“Join Mary and I for a week in the Tropics,” the announcer said. And I wondered to myself how many listeners had heard the grammatical error. For that matter, how many would care? I would guess that few listeners would give it a second thought if they had heard it, and fewer still would care very much.
But in the business situation you will find many readers who do notice grammatical errors. To these readers you may look less than professional, and perhaps even less than credible, possibly to the point of making the difference between your getting the interview – or not. Or between your company or organization getting the opportunity to work with this customer or client – or not.
Using correct grammar, spelling, and punctuation not only clarifies your meaning, but also provides the more professional appearance that builds confidence in you, or in the organization you represent. So what are some of the most common errors business writers make?
1. To begin with, as you probably have already figured out, to be grammatically correct, the announcer should have said, “Join Mary and me for a week in the Tropics.” The easiest way I know to identify an error like this one is to cover up the first of the two words, e.g., “and I” so that the sentence then begins with “Join Mary…” which sounds fine. But when you block out “Mary and” the first part of that sentence becomes, “Join…I for a week in the Tropics,” you can easily hear the error
The same goes for a sentence with a prepositional phrase, e.g., “For you and I to make that decision, we’ll need more information.” Try blocking out “you and.” Then block out “and I.” Do you hear the difference?
2. Another common error is to use the plural “their” to refer to a singular subject, e.g., “Each of the staff was asked for their opinion.” In this case, “their” should be replaced with “his or her,” if there were either both men and women on the staff, or if you don’t know the gender makeup of the staff. If the staff was composed of all women, you could say “her.” If the staff was made up of all men, you could say “his.” (Note: In the above example, what we are talking about is the singular “each.” The prepositional phrase “of the staff” is used to describe, or clarify “Each.”)
3. Using an overly formal style, such as you might use for a term paper, thesis, or dissertation, can create confusion, and misunderstanding. Further, for your writing to be most effective, you will want to use an appropriate tone – the relationship the writer sets up or reinforces with the reader. How do you want the reader to think of you?
For the most part, if you want your business writing to be read, the best course for today’s reader is to write so that your business writing will be quick, comfortable reading.
4. Finally for today, there is a plethora of words that are confused, or misused. We talk about many of them in our “Quick Tips” videos each week. Words like “fewer” (when you can count them), and “less” (things that are intangible, or hard to describe, e.g., “Harry spent less time using the new process,” or things you can measure, e.g., “There is less water in that cup than in this one.”
And words like “Its” vs. “It’s”; “affect” vs. “effect”; “their,” “there,” and “they’re” – the list goes on, and on, and on….
Send along your favorites, and let’s talk about them!
Gail Tycer offers business writing workshops and presentations, executive coaching, consulting, and writing services. To discuss how we can help, call Gail at 503/292-9681, Toll-free at 888-634-4875 or email firstname.lastname@example.org