The Top 10 Business
Writing Mistakes that Cost You Money
By Brent Sampson
In business, every
word counts. This holds true for writing, too, particularly when the
economy is putting pressure on every decision, stress on every
partnership and expectations on everybody. Don’t let small mistakes
in your business writing make a big impact on your potential
customers. Here are 10 common errors in business writing and how to
1) Don’t forget to spell check your work: We’ve
all received resumes and letters with spelling errors. Don’t make
the same mistake. Spell check every business e-mail or
correspondence you send. Most e-mail programs have this function, so
take advantage of it. In many cases, nothing can sour the tone of a
future partnership faster than a grammatically incorrect
correspondence filled with spelling errors.
2) Don’t forget to
include a salutation:
How many business
e-mails do you receive that don’t greet you by name? Starting an
e-mail without a salutation is akin to starting a conversation in
the middle. A salutation marks the beginning of a correspondence in
a letter or e-mail, and omitting one is not professional. Worse yet,
your e-mail could be confused for spam, since an e-mail without a
personal salutation usually means the message went to many people
3) Don’t forget your signature: Everyone
receives a lot of e-mail nowadays. How frustrating is it to receive
one without a proper signature line? Perhaps you remember the person
based solely upon his or her e-mail address, but perhaps you don’t.
If their e-mail seems important enough, you have to spend time
investigating who they are and what company they work for. Even if
you do happen to remember the person, failing to include a signature
demonstrates a lack of respect for the recipient’s time or workload.
Always include a salutation and a signature in every e-mail
correspondence, even if the other person doesn’t do the same for
4) Don’t use jargon, acronyms, slang, or Internet
speak: At best, using acronyms make you appear lazy. At worst,
they confuse your reader. Using jargon isn’t any better. Best case
scenario: you seem aloof. Worst case: Your reader feels stupid.
Examples of “Internet speak” include “LMAO,” “noob,” “l33t” and “rofl.”
Do know what these all mean? If you don’t, how does that make you
feel? Other mistakes include using slang, curse words or words that
illicit the improper tone (such as “dude” or “wazzup.”) Avoid them
all. Business will rarely shy away from you for being “too
5) Don’t use emoticons: A close cousin to jargon
and acronyms are emoticons (punctuation in the form of a “face”).
Eventually you may reach an informal level of communication that
warrants an emoticon, but let the other person breach this ground
first. If neither of you take the first step toward the use of
emoticons, that’s OK – your writing will be stronger as a result of
having to communicate an emotion without using a picture.
6) Don’t forget to
include a call to action:
communication, on one level or another, involves some type of
selling. You are either selling yourself, your company, your idea,
your product, your service, etc. There needs to be a call to action.
It can be as simple as ending an e-mail with an “I look forward to
hearing back from you” at the end, but one way or another, every
correspondence needs to inform the recipient of your expectations
regarding their next step. Who knows? It may be easiest for them to
follow your suggestion.
7) Don’t make it
the wrong length:
correspondence comes in a variety of forms or formats, and each one
has an appropriate length. Contracts are supposed to be long and
scary. E-mails are supposed to be short and sweet. Recognize what
you are writing and keep your length standardized. If you write a
100-word contract, no one is going to take it seriously and if you
write a 1,000 word e-mail, no one is going to read it. Give people
what they expect at the length they expect it.
8) Don’t forget you
could be quoted:
Recently there was
an e-mail from a company’s accounting department posted on the
Internet for everyone to read. It was addressed to the employees of
that company, presumably with an understanding of confidentiality
since it contained private information about that company’s
finances. Nevertheless, there it was on a public forum. The Internet
has focused a gigantic microscope on all of us. When you write
something, assume everyone in the world will see it and know that it
came from you.
9) Don’t use
Since you now
realize your writing can come back to haunt you at any time, it is
best to avoid writing in absolutes. Avoid using terms like “never”
when you can use “rarely.” Don’t use terms like “will be” when you
can use terms like “may be.” Upon initial reading, the reader won’t
recognize the difference, and down the road, if your feet are held
to the fire, words that are not absolute are more defensible.
10) Don’t include
In other words, cut
to the chase. Since every word counts, be as succinct and applicable
as possible. Including superfluous information opens yourself up to
a variety of mistakes. It makes your writing unnecessarily long; it
increases the chances of breaking one of these other rules; it
communicates to the other person that you are unable to censor,
prioritize or organize; and it could contain information that turns
your “sale” into a “bail.”
No one is perfect, but if you take the time to make sure your
business writing avoids 10 basic pitfalls, you will be that much
closer to succeeding while wielding a pen. And what do you know…it
is mightier than the sword, after all.
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