As a business owner and manager, I’m sure that not a day goes by where you don’t have to write an email, a blog post, a proposal, or some other type of business document. Since everything you write is a reflection of you and your business, you need to make sure that your vocabulary and writing style are suited to your reader and that your spelling and grammar are flawless.
Today I continue my Improve Management Skills Month series with a few ways to ensure that your writing is the best that it possibly can be.
Before you send out any important correspondence, read it over carefully, checking in particular for the following.
Is your spelling accurate?
Don’t rely on your spellchecker to catch your typing errors! If your misspelled word just happens to be a valid dictionary word, your spellchecker won’t catch it. Furthermore, spellcheckers often don’t recognize certain words such as place names, and one of my former government co-workers created a letter template with a return address of “Hailstone, Ontario” because the spellchecker told her that was the correct spelling for “Hamilton.”
For quick checks, you can use an online dictionary site such as Dictionary.com. I like Merriam-Webster Online because I was able to add it to my search engine list in Firefox so I can simply type in a word to check the spelling without having to first navigate to the website. Sometimes though, you’ll need to refer to a proper dictionary, and it’s a worthwhile investment to have an up-to-date edition on hand. Not a week goes by that I don’t refer to my Oxford Canadian Dictionary.
Is your grammar correct?
Software is even less reliable when it comes to checking grammar, so you really need to be on your toes to avoid errors. Daily Writing Tips has an online Grammar Test you can take to see whether your grammar skills are up to snuff. Warning: it’s not as easy as it looks! Fortunately, the site also includes an archive of writing tips which includes punctuation, word usage, and much more.
Is your document readable?
Your writing should be easy for people to read, or they won’t bother. One way to do this is to avoid using overly long sentences and words that they may not understand, such as industry jargon and acronyms. There’s an interesting article on Wikipedia that explains the Flesch-Kincaid readability tests and how they relate to different types of writing.
Is your writing style appropriate?
Writing for the web is not like writing for print publications, because readers approach it very differently. People may not take the time to read dense blocks of text in a printed document, but they are even less likely to do so on a web page. The Longman Guide to Style and Writing on the Internet is an excellent resource for writing and formatting effective web documents.
Are you confident that your document says exactly what you want it to say?
Keep in mind that once you’ve sent off that proposal or ezine, it’s too late to make changes. Sure, you can send off a message saying “I meant to say…” but what is that going to do for your professional image? Is it worth missing out on an opportunity because your potential client thinks you are careless or don’t have a good eye for detail, or because he or she doesn’t understand what you’re trying to say?
If you’re interested in improving your business writing skills, you need to download Bad Language’s free ebook, 30 Days to Better Business Writing. It’s an amazing 116-page self-study guide that you can complete in just one month.
Even if you have excellent language skills, it’s very easy to overlook your mistakes because your brain already knows what you’re trying to say, so that’s what it sees on the page or screen. For your really important documents, it’s well worth it to have someone else review your writing before you send it out, whether it’s a colleague, a family member, or a virtual assistant.