Apr 18, 2011

Reading for Detail: Proofing Tips from our Editors

PR Newswire senior editor Matt McCoy

The PR Newswire Editorial team frequently catches obvious mistakes in press releases submitted for distribution over the wire  – the missing quotation marks, the website that doesn’t end in .com (or .org, etc.).   But did you know we also read every release carefully, double checking minute details?    We find and correct a vast array of mistakes (more than 12,000 in March 2011 alone!).  Here are some examples of mistakes that can reflect poorly on an organization – and some tips for fixing them before you hit “send.”

Proper nouns:

A recent release highlighted a company’s efforts to begin a search for a new director.  One of the proposed directors?  Governor Charles “Christ.”  A fun spellcheck fact: if a word is incorrect but is also a commonly spelled word, spellcheck is not going to find it!  In this case, our editor Matt saw the incorrect word, confirmed that the governor’s name is Charles Crist and fixed it.

Addresses – email, and physical locations

Addresses are frequent pitfalls, virtual and otherwise. Matt noticed the media contact’s last name was spelled differently than his last name in his email address – an important detail, because if the email address is wrong, responses from media will be missed.  There were errors in the mailing address, too, with references to the written as “9 Floor,” as opposed to “9th Floor,” and “87 Avenue” instead of “87th Avenue.”

When Matt called the client to review these catches (our standard procedure), the client said, “That’s phenomenal – that’s why we use you guys.”

Tips to prevent proofreading lapses:

Matt is one of our senior editors, and has been with PR Newswire for seven years.  When I asked him for suggestions on how to find these kinds of mistakes, he told me:

  • Pay attention to proper nouns while using spell check. It’s easy to get lulled into mindlessly clicking “ignore all” while spell checking copy that contains multiple mentions of the names of people, companies, places or products. If you do this, you pass up a great opportunity to make catches in clients’ copy.  After clicking “ignore all” for a term, if something similar is flagged by spell check, you should investigate.
  • If the spelling of a person’s name looks “off” to you, Google it, but be sure to check it against a reliable information source such as a company website or a recognized news service. The names of celebrities, business leaders and political figures are often crucial to our clients’ press releases and we can save them undue embarrassment by catching these mistakes with a little extra effort.
  • Scan the news media regularly to stay current on the latest tricky words, terms and names related to current events. This way you can be sure to spot misspellings of “tsunami” or know most of the acceptable variants of “Moammar Gadhafi.”
  • Really read the release, don’t just scan for spelling and punctuation.  This can help the editor go beyond spotting simple typos and uncover grammatical and factual errors.

More than 12,000 mistakes caught in March

In March 2011, the Editorial teams in our Washington, DC, Cleveland and Albuquerque bureaus caught 12,215  errors; year-to-date, Editorial has 33,831 “catches.”  Our March “catch rate” (an internal metric we track which measures the ratio of mistakes caught in press releases) is 691 catches per 1000 releases.

Many thanks to the eagle-eyed grammar wizards that comprise our Editorial teams!  It goes to show that we are really reading your releases for everything.  Really, everything!

Kate GaloAuthor Kate Goebbel is a communications professional at PR Newswire, and loves to consult on press release techniques, SEO and results. She infrequently tweets at @kate_city and can be found on LinkedIn.

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