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Training Bulletin Issue 60
The nine million pound typo
Earlier this year, the former owner of a family-run firm won a lawsuit against the government agency that destroyed his company with a typo. Companies House, the government agency responsible for registering businesses in the UK, announced in 2009 that Taylor & Sons Ltd had gone into liquidation. Within a month, the company was out of business as creditors called in debts and customers cancelled orders and contracts.
However, up until that announcement, Taylor & Sons Ltd had been in excellent financial health. Companies House had named the wrong company: the one going out of business was Taylor and Son Ltd. You have to feel for whoever made the mistake.
What's in a name? In this case, the end of a business that had thrived for over 120 years, 250 people out of work and a High Court order to pay £8.8 million in compensation.
This is, certainly, an extreme and unusual example of a proofreading error. There are errors, and then there are errors. The question to ask yourself is, what's the worst that could happen?
But it's trivial and everyone still knows what it means
For minor mistakes, you might think the worst you will do is upset a few pedants. For example, would it really matter if you wrote “using our product will help increase you're turnover”. (It should be ‘your’ in case you're wondering!)
Who would care?
The potential customer or decision maker looking for something to tip the balance between two almost identical purchasing decisions or business cases, that's who.
Interestingly, whenever I ask during a training course if it is important to get things right, even minor things, the vast majority of people in the room say they would judge a company negatively if they can see even trivial errors. Very few people ever say this would not bother them.
When the worst that could happen is pretty scary actually
Sometimes the worst that could happen, with a bit of imagination, is your mistake costing your company millions. You've seen what can happen if you get the name of a company wrong. How can you avoid that sort of mistake?
The internet is your friend here. Search for the name and you will get a list of matches and close matches – search for either Taylor and Son or Taylor & Sons and you get a lot of very similar (but not identical) results. If you can see that there are other companies with names similar to the one you are about to write, visit each website to ensure you pick the correct one by checking against other information such as address, then copy and paste the name from the right website into your document.
You don't want to be the one putting the wrong number into, say, a print run of thousands of leaflets. Dial the number and check that it's answered by the company or person you intended.
Copy and paste them into a browser to make sure they go to the right place. Don't accidentally send potential customers to “404 - page not found”.
Trademarks and brand names
- As with company names, search to make sure you are using the right spelling, then copy and paste into your document as text.
- Right click and add them to your dictionary as well if you know you'll use them again so you don't have to remember the difference between, say, “zoviatron” and “zoviatran” when Word says neither is correct.
- While you're at it, make sure you get the capitalisation right too. Middle caps are a big trend at the moment – for example, eBay, iPhone, etc, along with no capitals at all as in first direct and bmi.
The internet can also advise you on whether something is a misspelling or a made-up trademark, or even a highly specialised word. For example, Rdio is the name of a company, not a misspelling of radio; performant means high-performing in specialist software fields but not much to people outside that area.
Make sure that any documents representing your organisation to the public are consistent in their use of date and number formats, voice, spelling and punctuation by using a style guide. This gives an impression of professionalism and helps to build your image. For a discussion of the kinds of things your style guide should cover, see training bulletin 48.
Allow time to proofread
Make sure a piece of writing is finished long enough before publication to allow time for more than one person to proofread it, ideally someone who was not involved in writing it. Consider sending it to a third party for a final check.
Plain Words can help: we offer proofreading and editing services, as well as business writing training. Contact us to find out more.