Drawing on my experience as an English major in college as well as my short time in Language Arts education, I have written the following article about sharpening and improving your writing for a businesslike Web environment.
Writing for a Business? Make It Look and Sound Like It!
Many online writers, including myself on a fair number of occasions, write in a more conversational style, much more casual and open. This is great for a personal blog or website, and is much more relatable for an anecdotal site.
However, if you’re writing for business, writing for advertising, or anything else that involves the need for clear and quick communication, you want to be as concise and correct as possible. Users who visit a business site are there to get info as quickly as possible, and you need to make that info-gathering process easy.
The three main issues I see with many amateur business communications are that there are too many misspellings and grammar mistakes, too many texting and Internet abbreviations, and lack of attention to phrasing and sentence construction.
Misspellings and Grammar Mistakes
Reading a well-written text is a delight to the eyes and the brain–the content enters your brain easily and quickly, and you feel like you’re truly learning something and making progress.
Trying to read a horribly-misspelled text with grammar mistakes all over it, on the other hand, is a mess; every sentence, or even every word, has to be paused over to decipher its meaning. It’s as if you’re not fluent in the language anymore.
Just as no one would go to a job interview without dressing, smelling, and speaking their best, no one should present a professional communication of any sort that has misspellings and grammar errors. Every error is like a tear in your suit jacket, a stain on your pants–it detracts from the text’s meaning, and others not only won’t be able to make sense of what you’ve written, but they’ll also have a lower opinion of you for writing that way.
If you are unsure of how to spell a word, here are several ways you can get help:
- Search online for proper spelling and word usage, using sites like Dictionary.com and Thesaurus.com.
- Craft your writing in a word processor so you can catch common spelling errors. OpenOffice.org is a good, free word processing software option, as well as Google Docs. Remember, though, these programs don’t catch everything!
- Lastly, proofread and read your work aloud to get rid of sound-alike/spelled-different problems, like their/they’re/there and your/you’re. You wouldn’t believe how much reading your words aloud helps you find problems in your writing!
Incorrect: I’m sitting over their. (you’re sitting over their what? Whoever you’re talking about might not appreciate you sitting over their possessions.)
Correct: I’m sitting over there. (“there” as opposed to “here”…a location. Remember that there and here both end in “-re”, if nothing else reminds you of which form to use.)
Incorrect: There going to the store. (There are no people mentioned in this sentence at all. “There” references a location, or perhaps a pointed-out object.)
Correct: They’re going to the store. (“They are going to the store.” Whoever “they” are, they are going as a group to the store.)
Incorrect: You’re hair looks good today. (literally translated, “You are hair looks good today.” Is that really what you meant to say?)
Correct: Your hair looks good today. (Just like the word “their”, “your” ends in an “r”–both words indicate possession of the noun following it. At last, you finally possess the complimented hair follicles in question!)
Texting Abbreviations and Emoticons
Using texting/Internet abbreviations and emoticons is fine for personal communications or blogs, but for business websites or other professional sites, these two writing features give your work an adolescent, too-casual feel.
Txtspeak: Oh, lol, this sounds so stupid, but…
Real English: I feel silly saying this, but…
Txtspeak: So I completely failed at that, too, xD
Real English: Yet another hilarious failure on my part
Txtspeak: omg, this gets on my nerves
Real English: This annoys me greatly/This bothers me too much to be silent
Txtspeak: do u undrstnd wht i’m tryin 2 tell u?
Real English: Do you understand what I’m trying to tell you?
If you want your communication to be taken seriously, you have to omit the textspeak. Not only will this make your writing look and sound more mature, it will also make it clearer for all users to understand.
Bad Phrasing/Sentence Construction
If every sentence. On your blog. Is broken up into. Parts like this. With lots of unnecessary punctuation…it makes it very hard to follow what’s being said.
On the other hand if your blog contains absolutely no punctuation whatsoever and you have lots of “and”s and “but”s and “or”s everywhere you have no periods to show where one thought ends and the next begins…it’s also very hard to follow what you just said.
Good sentence/paragraph construction not only makes a better story, but it makes for a clearer read, too. And clearer reads mean that more users will read what you have written, because it’s easier.
Using punctuation like verbal pauses is the best way to remember how to use them. Commas are for small pauses, just grabbing a breath before you continue on with your thought. Periods are for big pauses, where you’re about to transition to another thought. And semicolons are great for joining two small (but complete) thoughts together into a bigger sentence; usually, the two little sentences need to be at least related for the semicolon to work, though.
Directly related to sentence structure is paragraph structure. If you build your paragraphs so that your first sentence introduces your topic, the middle sentences expound on the topic, and the last sentence sums up and transitions into the next paragraph, your audience can better understand. Not only is this a good way to write for school, but it also helps fully explain your topic for business site purposes, too.
Lastly: PLEASE don’t type everything in one huge paragraph. “Walls of text” are not attractive to users who are looking for information quickly; a huge paragraph puts them right off of reading. (Preaching to myself here…I’m infamous for unintentional walls of text!) A good rule of thumb is to break for a new paragraph when you either get to a new topic you want to discuss, or when your paragraph is at least five typed lines long on your page.
This structure is beneficial for memory, because we generally remember information in “chunks.” When you’re writing for information purposes, you group like information together in the same paragraph, and you break up large portions of information into small, “bite-size” pieces so that people can take it in better.
Making your writing as professional as possible for the Web is like dressing your writing in its best for an interview–you want to make your writing give off the most sparkling first impression it can. Watching your spelling, grammar, Internet abbreviations, and writing structure is key!