40
61
Gini Dietrich

Six Tips for Better Business Writing

By: Gini Dietrich | September 25, 2012 | 
172

In today’s text, Twitter, social media world, people are getting more and more lazy about their grammar and spelling, according to This Embarrasses You and I*, an article in the Wall Street Journal.

The article begins with, “When Caren Berg told colleagues at a recent staff meeting, “There’s new people you should meet,” her boss Don Silver broke in. “I cringe every time I hear” people misuse “is” for “are,” Mr. Silver says. He also hammers interns to stop peppering sentences with “like.” For years, he imposed a 25-cent fine on new hires for each offense. “I am losing the battle.”

And it’s not just Mr. Silver who is losing the battle. Companies across the country are fighting the same and it’s becoming an epidemic.

Schools have stopped teaching cursive handwriting. That makes sense, of course, as many of us no longer write longhand. But, along with it comes shorthand acronyms – LOL, WTH*$, 2nite, <3, AISI, IMO, OMG – and they’re all reaching corporate world communications.

Heck, they had to create an entire dictionary on the lingo so those of us who didn’t grow up in the text world know how to understand what’s being said.

Homework in Text

But it’s not just affecting the business world. According to BBC News, students are turning in homework completely written in text.

My smmr hols wr CWOT. B4, we used 2go2 NY 2C my bro, his GF & thr 3 :- kids FTF. ILNY, it’s a gr8 plc.

It’s fairly easy to figure out this person went to NY to see her brother and his family during summer break, but it certainly takes more energy and thought to figure out what message is being delivered.

If this is how your customers and prospects are being communicated to/with, do you think they’re going to want to do business with you?

But it’s not just text speak that is bringing down the corporate world of writing and communications. Most don’t know the difference between their, they’re, and there or its and it’s.

Six Tips

Following are six tips for better business writing. And, if you’re so inclined, for better Facebook status updates, too.

  1. Always use spell check. Internet browsers, content management systems, Pages, Word, and most software have spell check built in. Use it!
  2. Cut down on text slang. We all use LOL or OMG or WTH with the best of them, but when writing, spell out your acronyms. You don’t say LOL when you speak. Don’t write it, either.
  3. Know the difference between your and you’re. Your is possessive, as in “your car” or “your business.” You’re is short for you are. Know which you’re trying to say.
  4. Same for its and it’s. It’s is short for it is. Read your sentence out loud. If you can say “it is” without it sounding goofy, it’s is the proper use. If it sounds ridiculous, you can use its, which is possessive.
  5. The word “that” is rarely necessary. If you can write the sentence without the word “that,” remove it. It’s very rare it’s a necessity.
  6. Stop using the word “like.” Just like Don Silver in the example like above, like too many people like use the word like.
If you want to get serious about your writing, check out the Associated Press Stylebook, the Chicago Manual of Style, or Strunk and White’s Elements of Style.
What tips would you add to the list?
A version of this first appeared on SEO Copywriting

About Gini Dietrich


Gini Dietrich is the founder and CEO of Arment Dietrich, a Chicago-based integrated marketing communications firm. She is the lead blogger here at Spin Sucks and is the founder of Spin Sucks Pro. She is the co-author of Marketing in the Round and co-host of Inside PR. Her second book, Spin Sucks, is available now.

165 comments
ZenYinger
ZenYinger

Thanks for the RT! Cheers everyone!:) @ambercleveland @SpinSucks @MariSmith Pre #FF :D

AnnVertel
AnnVertel

@MariSmith I know I saw you in a picture recently NOT wearing teal - shaking things up a bit? :-)

TedRubin
TedRubin

And... Affect vs Effect.

 

Also please stop saying, and writing, actually every time you make a statement. If it is not "actually" then why are you saying it? :-)

Tinu
Tinu

Yeah. With the exception of one person I know who is overseas with an iffy keyboard, I don't accept text messages in SMS speak. I write back "sorry, I don't speak gibberish". Which is why no one texts me. Very ok with that.

Latest blog post: Tweets

belllindsay
belllindsay

@brasonja Thanks for the RT! :) @SpinSucks

talhaabbasi
talhaabbasi

@LisaPetrilli quick, crisp and relevant - thanks

jennwhinnem
jennwhinnem

I think business writing suffers more from a lack of clear thought than spelling/grammar problems. Gertrude Stein used proper spelling AND grammar and her poems are meaningless (and that was the point, to uncover the structures of language). Right @jasonkonopinski ?

Nic_Cartwright
Nic_Cartwright

Tough one this....  (tbh I come from a world where no one can read my handwriting - my Klingon upbringing remains private).....  But the world moves on - and 400 years ago, Shakespeare has his own rules...  The pace at which we adapt gets quicker each year - and whilst English is the language that dominates currenly - I keep hearing that even that will come to an end as the world's dominnat business language???

 

Adapt to your environment, keep your own standards high.  And as I have proved by assimilating into my own new environment - work hard at understanding your customers in the language they understand...

 

أشكركم على الاستماع

barrettrossie
barrettrossie

Keep it simple.

 

Edit yourself. Then edit some more. If you can say the same thing in fewer words, it's probably better. 

 

Avoid passive verbs, and progressive verbs. (Someone in Chicago should jail the writer of "I'm Lovin' It.") 

 

Subscribe to @Erin F. 's blog: http://ow.ly/dZJ5m and get her new free ebook, "The Principles of Effective Communication." The blog and book both complement The Elements of Style by Strunk and White, who would have loved Erin F! 

 

annelizhannan
annelizhannan

I rarely write about my political or personal value thoughts on social media for a host or reasons but this post hit a soft spot (and nobody will see this).

 

Not only are we desecrating our language with these shortcuts, abbreviations and acronyms but we are doing a great disservice to our children and future generations of thought leaders to broom sweepers.

 

I have been told by many superiors to 'dumb down' (exact words) my language or speech to the level a particular audience. I understand that speaking or writing with clarity and simplicity is best but I do not understand the need to lower the bar to a level of rubbish or gibberish. I would prefer to raise the tone to propriety, not above, level. The pendulum has swung too far in terms of 'tolerance' in language behavior.  Often I can't even decipher the who, what, when, where or how in a sentence.

 

It is not that I expect perfection in every sentence or dialogue as my middle name could easily be 'error' or (sp) but I can't accept the neglect of grammar, speech and spelling when tools are available and accept as status quo.

 

I also take to heart your willingness to buy a copy of "Write Right" for 'everyone here' as I know you must be talking about the comment section participants.  Thank you in advance, you continue to be one helluva classy act.

 

 

ginidietrich
ginidietrich

@ImMarkBernhardt Really great book idea!

ginidietrich
ginidietrich

@JennyQ I have to stop reading. I'm a total nerd.

ImMarkBernhardt
ImMarkBernhardt

I bought a copy of Jan Venolia's "Write Right" for the office. The book has made its way from desk to desk, and has yet to return to mine in several months. It's a good resource and easy to follow.

justinspage
justinspage

Thanks, Gini! I run into this issue often and if I can offer two words of advice, we need to SLOW DOWN. We're so busy nowadays that we rarely read what we type, much less proof it. I already rely too much on spell check! Again, great post.

MariSmith
MariSmith

@AnnVertel hahaa hey Ann, yeppers - I decided to come out the "turquoise closet" earlier this year!! :D

mdbarber
mdbarber

@markmeyerphoto interesting. Thanks. Amazing to see how long we've been talking about the same issues isn't it.

brasonja
brasonja

@belllindsay You're most welcome! :)

Erin F.
Erin F.

 @jennwhinnem  Yes, communicating well has more to do with clarity than spelling and grammar, although those two things are part of writing clearly. I drew a comic of the Write Right girl holding a bottle of Windex to illustrate that idea. :)

Latest blog post: Write Right: At Around

ginidietrich
ginidietrich moderator

 @annelizhannan I understand "dumbing down" content if it's used in a discussion about jargon. So many of our clients have their own language that I'll tell them they need to tone it down for writing. But, as far as grammar and spelling and vocabulary go, it's insane to think we'd write differently just because the world is adapting to text speech. Maybe that's me getting set in my ways as I get older, but I refuse to believe it'll ever be okay to not write appropriately.

Erin F.
Erin F.

 @annelizhannan Do you have the same superiors I once had? I used to hear the "dumbing down" argument when I did freelance work. It always irked me. It still does. I guess that partially explains why I now have a business called Write Right...

ImMarkBernhardt
ImMarkBernhardt

@ginidietrich Thanks, Gini! I found the book on a designer's desk -- bookmarked, dog-eared and annotated. I'm so proud. :)

JennyQ
JennyQ

@ginidietrich I must like nerds then. lol I love what you write! Oh shit. I just wrote "lol."

flemingsean
flemingsean

 @justinspage Do you ever get emails from friends/colleagues etc that sign off with something like "sent unedited"..?  I always read that to mean one of two things: 1) you're not important enough for me to take the time to check what I've written; 2) I'm not smart enough to spot my errors.

 

Slowing down is definitely good advice.

AnnVertel
AnnVertel

@MariSmith fantastic, Mari - you look smashing in any color :-) And oh the wardrobe opportunities now.... :-)

Erin F.
Erin F.

 @ginidietrich  @annelizhannan I guess I don't consider that "dumbing down." To me, that's explaining concepts to an audience that may or may not be familiar with them. It's part of being kind to and respectful of your reader.

Latest blog post: Write Right: At Around

ginidietrich
ginidietrich

@JennyQ Hahahahahaha! I think on Twitter it's OK!

justinspage
justinspage

 @flemingsean  I actually don't see much of the "sent unedited". I never really have. Your points are well taken, though. 

 

Trackbacks

  1. [...] post goes out to Jennifer Whinnem who referenced Gertrude Stein in a comment on a recent SpinSucks about bad business [...]

  2. [...] as though you’re reading the text for the very first time. You also can borrow an idea from Lindsay Bell-Wheeler who says to read your work backwards, that is, from the conclusion to the [...]