We spend one third of our working hours in writing emails, memos, letters etc.; and yet rarely notice their impact on our professional persona and career.
The spurt in communication technologies has made our lives easier; but the technology is still far from matching the human intellect. We tend to forget that the technology is a mere carrier of our thoughts expressed in words; it can’t be the substitute for intelligence, emotions and reasoning behind the written communications.
When you send across your written words in any form, you also transmit your own personality embedded in those words. Your words personify you in front of the reader.
The higher you go up, the more your mistakes are magnified; and more easily you appear dumb. Some of the silly mistakes which I have seen people make, irrespective of their position, are absolutely avertable. We can avoid them by being a bit more alert.
1. Spelling errors:
This shows your lack of interest in committing a couple of seconds more, before hitting send button. Use spell check. The technology comes handy here.
Look at common errors, withold vs. withhold, maintenence vs. maintenance, reccomend vs. recommend and so on.
2. Right spelling, wrong word:
Remember, Spell check can’t be the solution for every error. It’ll not point to your contextual mistake between “made” or “mad”, “best” or “beast or even “breast”, “there” or “their”. You sometimes run the extreme danger of screwing seriously even after spell check clears it.
Memo from a manager with excusable (?) error “…It’s grate to see you back. My breast wishes for your new project…”. LOL (:-. gross negligence and apathy towards the team member.
3. Acronyms and jargons:
Beyond some common abbreviations like R&D, FAQ, IT, don’t use acronyms (I used “LOL” earlier, hope it’s fine). You may be tempted to use your industry jargons and try to appear professional; but in all possibility, you will end up with confused readers scratching their heads. It’s certainly not professional.
“EIE, Stop using acronyms ASAP. You need to DIY”.*
4. Tense traps:
As a general rule, start with appropriate tense and stick to it throughout unless it’s contextually required to switch. Mixing tenses in writing is one of the most prevalent errors people make.
Remember, “the past”, “the present” and “the future” are not good friends and don’t stay together unless context invites them.
A line from a mail I received from one of my readers “…I met her yesterday and ask for the draft. She say that she will complete it within a couple of days…”. The sender conveys the intent to me but he seems to be casual and amateurish. The better alternative – “… I met her yesterday and asked for the draft. She said that she would complete it within a couple of days…”.
5. Don’t be passive:
It’s better to use active voice in professional writing. Active voice seems more “active” and effective. People use passive voice when they don’t intend to reveal the doer; and the emphasis is more on work rather than doer.
Mail from manager to his team- “… The targets have been achieved consecutively for the second quarter (god knows who has achieved it). The hard work has been done (by whom). Congratulations…”
Let’s make it active – “…you’ve achieved the targets consecutively for second quarter. You’ve done the hard work. Congratulations …”. Better. On target!!!
6. Chat syndrome:
Dnt let ur chatng and txtng habits spill ovr 2 ur professional wrtng. It’s unprofessional when your “should” becomes “sud”, “could” becomes “cd”, “specifications” become “speks” or “specs”, “meeting” becomes “mtng”; the list goes on.
It takes a couple of seconds more to spell the word completely. Don’t worry. Nobody is in hurry; take your sweet time.
7. Wrong punctuations:
Use punctuations appropriately and carefully. Know the difference between lets vs. let’s, they’re vs. there, it’s vs. its.
As a general rule, the words with apostrophe are contraction words; hence “let’s” is “let us”, “They’re” is “they are” or “they were”, “It’s” is “it is”. The commas, hyphens, apostrophes, full stops etc. can make you look sensible or stupid as depending on usage.
“Say ‘NO’ to drugs from narcotics police department”. One missing hyphen has turned narcotics police department into drug dealers.
See the difference a comma can make – Managers motivate teams to perform; Managers, motivate teams to perform; Managers motivate, teams to perform; Managers motivate teams, to perform.
8. Writing in all capital:
YOU DON’T CAPITALIZE BY WRITING ALL IN CAPITAL. This is akin to shouting and equally irritating to reader. A strong NO to all capital.
9. Mixed font, font weight, and font colors:
Making some sentences and words italic and bold is fine to emphasize certain points but don’t overdo it. Don’t mix different colored fonts. It looks grossly amateurish.
Remember, content and professional presentation of your communication are what matters; not the audacious show of your fourth grader’s creativity.
10. Long sentences:
You can write a complete epic by using sentence connectors like however, thus, also, hence, similarly, therefore, etc. By the time reader reaches the end of the sentence, he finds himself lost completely. It’s like a car which doesn’t stop on signals, creating havoc for others on the road.
Keep your sentences short. Restrict sentences related to similar ideas to short paragraphs. Believe me, you are not being charged for using full stops.
11. Thinking Translation syndrome:
If English is not your first language, you think in your first language or mother tongue and write in English; but for God’s sake, don’t do verbatim translation. You are not programmed robotic translator but a professional human.
Think, give a pause, structure your sentence in logical, comprehensible English and then write.
My aim is not to point to anybody’s grammatical flaws (even I have lot of them!!), but to point to ridiculous and silly overlooks that we make, either out of casual approach; or because, sometimes, we fail to comprehend the importance of written communication in our career and life.