If you’re on your toes today the error in the headline will have jumped right out at you. But don’t just gasp in horror, ensure it doesn’t happen to you.

If seeing a mistake in print makes you cringe you might be tempted to put it down to professional experience, but don’t be too hasty. A study by Larry Beason in 2001 showed that employers held quite a low opinion of their employees who made writing mistakes – considering them to be “careless and uninformed writers, inadequate business people, and poor representatives”.

In another study by Knobbs, “almost everybody said that poor grammar and spelling would not only negatively affect their view of the business in question, it would make them actively avoid it.” Ouch. Think about that integrated report of yours…aimed at investors, clients, the community.

When mistakes impact your meaning vs when mistakes impact your reputation

The headline in the sports section of a US newspaper boasted: Amphibious pitcher makes debut. Now while this really would have been one for the baseball history books, what the writer actually meant to say was obviously ambidextrous. By mixing up two very similar words, he caused a brief moment of confusion (followed by a lot of sniggering).

But if readers out there are saying they view your organisation in a poor light if you make a spelling mistake – well, that’s something you can definitely do something about. While this should apply to  all communication that emanates from your organisation, but it will probably be most stringently scrutinised when it’s in the holy grail that is your integrated report.

What to look for

1. Homophones

These are words that sound the same but their spelling gives them a different meaning. Think of its and it’s; they’re, their and there; weather and whether; peak, peek and pique; cite, site and sight.

2. Incorrect vowel

Often seen in words like definitely (definately). If you’re starting to doubt yourself, the often misspelt version is in brackets.

3. Incorrect consonant

In this case, the letter s is often problematic: supersede (supercede) and consensus (concensus).

4. Extra letters

A favourite culprit is lose (spelt as loose) when it means the opposite of win and preferable (preferrable).

5. Missing Letters

Sometimes we’re not sure about whether to double up on certain vowels and consonants or if all those letters really are necessary. Think of liaison (liason), questionnaire (questionaire) and accommodate (accomodate).

6. Wrong letter order

The notorious ‘i before e except after c’ comes into play here; think receive (recieve).

7. Too many double consonants

Words like harass (harrass) and commitment (committment) cause trouble. 

And then you’ve still got British or American spelling, house style, hyphens… the list goes on. And that’s just the spelling.

What’s the moral of the story?

UK psychologist, Tom Stafford, explains that when writing we are focused on the high-level task of conveying meaning. But when it comes to checking our own work, we know in our heads what we want to convey and expect to see exactly that written on screen – sans typos, of course.

According to Stafford, the reason readers pick up on our mistakes is because they are paying more attention to the entire product – all the details as well as the big picture.

So, use a proofreader. And even then, be prepared for the fact that no-one is infallible and the ocassional mistake will fall thruogh the cracks. (See what we did there?)