It’s summertime, and they’ve started to crop up again. On all those gas station signs and restaurant menus: “ice tea” and “ice water” and even “ice coffee.” Every time, it gives me the chills, but not in a good way.

Iced espresso for pondering spelling tipsUnless the tea, coffee or water is completely frozen or a frozen slush, those signs scream blatant spelling mistake. The tea and coffee has been poured over ice, as has the water, so they are iceD. Say it with me, ICED. Didn’t that feel cool and invigorating?

I have to admit, every time I see those misspelled signs, I think someone isn’t very sharp. I don’t know whether it’s the business owner, the clerk, or the harried assistant manager, but it shrieks to me: Sloppy. Can’t use a dictionary, or can’t be bothered. I dunno about this place.

Sure, lots of people won’t even notice. Some might even think it’s charming. Your existing customers know enough about you to give you a pass, hopefully. But in this economy, do you want to chance it with new customers? Nah, I didn’t think so. No one wants to give potential customers a reason to walk or drive right by.
Making sure your copy is perfectly spelled doesn’t mean you need to hire anyone to do that job (though if you generate a lot of copy, you probably should hire either a part-time employee or freelancer).

Three cheap, effective ways to get perfectly spelled copy

  • Have at least two sets of eyes look over all copy that the public will see. That means website copy (yes, even the forms on the order page), emails, brochures and of course, signs and menus. Don’t forget about any Facebook, Twitter, or other social media sites. The best people to look over copy are avid readers or other people who like to play with words. Have a bookish employee? She might be a perfect second set of eyes.
  • Give copywriters some cooling-off time. Unless you’re a news organization, require a minimum 20-minute cooling off period from finishing copy to hitting “post” or “send.” A few hours would be even better. Most spelling errors creep in because people are in a hurry, not because they’re stupid, lazy or incompetent. Letting a harried employee spend 20 minutes on Facebook before proofing their copy could save you a lot of public embarrassment.
  • Don’t rely solely on spellcheck. Spellcheck will not flag united when you mean untied, nor will it replace pubic with public–but you’ll wish it had!

Now, would you like to savor your perfectly spelled copy over sweet or unsweet iced tea?

Jennifer Alvey is a copyeditor who has learned these rules the hard way, and prefers iced espresso while editing in the summertime. Feel free to vote on your favorite iced beverage–email her at jalvey AT wordsolutions DOT biz.