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Gini Dietrich

Six Tips for Better Business Writing

By: Gini Dietrich | July 22, 2015 | 
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Six Tips for Better Business Writing

By Gini Dietrich

A couple of months ago, my baby sister, Laney, who is my only sister and who has four children, texted me to say that her oldest, my 13-year-old niece was dying because she had texted LOL to her.

My niece said, “I can’t believe my mom said LOL!” As if my sister is older than dirt and completely clueless about anything hip and cool (ah, teenagers).

Now we have a running joke where we use #mymomsaidlol when something strikes us as hilarious.

Fast forward to earlier this week and I received a text that said, “What r u doing?”

I said, “Is this Bella?”

Laney responded, “No.”

I said, “Y r u texting me like u r 13?”

And, of course, she responded with, “#mymomsaidlol.”

It’s funny because it’s true, but it also drives me INSANE.

We Have Become Lazy

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*.

The article begins with this story:

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

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 business writing and communications. Most don’t know the difference between their, they’re, and there or its and it’s.

Six Tips for Better Business Writing

Following are six tips for better business writing. And, if you’re so inclined, for better social media 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 particularly in business 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 and it like sounds like really like unprofessional and like demeans like your expertise.

If you want to get serious about your business 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?

About Gini Dietrich


Gini Dietrich is the founder and CEO of Arment Dietrich, an integrated marketing communications firm. She is the author of Spin Sucks, co-author of Marketing in the Round, and co-host of Inside PR. She also is the lead blogger at Spin Sucks and is the founder of Spin Sucks Pro.

210 comments
toothteri
toothteri

Hi Gini - Thank you so much for getting back to me. I would love to see the links you have that would help- my blogging! Teri


TaraFriedlundGeissinger
TaraFriedlundGeissinger

And this is why my kids attend a Classical Education school where they're learning cursive, Latin, logic and tons of writing. 


My pet peeve has nothing to do with using text talk in a business setting but everything to do with being an educated human being. Do not text back to me with a "K" instead of taking the 0.3 extra seconds to type "ok." I mean, come on. I swear it zings my brain every time I have to read it. Which is apparently really funny to those who know this about me. :) 

toothteri
toothteri

I just wanted to say I think you're doing a great job with your blog. I'm new to blogging, and I'm still figuring things out. If you have any tips, advice, feedback or input I'd really appreciate it. My post is MS/Art@paintinggodslight.com. I have Multiple Sclerosis and use my art as therapy. Endless thanks for your time! Teri

ginidietrich
ginidietrich moderator

@toothteri Teri - I just went to your site and your art is STUNNINGLY BEAUTIFUL! I do have some advice. If you will send me an email, it'll remind me to send you some links of things I think will really help. You're on the right path!

KensViews
KensViews

Great post. One thing to consider, if one depends on spell check.  Let's say you write a post on "The Power of Public Relations," and omit the "l" in "public," spell check won't catch that error.  The potential for embarrassment  is obvious!

KensViews
KensViews

@ginidietrich For the record, I have never made that mistake. At least not in pubic.  LOL!!

biggreenpen
biggreenpen

@ginidietrich @KensViews I was proofing a friend's resume once on which she included in her education her Master's in Public Administration. #WithoutTheL (she added it hooray or her career path could  have taken a decidedly different path)

danielschiller
danielschiller

May I add "impactful." Not a word, and it sounds painful.

Suze Carragher
Suze Carragher

I'm reminded of an NBC show "Ed." Ed lost his job at a law firm over a misplaced comma.

samemac
samemac

Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.


I once took my students' papers and wrote the top five errors from them on the board. Then we spent time going over each one. My first question? "What do you think these statements represent?" Several answered, "Sentences from our papers?" 


They KNEW what they were, but didn't get why it was important. I had to draw a very visual picture about job availability in our industry for people who cannot write. 


I also had a professor tell my intro-level course he would not administer exams with surveys because students don't know how to write and it's a waste of his time to grade. [face palm]


Writing. Is. Important. 


Clearly, consistently and credibly craft content with context to communicate across multiple channels. (try to say that five times fast)

samemac
samemac

And by surveys, I clearly meant essays. [insert WTH? here]

biggreenpen
biggreenpen

@samemac (and ability to use alliteration is a potent professional plus also!)

Michelle Hals
Michelle Hals

Quick story: In an earlier stage of my career, I taught Composition I to college freshman. The work they submitted was usually good but their emails to me were not. Text lingo, lack of capitalization, run-on sentences, etc. After about three weeks of it, I'd had enough. I assigned an article about text language and knowing your audience. I never received another message with text language from them again.


The tips are fantastic, especially #5. A peer drilled that into me many years ago and I'm grateful for it every day.

Diana Combs
Diana Combs

@Michelle Hals  Great idea, assigning text language and knowing your audience! They need to read that, and the sooner the better.

SavvyCopywriter
SavvyCopywriter

When someone misuses the word "your" vs "you're," it's an instant distraction. The message is completely lost on me. It's worth someone checking his/her writing over for these types of errors to avoid losing their audience.


All of these writing tips are fantastic - not just number 3! I recently started a newsletter called "Read. Write. Riff." where I offer professionals a few posts to read from the week, a writing tip, and a riff about something going on in the marketing world. The writing tip was tossed in there because it matters SO MUCH. 


One other shameless plug (I SO don't normally do this here!) - I wrote a similar post a few weeks ago where I said, "cut the THAT fat" and felt quite clever for my poetic abilities. You're absolutely right! It's rarely needed. 

biggreenpen
biggreenpen

Because so much of our communication these days is hastily posted via some type of social media, it has the "feel" of being transitory or impermanent. I know I have adjusted my personal standards for this -- typos in tweets don't get me nearly as riled up as they used to. // As far as business communication in general ... attention to detail (to me) is a bit of an indicator of how you will approach everything else about your business. If you didn't take time to look back through an email or letter to make sure it was error-free, are you going to take the time to make sure the contract for 500,000 brochures isn't overcharging me by 5 cents a piece (or whatever)? // I recently made a careless typo in the meta description of a post for Lead Change. Who really reads meta descriptions anyway, right? WELL, this particular post was one the author wanted to post to Linked In. Even though I fixed the typo, it turns out that Linked In NEVER LETS GO of the initial meta description. I spent so much more time redoing the ENTIRE post so that it would have a different root url, so that it would look right on LinkedIn, caused a delay in my client getting up a time sensitive post to LI, etc. etc. Accuracy and double checking pays (but it can also paralyze which is the tight rope I personally walk constantly). <<<--- I actually started to say "all. the. time." but have to admit that is one of those social media-y constructions that still sort of bugs me and doesn't (IMO) belong in business correspondence even though I have embraced it as fun for social media and personal correspondence. 

biggreenpen
biggreenpen

@ginidietrich @biggreenpen and FWIW I see the "that" in my comment. There are times (not my comment, but other times) when it can be defended IMO but it is too easily used as a non-essential filler.

ElissaFreeman
ElissaFreeman

Ok...I laughed my head off but this is so true! I looked over a paper my daughter was handing in (about 2 years ago) and was AGHAST she had written a word in text.  TEXT! I freaked and she looked at me like I had three heads. Needless to say she has broken that habit.  But, like, yeah...like she still like uses that like word way too much.!

biggreenpen
biggreenpen

@ElissaFreeman Have you ever had your kid say "but Word didn't put that squiggly red line under the word so it must not have been wrong"? #facepalm 

Michelle Hals
Michelle Hals

@biggreenpen @ElissaFreeman I've seen that way too often. I used to teach college students. One assignment I gave was to write an essay assessing the status quo of a controversial issue.  I had a lot of rough drafts that included the statement, "I will now asses the situation..." 

DawnMentzer
DawnMentzer

Good tips. Reading aloud helps a lot. Also, making it a point to pause at every punctuation mark while proofreading helps to find those little oopses that can sneak past us. I think nearly everyone knows the difference between "its" and "it's" and "there," "they're" and "their" and "your" and "you're." In haste, however, using the wrong one happens. 

ginidietrich
ginidietrich moderator

@DawnMentzer I think you might be giving people way too much credit. I saw something on Facebook the other day from a "proud mommy" about her kid using their correctly, but it was completely and totally incorrect. I almost died. And I agree...reading it aloud helps a TON!

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.

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