A Little Thought Can Strengthen Your Business Writing

He shoulda did…

Are you guys going…

Lemme ask…

Do those phrases make your skin crawl? They should.

So should these.

Your letter infers we are obligated…

Our new line is comprised of six widgets…

…and we are moving our customers towards our finest product “Supreme”.

This second list may not strike you as containing errors. If not, your business writing could use some simple reinforcement. Simple, as in easy.

First, consider why you should be concerned about the correctness of your business writing.

Business owners and operators are very good at what they do. They know every facet of their business and speak comfortably with customers and perspective clients. This personal interaction provides a platform to demonstrate their expertise.

Yet that platform is just one of the exterior contact points businesses maintain. Others include marketing literature, proposals, invoices, inter-company correspondence and an array of other forms of the written word – even a note sent to a client by an office manager.

Proper spelling, usage and grammar can separate a company from its competition by adding an element of professionalism that is absent from other proposals, for example. Business partnerships that may prove fruitful can be solidified or broken in the language of a letter.

Proper spelling is easy, but easily overlooked. Proper grammar and usage can be tougher but are efforts worth making.

Common Mistakes

Attempting to Sound Overly Intelligent

Sorry if this hurts, but do not write words you would not use in normal conversation. Avoid sentences such as, “We will achieve a capitalization of your assets.” Who talks like that?

Spell Check

An over-reliance on or insufficient use of the Microsoft Word Spell Check feature both are weaknesses. First, remember that spell check will not always catch words that are spelled correctly but are incorrectly used. The squiggly lines of Microsoft Word’s Usage component will warn you against using “affect” when “effect” is correct. But spell check will not indicate “gage” is misspelled when, in fact, you meant to spell the word “gauge.” Also, you can drop the “i” from the word “is” and not have spell check catch the mistake.

Always proofread hard copies to help avoid these mistakes.

Second, your business may use words indicated by spell check as being incorrect that you know are correct. You are fine to ignore these warnings. However, a squiggly usage line may indicate your sentence would read better in the active versus the passive voice.

For example: Your plant analysis indicates an upgrade of security systems will mitigate loss of efficiency. Try this instead: Our analysis shows we can increase your productivity by reducing loss through improved security systems.

Writing Too Much

We all are inclined to write too much. Don’t. (However, use contractions only when making a point.)

Okay, here is what was wrong with the above examples that, perhaps, seemed fine to you.

Your letter infers we are obligated…

Speakers and writers imply; listeners and readers infer. So be careful what you imply.

Our new line is comprised of six widgets

“Composed of” or “comprises.” Our new line is composed of six widgets. Our new line comprises six widgets. Constitute is a first cousin of both but is best used when leading with the subject: Six varieties of widgets constitute our new line.

…we are moving our customers towards our finest product “Supreme”.

There is no “s” in the word toward — or forward, either. Periods always are placed inside quotation marks. ALWAYS. The sentence also needs a comma before the word “Supreme.” There is only one finest product, so it should be set off with a comma.

Quick Solutions

  • Merriam-Webster – Add this link to Merriam-Webster to your internet favorites and use it.
  • Associated Press Style Book – It is not just for journalists. It will help you know when to use start-up versus start up. Did you mean compliment or complement? Visit www.apstylebook.com.
  • Google – If you reference something in your correspondence, check it first. Be sure.

Finally, you have a business to run and do not always have the time to reference a stylebook or grammar guide. Therefore, the last piece of advice is to use common sense in your business writing.

For example, if you would pause when speaking a sentence aloud, a comma might be appropriate there. If not, do not insert one.

Business writing is more important than you might think – if only because you may not think enough about it.


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