English is hard. It’s full of exceptions and rules that are defined by their exceptions. There are several hundred thousand English words, many of which sound alike or are spelled the same way. Commas and apostrophes have precise purposes, but they stick out (or change your meaning entirely) when they’re in the wrong place. It’s why grammar and spelling checkers have such a hard time.
Staying on top of this minutiae can be frustrating and time-consuming, especially if it’s not central to your day-to-day work. But clean copy is key in an age when your first interaction with countless strangers is through the words you write. There are several reasons that it’s important to double- and triple-check your copy, but it all comes back to one thing: trust.
Readers notice mistakes
First and foremost, when you make a typo, people notice. It’s tempting to think that mistakes will fade into the background — after all, the internet is riddled with errors — but context is key. On your personal social media pages, your favorite message boards, or emails to friends and known colleagues, a misspelled word or extra comma probably doesn’t matter. When you’re trying to earn the business of total strangers, it’s everything.
Three out of five consumers might find you unworthy of their business. You could be perceived as less intelligent and trustworthy. Wary shoppers might decide that you’re a bit spammy. It all leads to missed opportunities. People are already wary of parting with their money. Don’t give them any extra reason to hesitate.
Clean copy gives you authority
With your reader now able to trust you (and thinking more highly of your competence), the content of your message can come through. Think of it as the written equivalent of looking your audience in the eye and enunciating when speaking. Without bad spelling and incorrect homophones, a reader can put all of their focus on what you’re saying. The message comes to the forefront, and that’s wear you can shine.
There. Did you feel that? Did you feel the air get sucked out of this piece? Your focus shifts away from what I’m saying to how I’m saying it. In turn, this chips away at my authority, even if what I’m saying has value. Now, most of what you write won’t be about avoiding typos, but the effect will be similar. Don’t do anything that draws the reader’s attention away from what you’re saying.
It lets the quality of your work take center stage
Ultimately, the reason you’re writing is to inform. You’re sharing your area of expertise with people who don’t know your business the way you do. In this era of hyper-specialization, informing is a key part of your business. So, you want your readers to focus on the information you’re presenting.
Fair or not, typos give people reason to doubt your legitimacy, as mistakes are one of the keystones of scams. People may forgive their friends for typos, but you’re not writing for your friends. You’re writing for strangers. Being free of simple mistakes lets those strangers focus on what you’re trying to tell them.
Clean copy shows you care
The truth is, in your everyday life, typos don’t matter that much. Even as a professional editor, I don’t go around pointing out missing apostrophes and incorrect homonyms in my off-hours. Nobody likes a stickler. But in professional communications, people are more guarded, especially if you’re asking for something from them.
As a consumer, the great thing about the internet is that you can quickly move on from companies that aren’t serving your best interests. As a brand, the worst thing about the internet is that customers can quickly move on from you. Don’t give them a reason to look elsewhere. You can start by giving them clean copy.
I’m a freelance writer who uses the basics of fiction to help people and brands tell their stories. Find me on Instagram @anthonyjondreau and online at anthonyjondreau.com, and reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org.