The Power of Proofing in Personal and Professional Communications

When I was in college I took a journalism course called Editing. The key nuance of the class was that your grade on any writing assignment weighed heavily on how error-free your work was. For ever misspelled word or grammatical error, you lost 25% of your score. This is the true point in my life when I decided it made no sense to write anything at all that was overtly incorrect in any manner. I’m not one of those people that write personal emails to family and friends and don’t even take the time to press the “shift” key to make a capital letter at the start of the sentence. These people kill me. I mean what does it say about you as a person if you are that lazy that you can’t even properly express yourself in the written form? The same thing goes for incomplete sentences and missing punctuation like a period.

My point here transcends all communication, especially in professional emails, letter, memos and so on. In business we are always trying to make our best impression when meeting with prospects, customers, partners, vendors and coworkers. We typically dress the part and speak the part but why don’t we always write the part? Your written communications say as much about you as your personal appearance and many of us either don’t recognize this or simply don’t care. Trust me, in corporate America or even in small business circles, people judge you on virtually everything you do, whether intentionally or not. A misspelled word, overt grammatical error or an incomplete sentence can spell “doom” for you in terms of branding yourself and your business.

Would you put your business in the hands of a vendor (regardless of how good it is) if your contact wouldn’t even take the time necessary to spell-check his/her email, for example? I know I would certainly have doubts.

As an author, a business writer, a key message development expert and a tenured branding professional, please embrace the notion of taking the time necessary to communicate properly whether you are corresponding with a family member, a friend, a pen pal or a professional contact. It not only says something about your writing style, it also says something about you.

By Kevin B. Levi
www.winningmessage.com
www.powerproof.net

Kevin Levi

Kevin B. Levi
22 year B2B marketing professional with a specialty in helping businesses differentiate themselves. Kevin has helped over 100 companies successfully distinguish themselves in their marketplace through brand positioning programs and professional copywriting services.

Find out more about my full range of business branding, writing and key message development services at www.winningmessage.com. Also check out my online brand positioning course at UDEMY.com at at https://www.udemy.com/differentiate-your-brand-and-sell-more/learn/v4/overview

Comments

  1. Kevin,

    Nice post, I overall agree with the point you are making. I wouldn’t get too uptight though about people making mistakes when they write. I do share your point of view, though I do understand and accept that one might consider writing (spelling, grammar, syntax, etc.) mistakes differently, or maybe not at all. One in return might make a point of something you do and think nothing of (like your eating habits, how you tie your necktie, your posture, …).

    I don’t intend to pick on you of course, but I was wondering if this sentence I extracted from your post is grammatically correct: “As an author, a business writer, a key message development expert and a tenured branding professional, please embrace the notion […]”. The following might or might not be a correct formulation, I must admit I’m not quite sure: “As an author, a business writer, a key message development expert and a tenured branding professional, I ask/urge/suggest/recommend/*verb* you (to) please embrace the notion […]”.

  2. Tough course?

    I have a rhetorical question to pose: “Would William Tell have been able to sell others on his archery course if he had missed the apple?”

    At the risk of labeling myself as being somewhat picky, looking at just the first paragraph of your exhortation I find:

    “When I was in college I took a journalism course called Editing. The key nuance of the class was that your grade on any writing assignment weighed heavily on how error-free your work was. For ever misspelled word or grammatical error, you lost 25% of your score.”

    The above paragraph has 2 spelling errors, two punctuation errors and one clearly inappropriate word choice. You also should have spelled out “25%” as the number ’25’ is less than one hundred and this is not a technical paper describing, for instance, the concentration ratio of one chemical to another. Thus, ‘25%’ “becomes twenty-five percent”. (1)

    “Editing” should have been enclosed with double quotes as it is the title of the class. As an alternative, you could have written the sentence along these lines:
    “When I was in college I took a journalism course to learn editing.” or “When I was in college I took a course in editing.”

    It is not obvious that you understand the meaning of the word ‘nuance’. This calls for a trip to a dictionary. I made that trip myself when I wasn’t certain of another word you used. Your spelling was actually correct and I saved myself some embarrassment by not accepting uncertainty. When writing, reference materials are your friend. I strongly encourage keeping a style guide, a grammar and punctuation guide and, of course, a dictionary and a thesaurus handy. If they aren’t nearby, they likely won’t get used.

    The phrase “for ever” should have been “for every”.

    Finally, there is an extraneous comma after the phrase “grammatical error”.

    Looking at the final paragraph, I find a run-on sentence that would have done Tolstoy proud:

    “As an author, a business writer, a key message development expert and a tenured branding professional, please embrace the notion of taking the time necessary to communicate properly whether you are corresponding with a family member, a friend, a pen pal or a professional contact.”

    That is a forty-five word sentence. Is there really only one idea in it? It is unclear who the first part of this sentence is referring to; whether to you or to your audience.

    Now, what was that you were saying about branding?

    Here is my point: if you are going to portray yourself as a professional communicator and even make a point about the importance of written communications, then you need to take the extra time to proofread your own work. This post should be deleted and completely re-written before Google can archive it. Hurry!

    Bill

    PS
    I’ll be back. I not normally as critical of writing as this. But, if you are going to urge others to use the language correctly, you need to demonstrate it. THAT is branding.

    ——————–

    (1) Fulwiler, T., & Hayakawa, A.R. (2002) “The College Writer’s Reference” Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education, Inc. p.244

  3. Kevin, thanks for your response. I hesitated to post my earlier comment because I had no desire to offend.

    I DO embrace the idea that a language is a tool and that different rules apply to differing media and applications. I also endorse the concept that a journeyman should have plenty of tools in his box in the shape of an ample vocabulary. He needs to be able to use each one of them well to solve whatever problem he is faced with. That is why, realizing that my English skills were no longer sharp, I recently took a refresher composition course at a local junior college. My language skills could still use some honing, but that class did help to tighten them up.

    My blog is brand new. My first set of posts concerns the value of a strong command of at least one language and the wisdom of adding more languages. In my next posting, I will begin to consider some of the basic rules of written communication. Because I am -not- ‘Miss Grammar’, I will be using college level reference texts as my outline. We bloggers are communication professionals and every one of us is paid exactly what we are worth. That’s a sobering thought to someone who, after perhaps months of hard work, has yet to coax a check out of an ad program. The solution is to either find another line of business, to improve our value and the worlds’ perception of it, or to learn to live on 38 cents a day.

    I’m going to focus on that for a bit and then, 15-20 articles from now, I’ll segue over into other areas that interest me.

    Good to meet you!
    Bill

  4. Kevin:

    I agree with you. It’s always important to put your best foot forward.

    I write a blog called Success Common Sense (www.SuccessCommonSense.com). I focus on one aspect of career and life success every day. On Monday, I post on self confidence; Tuesday, positive personal impact; Wednesday, Outstanding performance; Thursday, communication skills; and Friday, interpersonal competence.

    While each aspect is separate and unique, they do overlap. For example, the point you make about spelling and grammar is most directly related to one communication skill — writing. However, it also has a lot to do with making a positive personal impact.

    Sorry for the aside. I think your message is great. I agree with what you say.

    Finally, not to start a flame war with Bill, but I was taught that one writes out numbers of ten or less, not 100 or less. So, from what I learned in Jounralism School, you are correct on using “25%”.

    Keep up the good work and interesting posts.