that we can build a better future for Copeland.

The late repetition of ‘Copeland’ is downright ugly, but what about the sentence’s length?Eat your heart out, James Joyce!

Liberal Democrats (10)

‘Only’ 10 errors for the Lib Dems makes them front runners in my imaginary election, but they’re still ones that shouldn’t be there. For example, despite being chair of his local branch of the Alzheimer’s Society for 17 years, our Lib Dem candidate didn’t think to include the apostrophe in ‘Alzheimer’s’.

Also, bulleted sentences don’t always follow on logically from the first part of the sentence, so we have

In Copeland the Lib Dems have helped rebuild our economy and delivered… 3,800 local people have had a £800 tax cut , 4,180 more apprentices In [‘in’] West Cumbria, Won Equal [‘equal’] marriage for local couples.

Surely ‘An £800 tax cut for 3,800 local people’, ‘in West Cumbria’ and ‘equal’ are better options?

And good ol’ random capitalization rears its ugly head again:

‘Think before you Vote’

Why the capital ‘v’?

UKIP (13)

I have to admit that I expected worse from UKIP, as they seem to have a bit of a reputation for their candidates being ‘uneducated’. Based solely on the number of errors in their candidate’s main leaflet, however, they don’t appear any less educated than the other three parties discussed above.

So we have a couple of relatively minor errors:

I wish to see a better Local NHS

What’s wrong with ‘local NHS’?

yours sincerely, Michael Pye


However, the real doozy was the fact that the leaflet consistently misspelt his promoter and publisher’s address (twice in this leaflet, and on four out of five different pamphlets sent to me). The address given is ‘The Pavillion 36 Duke Street Millham Cumbria’ [it should read ‘The Pavilion, 36 Duke Street, Millom, Cumbria’. Oops.]

As an aside, I’ve also just taken another look at the other four leaflets my local UKIP candidate sent me. In them the two that mention his address call the road ‘Daleview’ (it is, in fact, ‘Dale View’), one has the wrong mobile number (an extra digit has been randomly inserted), one gives his email address as (which won’t get you anywhere if you try and contact him), one gives a non-existent postcode (there is no ‘CLA18’ area, no matter how hard you look) and one not only spells the publisher’s building and town name wrong but also dispenses entirely with the word ‘Street’ and the postcode!

I guess I’m only left with the option of voting for the party whose candidate hasn’t actually sent any literature out yet – the Greens. Of course, that may all change come tomorrow’s post…


Don’t leave your editing until the last minute!

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:

  1. Document written by manager from one department or other (sometimes with input from team, sometimes not, often very last-minute).
  2. Document sent directly to design studio to put into magazine format and ‘prettify’.
  3. Document sent by print team to communications team to proofread before print run of several thousand. (Usually with an impending deadline.)
  4. 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.)
  5. 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’?)
  6. 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?

Most people need a proofreader or editor at some point…

It’s been a bit quiet on the business-planning front this week, what with the copy-editing job, school Christmas events and shopping to do, so I thought I’d take a moment to look a bit more at some examples of why – however big or small a business you have – a proofreader can make the world of difference.

I mentioned the issue a couple of weeks ago in this blog (Are Spelling Mistakes Costing You Money?), quoting a BBC article which stated that spelling is

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

And this doesn’t just apply to websites; it goes for any written documentation, and is particularly relevant if you’re trying to project a professional and educated image.

To start things off, on Wednesday this week Metro had this lovely picture of a polce car:

polceObviously they won’t lose customers over it, but if you can’t even spell your job title, you’re in danger of looking just a little bit silly…

If you’re primarily using print advertising, particularly if you’re a sole trader, you don’t want to risk putting off potential customers in the space of a few lines. Take this example of an advert that appeared in one of my local papers this week:

“No protections of assests can lead to no inheritance”

xx [name left out for obvious reasons]

8 year’s experience

House Trusts, Wills, Probate

Lasting Power of Attorney

I’m no legal expert, but I can immediately see two major errors in those 20 words – ‘assests’ and ‘8 year’s experience’ – and I would have to query whether it should in fact be ‘protection’ in the bold red heading, rather than the plural ‘protections’. The final nail in the coffin for me is the fact that the web address the solicitor gives is incorrect: the real address has hyphens between the three words, yet if you type in the one printed in the advert, you get

This web page is not available

in a lovely clear font in the middle of your browser window.

If I asked this man to write me a will, would he even spell my name right?

As for the big guys, well…

This classic video from ‘Weird Al’ Yankovic, Word Crimes, makes a really good argument for employing a proofreader (although his inappropriate usage of the word ‘spastic’ really rankles) in a much funnier way than I ever could, but at 3:20 the following appears on the screen:

Weird Al Word Crimes ERROR

Have you spotted it yet? No?

Try the bottom right-hand corner of the screen.

Learn your ABC’s, doofus

As the indispensable reference work New Hart’s Rules (Oxford University Press, 2005) puts it,

[t]he apostrophe is not necessary in forming the plural of names, abbreviations, and other words not used as nouns.

The only case it is acceptable – and this isn’t one of those cases – is

when clarity calls for it, for example when letters or symbols are referred to as objects:

dot the i’s and cross the t’s.

‘Weird Al’, you’ve undermined your own argument.

In some cases – such as the police car pictured above – it would just take a second pair of eyes to check before the request goes to the signage company. In others, it wouldn’t do any harm to track down a proofreader and ask them about their rates. Whether you’re putting together a small advert in your local paper, a leaflet, brochure, annual report or even self-publishing a novel, spending a relatively small amount extra could really make a big difference to how your business is perceived.


P.S. My rates are very reasonable, and no job is too small!