How closely should you proofread a sign?

30Aug10

While exploring a new underground walkway that connects a few of the other buildings near my apartment, I came across a nice-looking navigational sign. The sign was mounted on the wall just before the entrance to a new mixed-use building, and included an area map along with descriptions for each of the nearby buildings.

On closer inspection, though, my wife pointed out that the sign was actually quite a mess. In particular, about half of the text blocks had no spacing between the words. It was a copy and paste effort gone terribly wrong, and nobody stopped to actually check the text before printing the final output.

This made me wonder: is there a rule of thumb that dictates how closely you should proofread a sign, banner or other outdoor display? Yes, and it’s really just a matter of common sense. First, ask yourself if the sign is:

– Large

– Permanent (or at least semi-permanent)

– Likely to be seen by a lot of people

Next, if it meets any of those criteria, make sure to use extra care when proofreading it. Ideally, ask a colleague or friend to review it once you think it’s correct, since the odds of two people both missing an error are quite slim. And finally, give it a quick reality check before sending it to the print shop. Pay special attention to any mistakes that you fixed earlier in the process, to ensure that everything still flows correctly.

In a perfect world, people would proofread and double-check every document they produce. But realistically, most people will only use this level of care when they think it’s absolutely necessary. Since large, permanent signs in high-traffic areas can quickly become a mockery if they’re full of mistakes, it pays to invest the extra proofreading time to ensure that the text and graphics are 100% correct.



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