Between texting, tweeting and other forms of instant communication, many Americans are writing more than ever. The trouble is that we have gotten sloppy with our writing.
While putting together a unique blend of abbreviations, emoticons and punctuation marks may be appropriate when discussing weekend with friends, this kind of informality can mark you as unprofessional in the business world.
Your writing can reveal more about you than you realize. A 2013 study of 100 LinkedIn profiles by Grammarly found that professionals who received one to four promotions made 45 percent more grammatical errors than did professionals who were promoted six to nine times in the same 10-year period.
The good news is that you can improve your business writing skills by following these seven rules.
Keep it Simple
Whether you are writing a report or an email, keep your message clear and concise. Use short declarative sentences. Avoid unnecessary adverbs and adjectives, and skip a long word when a short one will do.
Your writing will be fresher if you use the active voice. Make sure your subject is doing the action. Write: Our sales team will release year-end figures at the meeting. Not: Year-end sales results will be released at the meeting.
Forget “getting on the same page,” “after all is said and done,” “taking it to the next level,” “circling back” and “reaching out.” Cut out these and other over-used clichés from your writing. It detracts from your message. Similarly, foreign phrases and scientific words can make you look like a show-off.
Make Sure Your Subjects Agree with Your Pronouns and Verbs
To make our writing gender-friendly, we often make subject-verb and subject-pronoun errors. A singular subject needs a singular verb form and a singular pronoun. A plural subject requires a plural pronoun and plural verb form.
Incorrect example: Everyone forgot their notebook. “Everyone” is a singular subject and “their” is a plural pronoun. This sentence should be: Everyone forgot his or her notebook. Or you could change to a gender-neutral plural form: We all forgot our notebooks.
Watch the Exclamation Points and Capitals
Use exclamation points only when you need them for impact. Otherwise, they are can seem unprofessional and even a bit crazy. Writing in all caps in a business letter can seem as if you are yelling at your reader. Avoid it.
Learn Common Word Usage Errors
Spell check won’t catch these errors, but your recipient probably will.
- That or which – Use the word “that” to introduce essential information. If the information is not necessary to the sense of the sentence, use “which.”
- Affect or effect – “Affect” is a verb that means “to change or to influence.” “Effect” is a noun that means “result.” Example: The weather affected our sales in December. The weather had a negative effect on our December sales.
- Me, myself and I – A trick is to use the next time you wondering whether to use the personal pronouns me, myself or I, is to think about how you would write the sentence if you removed any mention of other people.
Let’s say you have written: Send your responses to Jason and I. To check if “I” is the correct pronoun, take out the mention of Jason. You would not write, “Send your responses to I” or “Send your responses to myself,” would you? The correct pronoun is “me” in this example.
Before hitting the send or print button, check and re-check your writing for embarrassing errors. Remember online spell checkers cannot detect contextual spelling errors. Since we often read over our own typos and other mistakes, try reading your work aloud. Another option is to have a friend or co-worker read your work.
For more writing tips, purchase a copy of The Elements of Style, the classic book on writing and grammar by William Strunk and E.B. White. The slim volume, which is priced at under $10, will help you become a better writer.