Why you should say “No” to poor writing

People don’t always bother to check their writing when they’re blogging or putting together a business communication. They just want to get that stream of consciousness from brain to fingertips as quickly as possible. Then it often gets published without so much as a spellcheck, let alone a proper read through. I am a bit of a pedant – well, a lot of a pedant – and it really puts me off when people get things wrong.

Why it’s important to get it right

Good writing is a reflection of you and your company. If you pay attention to your writing, it shows that you will pay attention to your work and will provide a good service. Personally, if there are two companies with similar offerings, but one has poor spelling and grammar, I would buy from the one that writes properly. Poor grammar and spelling makes you look shoddy and unprofessional.

Good writing ensures you are communicating clearly. There are the obvious examples where a misplaced comma completely changes the meaning of something, but if you generally make your writing difficult to read, it will be difficult to understand. Ultimately, you will fail to get your message across.

If you’re communicating with the press, perhaps sending press releases or writing articles, then you are dealing with journalists and editors who write for a living. They know what’s good and what’s not and if you send them something sub-standard, it just won’t pass muster.

The biggest mistakes

  • Poor spelling. There really is no excuse for this. The odd typo I can overlook, but when words are consistently spelled wrongly, it grates. If your blogging software doesn’t have spellcheck, then before you publish, copy and paste your post into a programme that does.
  • Poor grammar. This is harder to get right. Not everyone knows the difference between “affect” and “effect” or “practice” and “practise”. But if you’re unsure, you should take the time to find out which is correct.  Having said that, don’t rely on grammar-checkers in programmes like Word, as they are often Americanised, and also sometimes just plain wrong.
  • Over capitalisation. One of my most common tasks when editing client-written work is to change all the capitals. People seem to capitalise nouns more and more these days, especially if they are talking about something that is a little bit technical. Only proper nouns and a few others – like days of the week and months of the year – need to be capitalised. Otherwise it’s lower case all the way – even for job titles.
  • Underuse of semi-colons. I’m rather partial to a semi-colon, so this is a very personal one for me. When two sentences or sections of writing are closely related, they often benefit from being joined with a semi-colon. For example:

The dividends were increased; it had been a good year.

  • Overuse of exclamation marks. While reflecting your personality in your writing is a good thing, including too many exclamation marks smacks of childish excitement, not business professionalism. It is difficult to express yourself clearly when writing an email or a blog piece, so people tend to overuse exclamation marks to get over their strength of feeling about something. I am guilty of using too many exclamation marks in my own personal communications, but when it comes to business writing, I am careful to eliminate them.
  • Plurals with unwelcome apostrophes. As a pedant, one of my favourite books is Eats, Shoots and Leaves, by Lynne Truss. She draws attention to the typical culprits – it always seems to be the greengrocers – with signs declaring the price of “potatoe’s” or “carrot’s”.
  • Use of text speak. Twitter and texting have a lot to answer for. The more youthful among us think nothing of asking “How r u?” And the phrase “LOL” should, IMHO (see what I did there?) be banned! These have no place at all in business writing.

How can you avoid making written mistakes?

Make sure you check all your written work – blog posts, letters, press releases, and so on. Spellcheck them if necessary, and if you’re really prone to making mistakes, get someone else to check them for you.

I make my living from communicating (Kerrmunicating?). I get paid to write well and to promote ideas through words. So I have to be a pedant, but have I persuaded you to say “No” to poor writing and “Yes” to great communication?

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5 Comments

  1. Hi Claire. I would have said “Here, here” but I’m not sure if it should be “Hear, hear”. Seriously, it’s interesting you’re in favour of semi-colons. I avoid them. Way too often people are just using them to join up what should be two sentences, or – heinous crime – using them to introduce a list. Otherwise, totally agree!

  2. You are so right, text speak is making its way into business writing more and more. Your post has put the fear into me now, especially your mention of capitalising letters. I need to go and read through and edit the posts on my blog now.

    Thanks for a great post.

  3. I so agree! In fact, I chose my insurance company simply because of the quality of their written communications. I wish more companies would pay attention (and maybe even pay professional copywriters like me to help them get it right!).

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