Bad grammar, misspellings, and punctuation errors make your business look unprofessional and your employees look uneducated. It also tells customers you don’t care enough to bother with good communication. Although the occasional typo is inevitable in this day of email and social media, writing well is still important. Here are a few tips to help you improve your business writing.
Big businesses in our country know that good writing contributes significantly to the success of a business. They spend millions of dollars each year to improve the employees’ writing, and some even hire professional writers. Job applicants for their professional positions dare not display poor writing skills on employment applications; this alone may be cause for disqualification.
And today – with the technological explosion of social media, web sites, email, and ebooks – people are writing more than ever on the job.
Small business owners are less likely to require proficiency in writing as a prerequisite to employment. Nevertheless, it is important for any business, big or small, to communicate their written words clearly and accurately. The good news is that writing is a skill that can be learned.
Take a look at the following two customer notices and decide which company you would rather do business with:
THIS WILL BE THE ONLY BILL YOU WILL RECEIVE FOR YOU SERVICE.
IF IT IS NOT RECEIVED BY SEPTEMBER 15,SERVICE WILL BE INTERRUPTED, THERE WILL BE_ NO EXCEPTIONS IF INTERRUPTION IS NECESSARY THERE IS A 15.00
REPROGRAMMING CHARGE AND WE CANNOT GUARANTEE YOU WILL GET THE SAME NUMBER.
PLEASE PAY PROMPTLY
Dear Valued Customer:
It’s time for the annual renewal of your service. Your past business has been greatly appreciated and we look forward to serving you in the future.
Payment is due no later than September 15. Please note that if payment is received after this date, you will incur a $15.00 reprogramming fee.
Please feel free to contact us at XXX-XXXX should you have any questions or concerns with regard to this bill.
Betty Lou Smith
After looking at these two communications, it becomes clear that “if a picture paints a thousand words,” then a thousand words may or may not paint a pretty picture of a particular business.
The first customer notice is rife with business writing blunders:
- Using all caps.
- Using exclamation points, especially more than one!!!!!!
- Spelling errors.
- Spacing errors.
- Run-on and on and on sentences.
- Mind-numbing and unclear communication.
- Horrendous/inappropriate punctuation.
- Poor use of bold print.
- Failure to encourage positive customer relations.
OK, now that you’ve seen an example of a very badly written business letter, let’s get to the good stuff – what you can do to improve your writing skills and those of your employees:
Be sure to know the basics – Spelling, Grammar, and Punctuation
Forget about relying solely on your computer program’s spell and grammar checks. There are so many holes in the system, you might want to call it “Swiss cheese checks.” Want proof? Type the following in your word processing program:
“He wants to go to the store two. How are yew?”
First, it doesn’t catch that “two” should be “too.” Second, the “are yew” is underlined but when you click on it, the suggested alternatives are “is yew” and “are yews.” How is yew? How are yews? Yes. That’s definitely much better.
Proficiency in grammar and spelling cannot be mastered overnight. Start with purchasing a good dictionary and thesaurus. It’s been said that the difference between a good speller and a bad speller, is that the good speller knows when to look up a word. Dictionaries aren’t just great for spelling; sometimes you need to know the exact meaning of a word. A thesaurus is a great tool for finding synonyms: many people tend to use the same word over and over in a document and don’t realize it. Start finding other interesting words that mean the same thing and use them.
You’ll also need a few reference books for grammar and usage. Some popular books are: Essential English Grammar by Philip Gucker (a refresher course in grammar for adults who have limited learning time; and it even has practice exercises, with solutions in the back of the book); and The Elements of Style by William Strunk Jr. (includes rules of usage, principles of composition, words and expressions commonly misused, and an approach to style).
Don’t want to purchase any books? You can always use Dictionary.com to check spelling and definitions, Thesaurus.com for better word choices, and the online grammar checking tool Grammarly, which even has a plugin for your Chrome browser.
Know your company message and be clear, concise and human about it
Just what do you want your employees, your customers, and the world-at-large to know about your business? Do you consider yourself the best at what you do? Do you pride yourself and your business on honesty and integrity? What is at the very core of what makes your business special and sellable? Be sure to incorporate a sense of this core in everything you write.
Forget about writing pseudo-intellectual gobbledygook (better known as jargon) with words that most people on the planet wouldn’t understand. The name of the game is clarity and well-articulated simplicity with a good dose of humanity. No one – not even the head of a big corporation – wants to feel like he is reading correspondence from a cold machine. Your writing can be both professional and have a human touch at the same time. And remember that when it comes to writing, less is usually more; try not to use too many words or a lot of unnecessary adjectives.
Don’t forget that more than ever people are bombarded daily with written communications via their personal email, social media accounts – not to mention on the job communications. You only have a few seconds to grab someone’s attention and keep it. Reel them in with a clear and articulate opening that will keep their interest.
Write in a way that values, respects and addresses the needs of your audience
You may be the best widget maker in the United States. You may also have the best prices. You may even have great writers on staff who really know their infinitives and participles. None of that will really matter if your writing doesn’t make your recipients feel that:
- you value them as individuals/customers/clients.
- you respect them and their intelligence.
- what you are providing is going to serve them well and/or provide them with something that will be beneficial to them, their company or their lives.