for proofreading, copy-editing, copywriting

Is Excellence a Dirty Word?

Over the years I have spent too much time spent fixing problems that other people/businesses have caused. Yes, mistakes happen but I sometimes wonder if the concept of excellence has lost ground in recent times to the point that I am cheered and delighted when I find examples of it, instead of expecting it as the norm.

One area where excellence is lacking these days is in the use of written English. I despair at the poor standard I am bombarded with, whether it is on social network sites, shop or van signage, or printed material. Even some TV adverts, exerting powerful influences over many of us, leave a lot to be desired by failing to understand the difference between ‘less than’ and ‘fewer than’ to give one small example. I admit to being more than usually sensitive about such things as I am a proofreader, but we are not all good at all things and excellence comes in many forms. However, people tell me that the upsurge in poor English is because of the advent of texting and the ‘street culture’ of it not mattering any more.

Copyright: iqoncept / 123RF Stock Photo
Copyright: iqoncept / 123RF Stock Photo

Yes, it does matter. If you are not bothered about public howlers in spelling, grammar and punctuation attached to your name you could be giving out the signal that you don’t really care about other aspects of your business, including the quality of goods or services you are providing. I have seen this in action from a degree qualified person running a small business who cannot form a single sentence without a major error of spelling, let alone grammar and punctuation, and the products and services are just as appalling. For any business where written words feature highly an excellent standard of English is a must, surely, unless you want to project the image of sloppiness and laziness to the point where your customers and clients feel insulted.

It can happen indirectly, too. I have heard many tales about business cards that had the wrong telephone or street number on when they came back from the printer – yet many printing firms are being slow to pick up on a small addition to their services by using a proofreader, preferring a ‘we are not responsible’ approach even if this leads to conflict on occasions. A similar situation exists with some website designers, especially the smaller ones. This is a missed opportunity to gain advantage over the competition where small adjustments can bring excellence and a positive impact on the bottom line not to mention improved customer satisfaction.

Why are businesses so slow to realise that as with many components of a professional image such as photography, proofreading can be bought in? It is virtually impossible to proofread your own work anyway, nor can this be done effectively by an untrained relative or friend; I have taken text checked by ‘friends’ of the originator and found significant errors of English, even in a magazine advert of relatively few words.

Copyright: convisum / 123RF Stock Photo
Copyright: convisum / 123RF Stock Photo

Proofreading has been around in the traditional publishing industry for a long time, contributing to the excellence of the finish product. With the proliferation of written material on the web and small businesses looking for ways in which to develop a competitive edge, perhaps now is the time to consider it as a useful tool in business too.


By Gill Pavey

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2 Responses to Is Excellence a Dirty Word?

  1. Loved this! People often poked fun at my ‘longhand’ texts. Don’t see why having correctly spelt words is such a problem. Mind you, I think there is also a reluctance to ‘correct’ children and students at school these days for fear of causing offence.
    I do a lot of work around literacy and ‘teach’ my students words are nothing to be scared of!

    • Hi Gwyneth, thank you for your comment. I can’t believe teachers and tutors could be accused of causing offence if they correct children and students! Do students want to learn, or not? English is such a fundamental skill, whatever profession or skill you go in to …

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