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Little Writing Mistakes, Big Cost: Experts Agree Editors Mean Better Business

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Post Little Writing Mistakes, Big Cost: Experts Agree Editors Mean Better Business   Mon Sep 13, 2010 12:54 pm

Studies show that writing errors impact negatively on customers� perception of you and your company. Research also proves you see what you expect to see in your own writing, rather than what�s actually there. An editor provides the fresh set of eyes you need.

Larry Beason�s article �Ethos and Error: How Business People React to Errors� shows how judgmental readers can be. Beason, a professor of English at the University of South Alabama, had business people read error-filled documents and then tested their reactions. Beason concluded that errors create confusion regarding meaning, and harm the image of the writer (and the writer�s company).

All the interviewees said that errors affect a person�s credibility and image as a writer or employee, reflecting not just writing ability but other characteristics important for business. Writers who made mistakes were branded hasty, uninformed, careless (�lazy�), and uncaring (�if you can�t be bothered to check your work, your work can�t be that important to you, so why should I care about you and yourbusiness ?�). Syntax errors? You might be perceived as a faulty thinker. Missed typos? You�re not detail-oriented; you might overlook other, more important details of your job. Some other labels: poor oral communicator; poorly educated person; a sarcastic, pretentious or aggressive writer (primarily writers who misused quotation marks).

Just as errors reflect on the individual, the individual reflects on the company. The interviewees explicitly stated they saw these writers as poor representatives of the company. One businessperson said, �Errors tell what your company�s like.�

The halo effect relates to this. Edward Thorndike found that people rarely think of each other in mixed terms, but rather as universally good or bad. The haloeffect is a cognitive bias: the assessment of one quality serves to influence and bias the judgment of other qualities. The �devil effect� is similar�a person sees another as low on several traits because of a belief that the individual is low on one critical trait.

In short, to a businessperson, bad writing equals bad company, or bad employee.

The solution seems simple: check your writing before clients see it. But check and check again, and you still might miss mistakes in your own writing. Meredyth Daneman and Murray Stainton tested whether proofreading one�s own writing is harder than proofing someone else�s. Subjects spent 30 minutes writing an essay, then proofread their own papers and others�. The results showed that subjects were less able to detect errors in self-generated essays than in other-generated essays.

But why is this? In their article, entitled �The Generation Effect in Reading and Proofreading,� Daneman and Stainton say self-generated text is too familiar to the writer�the brain�s to blame.

You�ve probably also seen this (originating from a 1976 dissertation by Graham Rawlinson): �It deosn�t mttaer in waht oredr the ltteers in a wrod are; the iprmoetnt tihng is taht frist and lsat ltteer is at the rghit pclae.� That�s because if the first and last letters and the word length are correct, the brain reads it the way it thinks it should be.

Most writers will run spelling and grammar checks. These do catch many errors, but miss many, too. That�s because, according to Raymond Panko of the University of Hawaii, there are two types of spelling errors. In non-word errors, the misspelling creates a string that isn�t a real word, such as spelling �the� as �teh�. In word errors, the misspelling is a real word�but it�s the wrong word. If you mean �their� and type �there,� that�s a word error. Humans catch only 75% of these errors, Panko says. Spellcheckers catch most non-word errors, but miss most word errors. In other words, they miss exactly the mistakes that people have a hard time finding.

People except for editors, that is; editors are trained to look for these mistakes. Editors also look at the text with no brain-preconceptions about what�s supposed to be there, so they won�t miss thoseimage-hurting mistakes.

Scribendi�s editors offer an added bonus. They come from a wide range of backgrounds, so they know something about your field. They have the skills to evaluate your document properly: for grammar and spelling, and for flow and consistency. You�ll present clients with flawless copy that truly represents your company. Moreover, your editor will explain word usage issues and standard writing practices; this way, you get a better document while learning how to improve your own writing.
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