Digital signage is a visual medium, and much of the information you wish to impart can be done with images, icons and videos. These can do a lot of the work, but you’re also going to have to use text, and the words we choose not only decide how effective the communication is, but how trustworthy our messaging is perceived to be. It’s important that your digital signage message text be accurate, so you need to avoid common language mistakes.
In addition to basic tips for the text you use (like making sure your fonts are big enough to be seen from a distance, the 3×5 Rule, keeping things short and simple, breaking things into smaller chunks, etc.), you need to make sure that what you display is accurate and correct. We’re not just talking about the accuracy of the content itself (like not telling people to go to room 237 for a meeting when it’s actually in 273), but the specific words you use to impart the information.
Yes, we’re talking about spelling, punctuation and grammar. And yes, it is important. A study a few years ago showed that people who made fewer mistakes with grammar, spelling and punctuation are seen as more intelligent, more thoughtful and tend to get more promotions at work.
Why Accuracy Matters
Social media is rife with errors, usually because people are writing quickly on a mobile device, and they post their comment without proofing. That’s fine because social media is meant to be conversational and informal. However, as people have gotten more accustomed to seeing these errors, they’ve become more entrenched. After just a few years of online communications, we’re seeing lax grammar and spelling mistakes creep into business communications. That’s not good.
“Accuracy is the twin brother of honesty; inaccuracy, of dishonesty.” – Nathaniel Hawthorne
In addition to informing people, we use digital signage to increase engagement, but mistakes on screens undermine a communicator’s authority. And the Hawthorne quote sums up a prevalent attitude – that people who are inaccurate are seen as somewhat untrustworthy.
At best, the organization looks careless (“If they don’t care enough to proofread their stuff, why should I care about it?”) Or maybe they’re just incompetent. At worst, credibility is damaged, or there’s a feeling that communicators may be dishonest in some way. None of these are good impressions to make on an audience. They can lead to viewer attrition, and even worse, decreased morale and trust.
The Proof(reading) Is in the Pudding
It’s imperative that you proofread everything before publishing to your digital signs. Anyone who has writing experience can tell you that mistakes creep in, especially typos. (No one out there actually thinks that “from” and “form” are interchangeable words, or that “teh” is an alternate spelling of “the”.) These are honest typos and easily spotted. After all, your digital signage messages shouldn’t be too long (15-20 words max), so proofing them won’t be too much work.
Sometimes mistakes happen because the writer thinks one way is the correct way, since that’s what they’ve heard all their life. Just like old wives’ tales, traditional wisdom is not always accurate. This can apply to more than just technical issues. Take the section header above as an example: the actual saying from the 14th century is “The proof of the pudding is in the eating” (“proof” meaning test, so this means you cannot know if something has been done correctly until you try it). But, sometime in the 1920s, it started getting used incorrectly and has now become the shortened form, “The proof is in the pudding” (which actually doesn’t make any sense at all, if you think about it).
And then there are actual errors. Sometimes these occur because the person writing the copy isn’t sure about a word or grammar, so they just guess. The solution to that is: don’t guess. Ask someone, or simply Google it and you’ll quickly find guidance.
English is especially prone to problems, since it has lots and lots of homonyms (words with multiple meanings but the same pronunciation – county fair, that isn’t fair), homographs (words with multiple meanings but different pronunciations – tear a piece of paper, a tear in the eye), homophones (words that sound the same but have different spellings and meanings – pear, pair), and other headaches.
You can always toss your text into Microsoft Word or a similar program, and do a quick spellcheck. That will catch common spelling and grammar mistakes. Online tools like Grammarly can also help you out, though there are no foolproof AI assistants at this time (and they don’t always catch things like “form” for “from”, since “form” is also a word.) So, you’ll need to be thorough and not just rely on software. The best advice is to have someone who didn’t write the copy proofread it. A fresh eye is always best.
The Top 20 Language Mistakes
Here are 20 of the most common errors in marketing copy today. Some of these might seem obvious, but they are still happening regularly in professional messaging. Even if you’re a communications pro, reviewing this list can help you be more accurate and look more trustworthy to the people you’re trying to engage:
1. its, it’s – The first one is possessive; the second one is a contraction for it is or it has.
- The company revised its mission statement.
- It’s always possible to make a difference.
- It’s been a while since I’ve had lunch with Lee.
2. there, their, they’re – The first is an adverb for a location or place; the second is the possessive form of they; and the third is a contraction for they are.
- Do you want to sit here or there?
- Their books are on the table.
- They’re coming to dinner tonight.
3. your, you’re – The first is possessive; the second is a contraction for you are.
- How did you like your lunch?
- You’re welcome to come to my party.
4. could/would/should have– These are often mistakenly written as could/would/should of because of spoken contractions like “I should’ve talked to her”.
- I could have been a contender.
- I would have come earlier.
- I should have known better.
5. fewer, less – The first is used for countable nouns; the second is used for uncountable nouns. (So yes, “Ten Items or Less” at the supermarket is a mistake.)
- I plan to drink fewer colas this week.
- There is less politics at this company than most.
6. to, two, too – The first is either part of the infinitive of a verb (to see) or a preposition meaning “towards”; the second is the number; the third means “also” or “as well”, but can also be an adverb meaning “to an excessive degree”.
- Two miles is too far to walk to the bookstore for my mother, too.
7. than, then – The first is used for comparisons; the second shows something follows another in time.
- It’s taller than the Empire State Building.
- I’ll eat lunch and then go to a movie.
8. I, me, myself – The first is used as the subject of phrase (before the verb); the second is the object of a phrase (after the verb); the third is used only when the subject and the object are both the speaker/writer. A simple trick is to take the other person out of the sentence and you’ll quickly see which pronoun to use.
- I went to the store. / Jane and I went to the store.
- Jane came with me. / Jane came with Bob and me.
- I’m doing it for myself. / I gave myself a present.
9. Who, whom – The first is used as the subject of a phrase (before the verb); the second is the object of a phrase (after the verb). One trick is to substitute “she” or “her” – if “she” works use who, if “her” works use whom. However, hardly anyone uses whom anymore, so feel free to use who for both.
- Who ate my sandwich?
- Whom do you believe?
10. affect, effect – The first is almost always a verb meaning “to influence or have an impact on something”; the second is almost always a noun meaning “the result of something having an impact on something else”, but can be a verb in the sense of “to effect change”, meaning “to bring about something as a result of something else”. (Affect is only a noun in psychology.)
- The weather affected my weekend plans.
- Click the button to get the desired effect.
- Management effected many changes to procedure.
11. i.e., e.g. – The first is an abbreviation for id est meaning “that is” or “in other words”; the second is an abbreviation for exempli gratia meaning “for example”.
- I will provide feedback shortly – i.e., one to two business days.
- Jill always eats fruit for breakfast, e.g., bananas, oranges, apples.
12. whose, who’s – The first is used to assign ownership of something; the second is a contraction of who is.
- Do you know whose book this is?
- Do you know who’s going to be there tonight?
13. alot, a lot, allot – The first is always a mistake; the second means many and is always followed by “of”; the third is a verb meaning “to set aside a certain amount of something for a purpose”.
- I ate a lot of candy.
- I’m going to allot one hour each day for exercise.
14. lose, loose – The first is a verb meaning “to fail to hold on to something”; the second is an adjective meaning “not tight”.
- I don’t want to lose this opportunity.
- My desk has a loose screw.
15. assure, ensure, insure – The first means “to promise or say with confidence”; the second means “to make certain”; and the third means “to protect against risk by using an insurance company”.
- I can assure you that I’ll be there.
- I want to ensure you can handle the task.
- You should insure the car before your trip.
16. farther, further – These are used interchangeably in most places. However, some places will differentiate between them with farther referring to physical distances and further referring to figurative distances (and in the UK and most Commonwealth nations, further is used for both meanings). Further can also be an adverb meaning “additional”, and also a verb meaning “to help promote or forward something”.
- How much farther is it to Prague?
- I’d like to go further with my studies.
- Read chapter three for further information.
- We are working to further our progress in the market.
17. between, among – The first is used to refer to two separated things; the second is used to refer to things that are not clearly separated because they are part of a group of three or more.
- Our house is between the beach and the forest.
- Our house is among the trees of the forest.
18. compliment, complement – The first means “to praise or express admiration for something or someone”; the second means “to complete, enhance or make something perfect”.
- He paid me a great compliment yesterday.
- This table will complement our living room décor.
19. into, in to – The first is a preposition of place that implies movement and usually answers the question “where”; the second is just the coincidence of the word in and the word to being next to each other in a phrase, or a phrasal verb ending in “in” followed by “to”.
- I crawled into bed after a long day. / She went into the café.
- I came in to talk to you. / Everyone pitched in to help.
20. peek, peak, pique – The first is a verb that means “to take a quick look at something”; the second is a noun that means “a sharp point at the highest part of something”; and the third is a verb that means “to provoke or instigate” (and can also mean to make someone angry or cause their vanity to be wounded, but that’s a bit old-fashioned).
- I’ll take a quick peek at your numbers.
- He’s reached the peak of his career.
- The invention piqued my curiosity.
BONUS: log in, login – The first is a verb; the second is a noun or adjective.
- We provide a secure path for users to log in to the software.
- I’m having trouble with my email login.
- Please send me the link to the login page.
If your audience includes a lot of marketers, writers or content creators, you might even consider using these tips as “Did you know…?” messages in your digital signage playlist. Create quizzes with easy to follow calls to action and add some gamification to get people actively involved and having fun.
English is a constantly evolving language, so some of what’s considered a mistake today may be accepted practice in coming decades. However, you’re trying to engage viewers now, and making sure your digital signage messaging is accurate and understandable will help grab attention, aid retention and increase trust.