This post is contributed by Margie Zable Fisher, president of Zable Fisher Public Relations, which specializes in e-commerce and product P.R. and publicity. Her company offers free publicity opportunities and tips here.
Maybe you don’t consider yourself a business writer, but have you done any of these activities?
- Sent a response to an email
- Composed a promotional email for your online store
- Made written updates or edits to your website
- Wrote a blog post, article, or guest post
- Created product descriptions
- Drafted a newsletter
The answer is probably yes. If you run an e-commerce business, writing is part of your daily work life. Even if grammar and spelling errors may not bother you, these mistakes can be a deal breaker for some potential customers. Unfortunately, they may judge you by your writing and decide not to do business with you. That’s a problem you don’t want to have.
Here are top business writing mistakes, and how you can fix them:
- Making grammatical errors and typos
This is the most serious writing error. Many of you use the basic spelling and grammar check built into your word processor. You need to go beyond that. I recommend adding the free Grammar app Grammarly to Chrome. Grammarly corrects over 250 types of grammatical mistakes while also catching contextual spelling errors and poor vocabulary usage. I have found this app to be incredibly helpful.
You can also double-check tricky words on Dictionary.com, to make sure you’re using the right ones. Here are some words commonly misused:
- There / they’re / their
- Its / it’s
- Effect / affect
- Except / accept
- Between / among
- A lot / alot (tip: “alot” is not a word — I’ve made this mistake!)
If you’re having a hard time putting copy together, change the wording, eliminate a sentence, or just work on it until it sounds right.
- Neglecting to proofread
Okay, no one has time to get every email proofread, but for promotional emails, newsletters, websites, etc., it’s always good to have another pair of eyes check your work. That person will almost always find something to change your writing for the better — a clearer phrase, tighter text or different wording.
Remember, first use your word processing program and Grammarly to fix mistakes. You want to ask someone to read your copy in its best state.
- Repeating the same words
Many of us don’t even realize we tend to use the same words over and over. People often don’t check their writing for repetition. Reading over your work is essential to catch these errors.
Adding variety to writing isn’t easy. Even seasoned pros don’t do it automatically. Look at some bulleted lists. Often you’ll find the same words, such as common verbs, used again and again.
If you can’t think of a similar word or phrase, you can usually find it at Thesaurus.com. I use this tool often.
- Using bullet points incorrectly
I love using bullet points in my communications, because bullet points break up text on a page and help readers locate important information.
Incorrect bullet point formatting is also one of my biggest pet peeves. Here are some tips for using bullet points:
- The text introducing the list of bullet points should end with a colon.
- If the text that follows the bullet point is not a proper sentence, it doesn’t need to begin with a capital letter, nor end with a period.
- Lists of bullet points will have more impact if each one begins with the same part of speech (such as verbs or nouns) and if they are all a similar length. Action verbs are an excellent choice for the first word. If you do use verbs, make sure that each one is in the same tense.
This last point is one that I’ve seen messed up most often. Check out the beginning of this post to see how different verbs, in the same tense, are used to start out each bullet point.
- Boring your readers
According to a March 2017 Wordstream post, 45% of people watch more than an hour of Facebook or YouTube videos a week. I don’t have statistics for this, but I’m not sure if people read an hour’s worth of text each week.
Maybe that’s an exaggeration, but there’s no doubt that people like visuals and variety.
How do you make it less boring? It’s simple. Find ways to break up the text — with bullet points, images, even video.
Business writing can be challenging. Make sure your communications are clear and mistake-free. Your business and your image will be stronger for it.