clean up your prose

Clean up your prose!

Just one or two small errors in your webpage or brochure will stop many people from reading, and that means you're losing customers. Here are a few problem areas where you can find the little mistakes hiding in your prose. (Note: All the examples to avoid are real.)


Check names of people, businesses, company departments, products, cities, streets and so on. Check every capital letter and punctuation mark, and beware of unusual spellings. If Liz's Spend-Less Shopperama offers the 20/20 MagicCamera, stop and check those names every time.

Avoid: The annual report that refers to one department as Research, Development & Research, and Research and Development...or misspells the company president's name.


Choose one format for numbers: one to nine and 10 and up is a common style. Check addition, including percentages (which usually need to add up to 100). Choose one format for dates (Feb. 10, February 10, February 10th). And if you add a day to the date (Monday, June 8), always check a calendar to make sure it's right.

Avoid: The Top 10 list numbered 1, 2, 3, 4, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10.

Text outside the text

Check headlines, headers, footers, photo captions, and all those little bits of writing outside the main text.

Avoid: The footer at the bottom of your newsletter page saying Spring on one page and Summer on another.

What's missing?

It's hard to find what's not there. Use the journalist's W5+H (who, what, when, where, why, how) to make sure you haven't omitted crucial information. Sometimes a word is missing or misspelled (to and the, you and your are often confused) through a combination of inaccurate typing and overzealous spell check. Or the writer leaves out a word that they intend to fill in later. You may be able to find these omissions by reading slowly word by word, but another person who hasn't read the text before is more likely to find omissions.

Avoid: A boxful of beautifully designed event posters with no date on them.

You spend a great deal of time and money on your written communications. It's always worthwhile to spend a little more before sending your writing to print, or online, to get rid of those little errors that will reduce your credibility.

Bev Phillips  |