Avoid Business Writing Glitches, Goofs, and Gaffes | TechWell

Avoid Business Writing Glitches, Goofs, and Gaffes

I once worked in a company where some of the managers were terrible writers. They specialized in run-on sentences. They confused their, there, and they’re. They misspelled and used the wrong punctuation and caused the rest of us to misunderstand. For me, reading their writing was like the visual equivalent of nails on a blackboard.

Bad writing isn’t a trivial matter. Aside from appearing unprofessional, it can be costly. For example, one of the mistakes described by Michael Egan in "Total Quality Business Writing" concerns a nuclear plant supervisor who ordered "ten foot long lengths" of radioactive material. Can you guess what happened? Instead of getting what it wanted—ten-foot lengths—the plant received ten one-foot lengths. The cost of the missing hyphen was exorbitant, so much so that it was later classified.

The number one writing error people make is confusing it’s and its. The first is the contraction for it is or it has, as in, “it’s important” or "it's been nice knowing you." The second is the possessive, as in “its importance.” So the rule is if you can replace the word with it is or it has, use it's. Otherwise, use its.

People also frequently confuse certain words with other words that look or sound similar, such as:

  • affect and effect
  • born and borne
  • phase and faze
  • forward and foreword
  • compliment and complement

Then there are misspellings. Among the hundred most often misspelled words are argumentbelieve, and conscientious. But don’t rely too much on spell check, which won’t know that you wrote pear when you meant pair. And as many people have found out the hard way, if you use an autocorrect function on your computer or cell phone, the correction it makes may not be the one you had in mind. Oops!

Other kinds of mistakes in professional writing include numbers in tables that don’t add up, technical mumbo-jumbo when the audience is nontechnical, going on at unnecessary length, and using acronyms and abbreviations without defining them. And there’s way too much writing that looks like buzzword salad. Don’t add to it.

When you’re finished writing, proofread. Then proofread again for the things you missed the first time. If what you’ve written is important, have a colleague proofread it as well; someone not familiar with your work will be able to catch glitches you overlooked. Fail to proofread and the mish-mash you end up with may not be as amusing as in this video.

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