The Last Look
Last week, a friend described a project that required her to slightly customize and send out e-mails to a group of VIPs. Her task was to handle the mechanics of the process.
But in a scan of the message, she spotted misspelled names, incomplete email addresses, and other problems. Her job changed, and so did the length of time to complete it.
She didn't begrudge the extra time, but she began to wonder about her "last look" before the communication went out to the recipients. If she hadn't noticed these mistakes, the organization, a new one, would have looked very amateurish.
In fact, at the time of the "last look," all of us are proofreaders, whether it's in our job descriptions or not.
The "last look" is not the time to make substantive or even stylistic changes. It's for catching the mistakes that, if you'll pardon the expression, can really bite you.
A quick checklist:
When recipients see their own or their company's name misspelled, they tend not to read much more.
Acronym letters have a nasty way of getting switched when we are in a hurry (e.g., AFSCME). Acronyms with the same letter repeated are also treacherous (NIAID)
3. Boilerplate text
A great time-saver, but check that you haven't "copied and pasted" someone else's information into your current piece. Of particular risk: proposals.
4. Incorrect corrections
The person before you caught an error and corrected it. Great! Make sure their correction did not introduce a new mistake.
5. Nearby mistakes
You caught a mistake. Again, great! The eye has a tendency to relax, possibly missing another, worse mistake further along in the sentence.
6. Big words
Not just long words, but the BIG WORDS that make up headlines or signage. When we are so keyed on looking at the small print, we can miss large looming errors.
7. Incongruous numbers
You may not be able to re-add up columns of numbers, but check such things as $millions versus $billions.
Finally, if you have time to set the piece aside for even an hour, you may find that your "last, last look" catches something else. Eventually, you have to push the send (or the "publish" or "post") button. Breathe deeply, and click.
To government colleagues and others connected to the government (which is really all of us), my thanks for your service and regrets about this absurd situation.
April 2013 marked the 5th anniversary of this newsletter.
Check out the archive of the issues I've sent out since then.
Also, in late 2012, I compiled many of the articles first published in this newsletter into an ebook. If you haven't seen it yet, view or download a complimentary copy on my website.
Have an idea for a future issue of the newsletter? Please let me know.