Have you seen my boobs? Lessons about the importance of proofreading.

Proofreading is important, because people judge you by the accuracy of your written communications. Here are my favourite examples of when writing has gone horribly wrong.

Daily Mail article

Britain’s biggest-selling hill-walking magazine apologised yesterday after publishing a route that would have led climbers off the edge of a cliff.

The February edition of Trail gave advice to walkers caught in foul weather and poor visibility on how to get off 4,406ft Ben Nevis – Britain’s tallest peak – safely. If readers had followed the directions they would have plunged from the Scottish mountain’s north face, which has claimed a number of lives.

Editor Guy Proctor said he was ‘gutted’ by the error but thought readers would pick it up. He said the article was written by a very experienced hillwalker from Loch Lomond and the mistake had occurred during the production process. ‘Somewhere in the journey to press, our route on Ben Nevis has lost the first of two bearings needed to get off the summit safely,’ he said.

The Mountaineering Council for Scotland has issued an alert on its website warning hillwalkers to be aware of the mistake.

Daily Mail article

A scientist whose trillion-dollar swindle was exposed by a spelling mistake was jailed for six years yesterday. [Name deleted] authenticated $2.5 trillion (£1.5 trillion) worth of US Treasury bonds he knew to be fake. The scam unravelled when two men tried to cash $25 million (£15 million) worth of the bonds at a Canadian bank. After spotting they were marked ‘dollar’ rather than ‘dollars’, experts discovered [the bonds] had been run off on a inkjet printer not invented when they were supposedly issued in 1934.

US magazine ‘Easy Sky Diving’

Please make the following correction. On page 8 line 7, ‘state zip code’ should read ‘pull rip cord’.

Sunday Express

‘On page 35 of this week’s section 3 we feature a recipe for lemon tart. Readers should note that, while the method is correct, the ingredients should include three lemons.’

Bromley News Shopper

A spelling gaffe which caused embarrassment and amusement at Premiership newcomers Crystal Palace passed at least one man by – the club’s manager. Iain Dowie was unaware of the mistake as he posed for cameras at the Eagles’ Beckenham training ground, even though he was wearing one of the replica shirts showing his team’s names as Chrystal Palace. When News Shopper pointed out the error at the press call last Thursday, Palace boss Dowie said ‘What are you journalists like? Talk about attention to detail. I think you want to get out a bit more.’

Ooh la la!

Years ago, I was working on a jewellery brochure. The brief was to make it romantic. The front cover picture was a head-and-shoulders shot of a lingerie-wearing model with tousled hair (remember the Gossard gypsy bra ads? She looked a bit like that). A hunky male model stood behind her, gently fastening a necklace around her neck.

To go with the theme, it was agreed that all the page headings should be in French, one of the world’s most romantic languages. Trouble is, I went on holiday and left my team to get the brochure typeset and printed. But it turned out no-one else in the department could speak French, and they didn’t bother to get it checked.

Later, I received a letter from a school-teacher saying she’d used the brochure in class, because it contained about 20 mistakes. Zut alors!

Freemans catalogue

Do you remember the Silentnight bed adverts that featured a hippo and a duck? Well, we used to sell the cuddly stuffed hippo and duck, and someone – not me, I promise! – wrote this description: ‘Henry Hippo is 9 1/2 inches high and comes in his own striped pyjamas.’

Adult education leaflet

‘CERTIFICSATE OF PROFICIENCY IN ENGLISH’

Door drop leaflet

‘PROFFESSIONAL IRONING SERVICES’

Hairdresser

‘QUALITY AND EXCELLANCE’

When I was a child I saw my father reading the newspaper on the kitchen table and pointing out all the printing errors. He told me that when he was growing up in India his father paid him one Anna (small coin) for every mistake he found. That must have been the moment I realised you could make money from proofreading! And now I’m one of those annoying people who can spot a mistake at 50 paces. I can walk through an office full of PCs, notice an error on a distant screen and say ‘that’s wrong!’

It’s just as easy to get it right as it is to get it wrong. So let me know if you’d like me to cast my eagle eyes over the next piece of text you are about to print or upload, and I’ll make sure it’s absolutely 100% completely right.

I originally wrote this article for Fresh Business Thinking

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