First Impressions

Every day I go through dozens of websites. I’m sure you do too. I look for the websites of companies that operate internationally and might need my services as a language and business skills trainer. (I may have looked at yours.) Most companies that operate internationally have English versions of their web-pages. Unfortunately, many of them have one thing in common: language errors.  Spelling, grammar, punctuation and word choice errors – they stand out like a neon sign to native or well-trained near-native speakers. First impressions are important.

Now, when I search through these sites I’m not looking to buy, but if I was, I probably wouldn’t. These kind of mistakes are a major turn off. While there’s not a lot of hard data on this, what data there is points to over a 50% chance of losing the prospect because of these kinds of language errors. If you are trying to reach English speaking markets, or mature Business English markets, like Scandinavia or Germany, you should be aware of this. When a prospect sees these kinds of errors they begin to question your website, your product and eventually, your company. Attention to detail – people wonder that if you don’t pay attention to detail on your site, do you at all?

Fortunately, it’s a relatively easy and inexpensive fix. If you write your own English copy, here are some pointers to help you out.

Don’t rely on machine translation – or even your translator.

Machine translation has come a long way in recent years. However, it cannot provide you with the necessary level of nuance needed for something as important as your website or marketing literature. Translators are the best choice for converting your material to English, but then again, they’re human. Translation companies often farm out their work, and the freelancer may not know your intended market or to localise the language to fit. If the translation was done separate of the visuals, make doubly sure to check that the correct lexis was used as many words have multiple meanings that change from context to context. And don’t forget – sometimes idioms just don’t translate.

Don’t rely on spellcheck programs

Your sea spell-chequer cold be bee flood and your mite have mist same.

You see a spellchecker could be fooled and you might have missed some.

These programs are your first line of defence against spelling mistakes but they should not be counted on entirely. They can catch a lot of errors, but nothing is as good a human proof-reader. As well, many programs do not have grammar checkers. And those that do have grammar checkers do not allow for creative licence.

Take a break and go over it later

Writing copy is hard work. Checking copy might just be harder. When you finish writing something it helps to take a break before you proof read. Being too familiar with the content can cause you to skim over mistakes. Fresh eyes after a break (next day if you have the time) will help you notice errors you missed while writing.

Have it peer checked

Check it, re-check it, and check it again. Don’t hit publish until you have someone else read over your work. The more people who check your work, the better the odds that they will catch something you missed and it will be error free.

Check for one kind of mistake at a time

It’s really difficult to look for multiple kinds of mistakes at once. Good proof readers go through the work focusing on only one kind of error. When I proof read I usually break it down and re-read at least four times, with a different focus each time.

  • First proof-read your copy for spelling errors and typos. They are the easiest mistakes to make and to check for. Watch for homophones like new/knew, or loan/lone.
  • Next, proof for grammatical errors and grammar style. This isn’t as easy because there are lots of different ways to write something. Common errors are often subject – verb agreements, word order, articles, or “its” when it should be “it’s”. Common style mistakes include: formal language when it should be informal, and using ‘of’ instead of the possessive. The offer of our company. Our offer.
  • Run through again for punctuation. What seems normal for your language may in fact not translate as normal punctuation for English. Some examples include: quotation marks in Polish and English; question marks in Spanish and English; the use of semi-colons to break up run on sentences; and capitalising pronouns.
  • Check your facts. Numbers, dates, links, names, and references all need to be checked for accuracy.

Get help

The points above will save you time and money, and could potentially avoid your losing customers because of poor language on your web-pages or marketing literature. Of course sometimes you just don’t have the time or the qualified people to check that the language you’re using is spot on. In that case consider using a proof reading service or bringing in a native speaker to make sure it’s right – before you hit “publish”.

I hope this helps.

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