- In the U.S., the average reading level is eighth grade.
- In Canada, almost half of all adult Canadians are believed to have low literacy skills.
Have you considered that your employees may have poor writing skills, and that they may be jeopardizing your business reputation?
For the record, I’m not talking about typos. Typos happen occasionally. I’m talking about full-blown, frequent errors in spelling, grammar and word choice—errors that people with low literacy skills make frequently.
If you think there’s no need for concern, think again, and check out the FAQs below:
1. “A few spelling errors aren’t going to damage my company’s reputation.”
Maybe. Maybe not. It depends on the person with whom you’re communicating.
For example, let’s say I have a choice between Company A and Company B. Both companies have equal offerings, prices and quality of customer service.
B’s promotional materials are rife with spelling and grammatical errors; and so are the e-mails I receive from its sales force. Meanwhile, A’s communications are impeccable.
All things otherwise equal, if I have to choose, I’m giving my business to Company A. Why? Because A’s attention to the “finer details” says a lot about how it runs its business.
In all likelihood, that will translate into a better customer experience all around.
2. “But my employees can write! They’re well-educated!”
Yes, technically, if your employees have post-secondary education, they probably can write. But do they write well? In other words, do they write according to spelling and grammatical standards? And do they understand the importance of doing so?
3. “I have PR/marketing/communications staff; certainly they’re great writers!”
Sadly, no, they may not be. I’ve worked with brilliant PR/marketing strategists and spokespeople who can articulate ideas and messages like nobody’s business, but their writing skills are atrocious.
In other words, never assume.
4. “If so many prospects/clients have low literacy skills, why do a few errors matter?”
Don’t forget: Not everyone has challenges with literacy. In Canada, 52 percent of adults have above-average literacy skills.
If you take a laissez-faire attitude with your client communications, you’re opening yourself to criticism from those who are able to spot errors.
5. “So what would you say I do with my employees? Give everyone a writing test?”
No, but here are five things you can do right now:
- Before hiring new employees, review their résumés. Are there errors throughout? If so, this may say something about their literacy skills.
- Offer professional writing workshops in your workplace, so employees can have their writing assessed and you can identify areas for improvement.
- Stress the importance of high-quality writing across your business; communicate how it relates to your corporate reputation.
- Provide employees with an error-checking sheet for proofreading, and encourage peer-review.
- Hire a professional writer and/or editor (or a team of them)—people who are known for their attention to detail. It’s a worthwhile investment that just may bring more clients through the door.
What is the worst piece of business writing you’ve ever seen/received? Did it change your impression of the company that produced it?