Skip to content

Professionalism vs. Saving Trees: Which Do You Choose?

A picture of a printer with multi-coloured sheets flying out towards a tree, to signify a dilemma of saving trees and printing less vs. impressing a client

A friend had just finished a proposal she would be presenting to a new client the next morning. After printing six copies for the people who would be at the meeting, she noticed that she had made an error in the client’s name at the top of page 1. Part of the client’s name was Cascade, but she had mistakenly typed Cascadia. The error appeared only once.

My friend got out a pen to correct the six copies and started crossing out ia and inserting an e. Watching her, I exclaimed, “You can’t give clients a document with their name wrong on the first page!” She said that it would be better to save six sheets of paper and tell the clients that she had made that decision than to correct the error and waste paper in the name of an error-free presentation.

If you were the client receiving this proposal and explanation, how would you react?

Have you been in the situation of either displaying an error or reprinting pages? What did you do?

I’ll give more details from the story of my friend after you get a chance to share.

Continuation on February 4:

I argued with my friend. I told her that making a good impression with a new client was more important than not using six more sheets of paper and some printer ink. I pointed out that people who were not at the meeting–and did not hear her explanation–might see a hand-corrected page and find it sloppy. She agreed, and she corrected and reprinted the six sheets. She admitted that part of her original decision had come from exhaustion. She had worked hard on the information, and she simply wanted to be done with it.

Later she told me she had a great, productive meeting, and the clients accepted the technical solution she recommended.

Since yesterday, readers have made excellent comments on this situation. I recommend reading them as an important discussion of the topic. Several people mentioned that my friend might have sent her material to the client electronically in advance. I asked her about this today, and she explained that she did not want the clients to see the material in advance. It was highly technical, and the client staff are not. She wanted to walk through the possible solutions with them column by column and row by row to make sure they understood.

She also told me that it was not a slide presentation. She sat at a conference table with the clients. This was the first time she was meeting them in person; the earlier meeting had been virtual. So part of her goal was to get to know them, and sitting at the table and reviewing the ideas together on paper seemed a better way than to stand and present.

Several factors affect the decision to reprint or not:

  • The relationship with the client. If my friend had a longstanding relationship with the client, and the individuals at the meeting regarded her as a reliable professional, the error would be minor and reprinting would probably not be necessary.
  • The frequency of the error and ease of correcting it. Since the error involved just one page, fixing it was easy. If it appeared on every page–for example, in the header or footer–and the document was long, she might explain her decision to the client as the sensible thing to do, with a promise to get it right in the future.
  • The client’s expectations and values. If the clients are avowedly committed to saving natural resources, they would appreciate my friend’s decision. If they are focused on propriety and excellence, they would likely look down on a hand-corrected error.
  • Timing. If there is no time to correct an error–for example, if it comes to light 5 minutes before a meeting–that’s different from an error discovered the night before, as my friend’s was. If you have time to fix it, fix it.

Thanks to all who commented on this topic!

If you would like to proofread more effectively–or to help your staff catch errors before they go out–consider my online, self-study course Proofread Like a Pro.


Posted by Avatar photo
By Lynn Gaertner-Johnston

Lynn Gaertner-Johnston has helped thousands of employees and managers improve their business writing skills and confidence through her company, Syntax Training. In her corporate training career of more than 20 years, she has worked with executives, engineers, scientists, sales staff, and many other professionals, helping them get their messages across with clarity and tact.

A gifted teacher, Lynn has led writing classes at more than 100 companies and organizations such as MasterCard, Microsoft, Boeing, Nintendo, REI, AARP, Ledcor, and Kaiser Permanente. Near her home in Seattle, Washington, she has taught managerial communications in the MBA programs of the University of Washington and UW Bothell. She has created a communications course, Business Writing That Builds Relationships, and provides the curriculum at no cost to college instructors.

A recognized expert in business writing etiquette, Lynn has been quoted in "The Wall Street Journal," "The Atlantic," "Vanity Fair," and other media.

Lynn sharpened her business writing skills at the University of Notre Dame, where she earned a master's degree in communication, and at Bradley University, with a bachelor's degree in English.

13 comments on “Professionalism vs. Saving Trees: Which Do You Choose?”

  • I’m eco-conscious, but I would absolutely reprint the six pages. Your written proposal is your client’s first impression of your work product. If you present something that looks unprofessional and demonstrates that a detail like their name is an afterthought right out of the gate, that doesn’t bode well for the quality of the work you’ll deliver.

  • Did the document have to be on paper to begin with? Nowadays, printing a document for everyone at a meeting seems a bit old-fashioned and conspicuously non-green. Another solution is to e-mail the document so participants can read it in advance. They can print it if they wish or refer to it on their laptops. A PowerPoint summary may be more effective for the meeting. In the PowerPoint, you can fix typos until the last minute.

  • I would not print at all. First, I would present on a big screen to give the participants the opportunity to fully concentrate on the speaker. Often the participants already read the next slide or even the one after. That does not give the opportunity to point the attention to the topics the speaker would like to.

    Notes could be made on 2 sheets of blank paper which should be available.

    When the presentation has been finished, I would send it eMail.
    Even if I like to be independent from electronic devices, nowadays it is a favour that it could be shared or corrected several times without wasting paper.

  • Absolutely correct and reprint ! The six copies with the potential client name misspelled can be recycled. I am surprised that this even happened! First impressions are critical.

  • I would accept the penned correction decisively provided that an explanation follows. As an executive member of upper-management, I admire the rarity of steadfast commitment. Loyalty and courage to stand up for something greater than ourselves, our pomposities, even void of any measurable environmental consequence, is a rarity and likely mirrored in other aspects of her life. Personal and business alike. I would offer her employment. That said, were it me, I would have reprinted.

  • I would 100% reprint. I can’t imagine finding errors ahead of time, having plenty of opportunity to correct them, and choosing not to do so. It would be unacceptable to me to present my work to a new client knowing it was not the best possible work I could show.

    As a client receiving a presentation by a new firm, I would not be happy about receiving a presentation with my name misspelled, and the decision to cross out and write the correction in ink rather than reprinting would annoy me even further. I think I would rather see it uncorrected and assume the typo had slipped through the cracks (although it would definitely give me a negative impression) than see that someone caught the typo and declined to correct it with a clean copy.

    I understand some people are intensely concerned about the environment, but deliberately choosing to make a poor impression on a client rather than reprint six sheets of paper seems lazy and foolish, showing poor judgment. As the client in that situation I’d start looking around for other evidence of poor judgment and misplaced priorities.

  • (I do agree with the folks mentioning that emailing paperwork and notes about presentations is probably preferable these days and even more environmentally friendly than refusing to reprint pages with errors.)

  • ONLY if the client were some sort of environmental firm would I mark up the already printed copy to correct the mistake. But then, with an environmental firm, I would probably take Hilde’s approach and not print at all. I’d correct the error in my program, give the presentation and send a digital file after the fact.

  • Thank you for commenting, Anita, Michele, Nick, George, Hilde, Heidi, Peter, Stephanie, Laura, Cheryl, Katherine, and Ann. I appreciate your input! Please read my update to the original post.

    Anita, agreed! The fact that it’s a first meeting and an error in the client’s name is a decisive factor.

    Michele, I agree. An audience of coworkers would accept this kind of error corrected by hand.

    Nick, yes–we have to look at all the factors. Thanks for the smile.

    George, you make great points. I asked my friend about your suggestion, and I included her thinking in the update above.

    Hilde, good input! I followed up with my friend, who wanted the meeting to have a different feeling from what you suggest. Please read the update to the blog post.

    Heidi, I was surprised too. That’s why I urged my friend to rethink her decision, and she agreed.

    Peter, thanks so much for addressing both your appreciation of my friend’s choice and your opposite decision. If you read the update above, you will see that she changed her mind in response to my conventional advice.

    Stephanie, thank you so much for your detailed comment. I appreciate your perspective as the client.

    Laura, thanks for weighing in on the topic. Most people agree with you.

    Cheryl, I like your important reminder: “You don’t get a 2nd chance at a first impression.”

    Katherine, thank you for the important point about the error reducing your trust in the consultant’s work. Those six rescued pages would cost a lot in client confidence.

    Ann, good point. I tried to make this point with my friend, but her page was two-sided and filled with information. Recycling was the best she could do.


  • I would reprint the page for all copies…you don’t get a 2nd chance at a first impression…and if I were the client, why would I go with a company that cannot even spell my name correctly?

  • I am totally with Stephanie on this! Not only does it look shoddy, it bodes poorly for the rest of the presentation and would likely leave a bad taste in my mouth, even if that was the only error in the presentation. If it had been sprinkled throughout the presentation, I could understand the woman’s reticence to reprint six copies, but it wasn’t – it was six pieces of paper balanced against the first impression the company was getting of their work. I would admire her honesty, but still wouldn’t trust that I was going to get good, accurate work out of the firm.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *