I recently received a job application that began, "dear Mr. Strauss, i am applying 4 the job you listed on Craigslist . . . ." For all sorts of reasons, that email was ridiculous, but for starters, the poor grammar was a deal-breaker.
I'm not sure why so many people think that uber-casual writing is OK these days, or that traditional rules of grammar don't apply at work, but they do. Maybe it's because the tweeter-in-chief thinks that Capitalizing Wrong words is acceptable, or maybe it's because texting is how we communicate these days, but whatever the case, it is still true: writing right matters.
Indeed, it should go without saying that writing well is an essential skill for any successful professional. Unfortunately, that does not always go without saying. When is the last time you read something bad from a fellow businessperson? I bet not long ago, and I bet it was memorable for all of the wrong reasons.
No, this does not mean you need to go out and try to be the next Hemingway, but what it does mean is that you should step away from the keyboard, stop that email you are writing, and don't press send just yet.
There's an old commercial you may remember - "People judge you by the words you use." This is true, especially in business, and especially today where many first impressions happen through the written word: emails, blogs, social posts, brochures, and so on.
So, you have to write it right.
Yes, we are living in a very relaxed business age (I don't miss my tie, do you?), but that does not mean that your business writing should be super relaxed. People judge you by the words you use. Here is what I suggest:
1. Aim for clarity.
Above all, you need to get your point across - clearly, succinctly, and professionally. That said, there is a lot that can get lost in translation when you are using the written word; after all, you don't have the advantage of hand gestures, intonation, and inquiry that you get during an actual face-to-face conversation. As such, you have to be extra sure that your writing is communicating exactly the thought or idea you want to express.
These are some of the main writing errors that can get ideas lost in translation:
- Run-on sentences. Be mindful of where one thought starts and another ends.
- Length. Nowadays it's very easy to lose reader interest. Usually shorter is better.
- Overcapitalization. As indicated, someone we all know does this a lot to Make A Point. Yes, a capital letter in the wrong place does indeed make a point, but mayBe not the one you want.
2. Aim for professionalism.
Improper grammar and spelling mistakes make you appear unintelligent and unprofessional. Period. While you should never spell "you" as "u" or "are" as "r," or, pet peeve alert, "I" as "i," there are definitely some trickier rules that would behoove us all to brush up on and watch out for:
- "its" vs. "it's" - the apostrophe means "it is."
- "their" vs. "there" vs. "they're." They're not the same
- "your" vs. "you're."
- Confusing the possessive with plural. For example, more than one puppy is NOT spelled puppy's. The apostrophe makes it possessive - "That is the puppy's collar."
3. Use spellcheck.
A misspelled wrd is very distracting and unprofessional. See?
4. Remember, writing is re-writing.
This is my writing motto. Writing is rewriting. Is there anything worse than sending off that email with a typo in it? (Well, yes, but you get my point.)
But, what if re-writing isn't your thing?
5. Hire a freelancer.
If we are talking about bigger projects and writing just isn't for you, hire a freelance writer as needed. There are plenty of fresh college graduate English majors who are knock-your-socks-off good at writing and are champing at the bit to beef up their resume with professional writing gigs. That they are very affordable is even better.
But what if you don't do any of the above and make some lame mistakes? What is that called?