By: Jeff Agner, MPH
With the recent advances in communication technology, our world continues to shrink as our means of connecting with others grow. However, the increase in the frequency and the ease of person-to-person interaction is not without consequence. Whether it be character length limitations of social media platforms or punctuation-free and emoticon-heavy messaging apps, technological trends have given us great allowances when it comes to the rules of proper writing. While fun and easy to use, these emerging communication norms must be avoided entirely when conducting business and engaging in professional correspondence.
In fact, with specialized fields such as law and medicine, careful attention to punctuation, grammar, and syntax is a critical component of communication and any deviation from what is expected can have serious adverse effects. Yet, even in less crucial business settings, don’t we want our message to come across as clearly and accurately as we intend? Whether you are developing proposals for prospective clients, providing an update for management, or issuing a directive to your team, here are some tips to make your words count.
Tip: Be correct.
Technique: Review and revise for grammar, spelling and style.
No matter how accurate the assessment is or how convincing the argument may be, writers who are sloppy with grammar and spelling or who use an inappropriate style, lose significant credibility with their readers. Pay attention to actual words that are simply misused since this is not often caught by your automated spell-checker. Be sure to double check contractions and abbreviations since they are often the culprit for incorrect writing.
For example, using “advice” vs “advise”, “your” vs “you’re” and “then” vs “than” can quickly confuse and/or annoy your reader, diminishing the strength of your core message. Asking your reader to simply “excuse the typos” will not likely make up for the credibility lost due to your carelessness.
For more examples, see 10 Flagrant Grammar Mistakes that Make You Look Stupid.
Tip: Be clear.
Technique: Avoid clichés, slang, buzzwords and don’t be a smarty-pants.
A common trap for aspiring professional writers is the incorporation of verbal communication styles into the written form. Colorful expressions can aid in persuasive speech and create more exciting dialogues, but in print, they simply add ambiguity and confusion. Look for the most appropriate and straightforward words that will convey your message.
For example, consider “I recommend we use the green version of the marketing flyer” over “IMHO, I do believe that the utilization of our green-hued collateral would be most appropriate for the given situation.”
Tip: Be succinct.
Technique: Plan your message before you touch the keyboard.
It is very easy to incorporate confusing or unnecessary items in your message if you have not given some preliminary thought to the objective and approach of what you are ultimately trying to communicate.
For example, you must notify your manager about an issue you identified. Before you recommend a solution, provide just enough background information so that the reader has enough context. Then, as you begin to write, resist the temptation to include unnecessary pleasantries or unrelated lead-in information. Your main points should be in the first sentence and the reader will be drawn to find the details later.
Tip: Be interesting.
Technique: Vary your word choices and minimize redundancy.
While the tips above are sure to make your writing easier for your readers to follow, it doesn’t hurt to also make it more enjoyable. A dull or repetitive letter or email will likely not be read in its entirety and a key element of the message can be missed. Don’t be afraid to enlist the help of a thesaurus (minding the second tip above, of course) to mix things up a little bit and keep the reader engaged.
For example, if you are communicating a list of objectives to your team and each bullet point begins with the word “Develop”, they will likely glaze over the list and try to pick out key words from each item. Instead, be deliberate with the words you chose for each task. Not only will the variety of action verbs make the list more exciting and motivating to read, but by considering each word in the context of the rest of the sentence, you will probably find that your instructions are clearer.
For more writing tips, follow the links below or consult the preeminent work on professional writing and grammar The Elements of Style, by William Strunk and E.B. White and follow this link for 10 Tips for Better Business Writing.
Happy writing, readers!