A video game label misspelling the country of Australia served as the cherry atop a sundae of blunders in the game’s launch. A typo in a Canadian government hotline redirected callers to a phone sex call center. A U.S. political figure tweeted out the wrong URL, opening the door for a cybersecurity risk.
Such flubs damage brands — and, thanks to social media, they do so quickly and widely. That’s why the best content marketers recognize the importance of copy editors as a necessity, not a luxury.
Beyond just preventing laughable errors in grammar, punctuation, capitalization and word choice, an experienced copy editor will make your content — whether it’s a blog post, magazine, website, ad, social media post or an annual report — professional and polished in terms of grammar, punctuation, capitalization and word choice.
Good copy editors are familiar with libel laws and will flag text that might get you into trouble. They’ll read with an understanding of an organization’s tone and voice, knowing that what’s on-brand for an energy drink company’s tweet is embarrassing in a financial institution’s white paper.
Save the embarrassment
Copy editors have learned — often from painful, public experience — how language can go horribly awry in the wrong context. Publishing inadvertently insensitive content will distract from your organization’s message. For instance, some commonly used terms actually commonly offend: It’s “Ukraine,” not “the Ukraine,” and never use “wheelchair-bound.”
And so-called bad breaks in lines of copy could disgust your target readers rather than attract them. Imagine a billboard that blares:
*Eat your baby …
… carrots today*
If you don’t have a professional copy editor, a co-worker should thoroughly review your content. Bring this person in early enough in the editing process to allow for a big change, and remember the golden rule of writing: It must be clear. Copy editors don’t just protect you from mistakes; they protect you from miscommunication.
Sweat the details — including visuals
Don’t overlook photos or illustrations: Is there something going on in the background that you don’t want associated with your brand?
In the best possible workflow, your copy editors put their keen eyes on all content, not just the written word. Even on-screen text in a video or ad is not immune from gaffes. I once worked at a publication that was hours from going to print when a copy editor noticed someone in one of the photos had a gang sign.
Catch what spell check can’t
Everything should always be spell checked, of course, but copy editors focus on what it can’t flag. Among the minefield of homonyms in the English language, “rein” and “reign” seem to be troublesome for even the most skilled writers. Words such as “sign” and “soldier” regularly become “sing” and “solider.” Many short words together should also be a red flag: We skim them, expecting complex terms to be more problematic, and end up with something like, “What time it is in New York?”
Even with the best precautions, errors happen. But a copy editor can serve as your content’s devil’s advocate, questioning every bit of text before you put it out in front of the world — and millions question it.