Marcus Gee wrote a great piece in the Globe and Mail about dangling modifiers. This line jumped off the page for us:

The smallest hint of confusion can give the reader “a breach in time to check mail, get up and make a sandwich, shoot a cat video.” English, he says, is a subject-verb-object language. “If you’re unclear in your own mind about the relationship between these components, or if you muddy it for the reader, you’ve fried the motherboard.”

The person Gee is quoting is Paul Knox, another Globe and Mail staffer and Professor Emeritus at Ryerson University. We’re big fans of this #Paulism, and if you’re in communications or marketing, you should be too.

Avoiding confusion is your number one priority.

Selling might be (and probably is) your number one goal, but priorities and goals are different. You won’t sell if you’re confusing. Or worse, you’ll sell for the competition. We’ve seen this happen a few times. One company clearly identified a legit problem no one had addressed previously, but then did a poor job articulating their solution. Prospects left to find more digestible explanations (drop-off data demonstrated this), which a few of their competitors had. It’s that easy to earn then lose an opportunity.

If you care about customer growth, use a copyeditor.

Customer growth starts with customer satisfaction. That begins with valuing customers and, more specifically, valuing their time.

That breach in time referenced in the #Paulism above cuts more than one way. Your prospect has lost interest, but have they forgotten? If you’re lucky, they have. If you confused them and wasted their time, they might not.

Think about it: they chose to devote a sliver of time (their most previous resource) to let you convince them to do/feel/say/buy something. And you couldn’t even take the time to scan it for sloppiness.

Imagine a dirty bathroom in a nice restaurant. It doesn’t matter how much they spent on European toilets, or what the food was like for that matter. You’ll always remember the dirty bathroom. It will be part of what you tell people. And what if you’re the kind of person who takes pictures of this kind of stuff for BuzzFeed listicles? Not so good for the restaurant.

Now think about how many BuzzFeed-style typo listicles there are.

Do you really want your name associated with that? Do you really want someone describing you as sloppy? Here’s some sloppy copy (ha!) we saw yesterday. We know we’ll see it make the rounds. And these guys definitely don’t want their name associated with carelessness.

sloppy copy

If you care about customer perception, use a copyeditor.

The last reason to use a copyeditor has nothing to do with customers unless the people who write your materials are also customers. Another person Gee quoted in the piece was Mary Norris, a copyeditor at The New Yorker, who said:

“Even the best writers often turn in sentences with danglers, insisting that they know what they mean and that readers will know, too.”

So even if you believe the people writing your materials are among the best writers in the world (and we sincerely hope you do believe that), you should still use a copyeditor. Your writers worked hard on whatever you’re bringing to market. So did your designers, publishers, account executives and strategists. And so did your client. Do you really want to be the person who flushed all that effort down the toilet? These people have your back every day. Using a copyeditor demonstrates to them that you have theirs.

If you care about your people, use a copyeditor.

Last point about using copyediting: It’s not expensive. But don’t look at it in terms of ROI. Look at it in terms of DOI (depletion of investment). Copyediting a 12-word transit ad is a negligible cost, over and above the thousands it already cost to produce the ad. Not using a copyeditor, letting a mistake go through and having to reprint will cost a lot more.

Copyeditors are your friends. Use them.