Opinions - Talk yourself up, if you dare


by Ashley Morrison



I'm very happy to take advice from people. The main caveat is that it has to be from someone who knows what they're talking about.
The second caveat is that they have to practise what they preach.


Below is a genuine profile from LinkedIn. As you'll read, this person claims to be "one of the top professional proofreaders in Los Angeles". Quite a claim. So you'd think he'd try a little harder to make sure that his online elevator pitch (professional summary) is free of errors:

"Are you tired of finding errors in your ads, brochures or websites? It's a fact that you cannot proofread your own work no matter how many times you check it.

Here's my info:

I'm [name deleted], one of the top professional proofreaders in Los Angeles. I freelance for ad agencies in So Cal and all over the country. And I guarantee my work!

I can help you on-site or online, if you prefer online, I have the most current version of Adobe Acrobat to work on pdf files fast and efficiently. And I have a color-coded system on Word that I designed that's real easy to work with when proofreading on Word documents.

I use all the stylebooks most commonly used in advertising/marketing/design, the AP Stylebook, Chicago Manual of Style, and Gregg Reference Manual, for correct spelling, style, symbols (smart, dumb quotes, ellipsis, dashes, etc.), content, kerning, consistency, punctuation and grammar. I also check for proper trademarking too.

My hourly rate is fair. I'm available on short notice with no minimum." 

I spotted seven errors in these 173 words. Not that I'm showing off, but I'm going to list them:

- content is ON websites, not IN them.
- it is NOT a fact that you cannot proofread your own work. It may be true in a lot of cases, but not all; therefore it is not a fact.
- there should be a full stop, not a comma, after "if you prefer online."
- work on PDF files (capped) files QUICKLY (not "fast") and efficiently.
- ..that's REALLY (not real) easy to work with. (Even ignoring that he's American, "real fast" is still grammatically incorrect because "real" does not mean the same as "really"; it's just a lazy contraction. Making something common usage doesn't make it right.)
- you can't put punctuation both inside and outside a closing bracket.
- it should be on site rather than on-site, as it's not a pronominal adjective (which would take a hyphen.)
- for the sake of not being a pedant, I have taken a more relaxed view on commas than I usually would, as not everybody shares my enthusiasm when it comes to their usage. But I'd have added a few more than he has.

Ignoring the fact that I don't like the style because it sounds a bit smug and self-adoring, seven errors in such a short precis is unforgivable for any proofreader, copywriter or editor, especially if they're bigging themselves up as one of the top proofreaders in LA.

Not so long ago, I met someone who also claimed on his flyer to be one of the most sought after copywriters in the UK (as opposed to sought-after, which it should be in this context, as this IS pronominal). Even before I read on, I winced, praying that he would have the chops to back up the claim (or was I secretly hoping I could catch him out? I'm very competitive...) My worst fears were realised, or if the preceding question in brackets is true, my prayers were answered.

On this flyer, which I assume must have been printed hundreds or even thousands of times, was a typo in rather a large font. He referred to "improving his client's sales." So he had only one client? Of course, he meant clients' sales. How on earth did that one slip through the net? It's such an obvious error, and precisely the sort of thing a copywriter/editor has to watch out for like a hawk. I could forgive a non-copywriter this mistake, but to be a copywriter, make this error AND claim to be one of the most "sought after" in the UK is more than a little worrying. It totally undermines the claim.

I suppose one could argue that the LA proofreader's point is therefore correct, that one cannot proofread one's own work, even if one is a copywriter. In the past, I have asked friends to read important letters or articles for me, just for the sake of having a second pair of eyes. But I dare say plenty of people don't do that.

But back to Mr Sought After. He then showed a group of us a PowerPoint presentation he had produced to offer coaching to businesses. I shuddered several times. Missing hyphens here, mixed tenses there... It was just sloppy. And no, perhaps nobody in his usual audience of non-copywriters would have noticed, but I did, and that's bad news in our world.

By the way, please feel free to point out any errors in this blog post. I don't claim to be infallible, but neither do I claim to be the most sought-after of anything either.

So by all means talk the talk, but make sure you can walk the walk. Otherwise you will lose credibility instantly, at least where those in your field are concerned.

Ashley Morrison is a copywriter, blogger and editor.

Twitter: @Ashley_Morrison


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