6 tips for better business writing

Beyond the trend of ‘writing like you talk,’ texting and other online shorthand have diminished literacy in corporate communication.

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 this way:

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.”

It’s not just Mr. Silver who is losing the battle. Companies across the country are waging the same war, 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 that come shorthand acronyms—LOL, WTH, *$, 2nite, <3, AISI, IMO, OMG—and they’re all creeping into corporate 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 affecting not only the business world. According to BBC News, students are turning in homework written entirely 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 New York 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?

Text speak is diminishing the corporate world of writing and communications, of course, but most people today 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.

  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. Many of us use LOL or OMG or WTH, 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 abusing 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?

Gini Dietrich is founder and CEO of Arment Dietrich, Inc. A version of this article ran on SEOCopywriting.com.


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