Each of us has marketing or promotional materials. Whether it’s a web site, a detailed pitch document, or a newsletter (or something else entirely), one thing’s for sure: you need to quality assure — or QA — every single piece of communication you produce.
An old hand at typos, heading-body copy mismatches, and inaccurate date listings, I’ve learned through bitter experience the problems that arise when you don’t QA your communications pieces. I know QA is a hassle, and it takes time, but it’s worth it — after all, with every communication you put out, your professional reputation is on the line.
So here, in no particular order are my quick tips for communications QA.
I know, I know: it goes without saying. But I know I frequently catch myself a hair’s breadth from sending a pitch I haven’t spellchecked.
You should spellcheck your copy using the spellcheck function in the program you wrote it in. You should not simply click ignore blindly — look at the words and make sure you don’t want the suggestion. And if you have grammar check, consider its suggestions as well. Although I find grammar checkers inaccurate, they often highlight clunky or poorly-formed phrases that could take some overhauling.
2. Print and proof
Yes, it’ll take a whole minute, max, to print that page and read over it. But it’s time well-spent. I literally always find a problem when I print a document for review. It may be a layout issue or a punctuation error, but I’ll only discover it when I print the thing out.
For some reason, exactly the same thing happens when I preview web content as it will appear on the published page, rather than scrolling through the content in the editing pane. This tactic always reveals room for improvement. Always.
When you’re proofing, look out for layout weirdness, inconsistencies of any sort (color usage, positioning, heading style, word usage), grammar and punctuation issues, and anything that grates or seems unwieldy.
Consider also your word choices — and check those phrases or terms you’ve used as a matter of convention or because you’ve seen them used elsewhere. An example: everytime is not a word. Check online dictionaries to make sure your word choices are right.
3. Read aloud
You may not choose to read your 30-page pitch document aloud, but the copy in your contract or position applications, fliers, business cards, blog posts, and any other short copy can usually benefit from being read aloud. You don’t have to read your documents to anyone else: you just need to listen to yourself as you’re reading.
Reading aloud can be a great way to identify clunky phrasing and places where you can simplify your message. If you’re getting tongue-tied (or bored!), you’ll know your copy needs more work.
4. Send to a friend
I have a number of friends with eagle-eyes, and we frequently exchange material that needs proofing. Recently, I’ve revised a friend’s online bio, and proofed the copy for another friend’s web site. It’s good experience, and completing little favors like these means that next time I’m sending a new folio out, or drafting a media release, my friends will be only too happy to help me out.
The benefit of a friend’s proofing isn’t just in their ability to identify errors. They’ll bring fresh eyes to a piece of work you know inside-out, so they’ll be able to provide objective feedback and point out anything that looks or sounds odd.
5. Come back later
If you’ve spent all day working on a new business card for yourself, don’t send it to the printer that night. Put it aside and come back to it tomorrow, or the next day, when you’ll have a fresh view of the project.
This will give you the opportunity to review the work with greater clarity, and from a perspective of someone who hasn’t spent the last eight hours staring at the communications piece at pixel-level. You’ll be amazed at what you pick up — I often find issues with content placement and colour consistency this way.
6. Compare and contrast
This technique can be handy if you’ve done similar work for another purpose — for another client, or for yourself at some other time. The idea is to compare your current piece of work with a finished product you’ve created in the past, and of which you are proud.
Ask yourself if you believe your new communications item performs as well as the older example. Does it meet the brief as well? Does it fit the band and audience as successfully? Does it communicate clearly?
This technique can reveal areas that need additional tweaking, as well as items you may have forgotten in your eagerness to complete the job. It’s a good way to find areas for improvement, and to reassure yourself that you’ve done everything you can with this particular project.
These are the tactics I use to check my marketing communications (and other products) before I publish or release them. What steps do you take to make sure your communications pieces are spot-on?
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