We’ve all taken English 101 and probably have forgotten more than we remember. Unless you write for a living, many dos and don’ts of writing slip our minds. Even those who write for a living rely on editors to catch errors in everything from punctuation to subject verb agreement. So when you decide to write for your own business or even hire someone else to do it, there are a few things to remember:
- One is never enough. That is, one draft of anything is never adequate; one set of eyes is never sufficient, one read-through is not sufficient. The written correspondence you send to clients, employees, other businesses, etc. is a direct reflection of your company and you. A document, an email, or even a memo that contains errors in spelling (spell check doesn’t catch everything), sentence structure, grammar, and so on, can make the recipient question your intelligence, your professionalism, your ability to pay attention to the details, and your dedication to your service or product. If you don’t take the time to double check your written items, how attentive are you going to be to your final product?
- Does your content follow a stream of consciousness, or does it become a babbling brook? You and your proofreaders need to check the content for flow and consistency. Are you leading the reader through a logical flow of information? Does one sentence coherently lead into the next? My father will combine three stories into one. He jumps from topic to topic, person to person. We often begin looking under our chairs and around the room; we’re looking for the point. I have edited many fiction and nonfiction pieces that made me scratch my head and wonder what in the world the author is saying. What I find most often is that the writers knew exactly what they meant in their mind when they wrote it. Well, guess what? No one else is in your mind.
- Do your paragraphs break when the topic changes or do they contain multiple concepts that should be given their space? Think of a child who tells a story and continually says, “and.” The child wants to be sure you know the story is not over, and you should still be giving her your attention. By placing too many topics in one paragraph, you are like that child who wants your continued attention, yet, unbeknownst to her, you can no longer follow her line of thought and lose interest.
- Your sentence structure should vary. Simple sentences are great because they get to the point and move on, but continually using that type of sentence creates an almost monotone voice. Mix it up. Use complex and compound sentences. Ask questions, make statements, be imperative. You don’t speak only in simple sentences nor should you write that way.
- The correct spelling is crucial. Take the time to check the spelling of words, especially those with prefixes and suffixes. Advertisers will often create their spelling (lite instead of light) as a way to grab the consumer’s eye. It does not make that spelling acceptable in formal documents. While it is more acceptable now to use contractions in more formal writing, make sure you know the correct placement of the apostrophe. I just edited a document written by a man who has traveled the world, has multiple degrees, and speaks several languages, but he repeatedly spelled couldn’t as “could’t’t.” Here are three more common errors regarding the use of apostrophes. And this has to with possessive pronouns. It’s your business what you do when you’re (you are) at home. Where is the dog? It’s (It is) sleeping on its bed. Let’s (let us) make a poster when mother lets us make a sign. Small changes-big differences.
- There are great reference books out there that can help any writer. One is a thesaurus. Use it to look up synonyms to avoid using the same words over and over again, not to find words that make you sound more educated or sophisticated. Style books such as The Chicago Manual of Style can answer any question in the format, from when to underline vs. italicize titles to where to place punctuation when using quotation marks. A good usage book comes in handy when you are unsure of the differences between every day and everyday. And as a bonus, all of these books have online versions. So when it doubt, look it up! The hardcover versions combined weigh twenty pounds, especially when I add my Webster’s dictionary to the stack. Can we say chiropractic appointment?
- Write to a high school audience. Writing at the high-school level, as opposed to a post-graduate level, will engage more people. But don’t patronize your audience; high school students are brighter than they are sometimes given credit for. And having to look up a word to learn its meaning is not such a bad thing. We are supposed to learn at least one new thing every day.
- Grammar, punctuation, and capitalization errors can cause a break in the reader’s flow. There are very specific rules in the English language for subject verb agreement, maintaining person and tense, correct placement of modifiers, what gets capitalized, and which punctuation mark gets used and where. Grammar check is not a sufficient tool. Too many commas or the incorrect placement of commas creates choppy sentences. Not every word deserves to be capitalized. When you capitalize too much, you lose the emphasis you were trying to achieve. A semicolon is used when you have two complete sentences that you want to combine into one sentence. The semicolon is used in place of a comma and a conjunction. What is on each side of the semicolon must be able to stand on its own as a complete sentence. When in doubt, look it up. Put any question along these lines into Google and you’ll find the grammar police force out there in cyberspace.
- Organization of your information is vital. If you want people to remember some points you have made, put them in a bulleted list. Make the entry items short. Put the most important things at the very beginning or the very end because people don’t remember what is in the middle.
- Write what you know. You do not have to be the be-all-end-all expert in your field. Share your knowledge, however, don’t use it as a way to toot your own horn. It’s great that you have chosen a sustainable lifestyle, but how does that help establish your credibility as an investment broker? Your PhD. in psychology is a definite plus when applied to marketing techniques. I have had the unbelievable opportunity to live in Australia and Tokyo, and while that puts me in an authoritative place to write about my experiences there, neither place has much to do with my credibility as an editor. So when you share in writing, be sure to frame things in a supportive context.
- In today’s world, once things are sent, you cannot get them back. And the “oops!” route that some marketers take is pretty much a tactic reserved for correcting dates or providing an excuse to send extra reminders about an upcoming activity. If used too frequently, the recipients may begin to overlook such emails–like the little boy who cried wolf.
So, before you hit the send button, keep in mind that every piece of written correspondence is a direct reflection of the author. And if that author is you, get another pair of eyes on your written material; it can make the difference between gaining or losing a client.
Writing well is the beginning achievement to creating conversions from your online marketing content. Now, even though there’s a lot of material out there with spelling errors and typos, and some of owners/creators of this material may have thriving businesses.
You can be sure that they will NOT be paying really close attention to what you are doing and how you are doing it if you buy into their products or services. And, they are after a lot of business, not necessarily a reputation for high-level professionalism. So, keep that in mind next time you want to put your content out there. Who do you want to attract, and why?
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