Effective business communication is clear and concise. Whether you’re writing emails, marketing material, ad copy or blog posts, professional writing needs to be free of errors in grammar, punctuation and spelling.
When mistakes slip in, the credibility and professionalism of the writer are hurt. Errors can make clients, business owners and managers think that the writer did not consider attention to detail or was not careful enough to proofread the content before sending or publishing it.
If you would like to be more confident in your writing as you communicate with your audience, here are some tips to help you get started. I’ve followed that list up with a few recommended resources that we use here at Bellingham PR & Communications.
Tips for avoiding common word mix-ups:
Me versus I: There is a quick and easy way to check whether “me” or “I” is accurate: Say the sentence without the other person’s name, and you’ll find out. For example:
Our client will meet with Robin and I.
Is that correct? Say the same sentence without Robin’s name:
Our client will meet with I.
This makes it clear that the correct version is this:
Our client will meet with Robin and me.
A lot and alot: Before spell check, “alot” slipped through a lot (well, more often), but “alot” is not a word. Occasionally it still shows up, so it’s good keep an eye out and catch it before clicking “send” or “publish.”
Alright and all right: To put it simply, “alright” is never all right.
It’s and its: A common error is to write “it’s” for “its,” or vice versa. “It’s” is a contraction that means “it is.” “Its” is a possessive. Here’s an example:
It’s easy to see the cat enjoys its toys but not its food.
If you can substitute “it is,” use “it’s.” If not, use “its.”
Their, they’re and there: Even when you know the proper use of these three words that sound the same, it’s easy to accidentally type the wrong word — and spell check won’t catch it!
“Their” and “theirs” are the possessive forms for “they”:
It is their idea. The idea is theirs.
“They’re” is a contraction for “they are”:
They’re going to take it with them.
“There” means in or at a place:
It’s easy to get there.
Helpful hints for catching errors:
Read it out loud. This is a simple way to find errors that we might miss when reading something we’ve written. Also, try reading it again when the text is in a different format, such as on your website (when posting a blog article) or in print (in the context of a publication layout).
Use a grammar-check app. Some Whatcom County business professionals check their writing with grammarly.com to catch and correct errors. There’s even a browser extension you can load that will help catch errors in emails. You also might try Ginger Software. You can read about both of these options in this blog post.
Reference books for grammar and punctuation questions:
- The Elements of Style, by William Strunk Jr. and E.B. White. White, you might realize, is the author of Charlotte’s Web. Strunk was a professor of English at Cornell. A version of this book can be found online at the Gutenberg Project.
- The Associated Press Stylebook. You can get this in print, and an online version also is available.
- Woe Is I: The Grammarphobe’s Guide to Better English in Plain English, by Patricia T. O’Conner
- Eats, Shoots and Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation, by Lynne Truss
Using these and similar resources can help improve your writing and give you added confidence in your business communication. If you need any additional help, please feel free to reach out to us here at BPRC. My email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
You also might be interested in reading this post: Editing 101: Proofreading vs. copy editing