You'd expect a publishing company to have a formal editorial process in which anything shipping out the door has been checked for correctness and accuracy, but if your company is in some other industry, why bother? Because, written mistakes can do you great harm.

Have your company's written material go through an editorial process before it's sent out

As Adweek humorously noted last year, "bad grammar are bad for branding." Any time your company sends materials out, such as manuals, sales letters, ads, collateral or even social media posts, your brand is on the line. Even giants are mocked, such as when Tesco became the butt of online jokes for claiming its orange juice was the "most tastiest," but don't assume that a middle market company is out of the range of fire.

Typos can injure your credibility, but they can also do far worse. A U.K. government agency let a typo slip that essentially put a 124-year-old Welsh family company out of business. By misspelling the name of a company that had ceased operations, an official government letter made all the customers of and suppliers to Cardiff engineering firm Taylor & Sons Ltd. think the business was in liquidation. Credit was pulled and orders were canceled, and the company literally had to close down. The typo wasn't its fault, of course, but the example shows how bad things can get.

You can't completely guard against any and all written mistakes. However, a formal editorial process can eliminate many problems and provide other advantages, such as messaging consistency. Here are some actions you need to take to clean up your company's editorial process:

  • Decide on a standard. Every company should have a style guide that tells people how to handle specific issues of punctuation, spelling, abbreviation and other aspects of writing. Luckily, you don't need to reinvent the literary wheel. There are established standards — the Chicago Manual of Style and Associated Press Stylebook are two examples — you can adopt. You can eventually bring in an expert to tailor the guide if there are specifics that your company or industry needs to do differently.
  • Communicate the need for editing. People won't want to spend extra time having things checked. Editing will only happen on a regular basis if upper management requires it. This must be a mandate with repercussions for repeated mistakes.
  • Get the lay of the land. Not even professional writers are immune to making obvious errors, particularly if they are working under tight deadlines. For most people, mistakes will be rampant. If you doubt it, take a collection of memos, letters, ads and other communications and have a professional editor go through them as a test. You may be surprised at how many things have gone wrong without anyone in the company noticing.
  • Put technology into play. Past the initial check, you need professional editing help. Technology can be useful, though it has its limitations. Spell- and grammar-check features on word processors may catch some problems, but they can miss many (like the inadvertent substitution of a homonym so the word is technically spelled correctly but is wrong in context). There are also more powerful tools that charge a monthly fee per user. Consider having a few people with accounts who can check materials sent over from others.
  • Don't forget the people. Technology isn't a replacement for a good copy editor, who can look for questionable claims and unfortunate phrasing in addition to typos and misspellings. Bring someone on staff, or get the name of some freelance editors who do this type of work. Book blocks of their time, and know that you have editing resources treated as operational expenses rather than as headcount.
  • Look for a smart reader. With critical materials such as marketing write-ups, you might also consider a step beyond editors. It's easy to make a major cultural or commercial faux pas because your employees may not fully recognize how language could be perceived by other groups, whether based on culture, race, gender, geographic location or some affiliation. Run these materials by a consultant who can look at implied and inferred nuance and keep your business from making a gaffe that will not quickly be forgiven.

Is it preferable to hire an in-house copy editor or work with freelancers? Let us know what you think by commenting below.

Erik Sherman is an NCMM contributor and author whose work has appeared in such publications as The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times Magazine, Newsweek, the Financial Times, Chief Executive, Inc. and Fortune. He also blogs for CBS MoneyWatch. Sherman has extensive experience in corporate communications consulting and is the author or co-author of 10 books. Follow him on Twitter.