Writing may occupy the majority of your workday, even if you don’t have the word “writer” in your professional title. From co-worker and client correspondence over email to company presentations, creating text to express oneself is inherent in any type of media job. However, in a world where vowels are casually removed from words to fit Twitter’s 140-character limit, do the same communication rules apply to all types of writing? You bet your iPhone they don’t!
You write to convey a message. Don’t let carelessness misrepresent the message that you intend to express. If you incorporate the following guidelines into your everyday, seemingly inconsequential written communication, then your formal writing ability will become more cohesive, focused, and effective.
Apply the Appropriate Tone
Choosing the appropriate tone for your writing is as simple as paying attention to your audience. While you might jokingly sign a personal email to a friend with “Xoxo, GossipGirl”, avoid sending out that closing statement in a business email.
This rule is almost too simple. You may find yourself repeating the excuse, “Oh, it’s fine to play around. I’m just sending the email to my buddy Larry in the cube next to me.” It might not matter what Larry thinks, but you and Larry never signed a confidentiality agreement, did you? Electronic interaction can easily spread, so be mindful of your discourse. Although you can’t please everyone, carefully consider your potential audience, as well.
An email message is not an instant message. Use a greeting. If you don’t know the recipient’s name, a simple “hello” engages the human being who will be reading the email. When closing, use a signature. As an email correspondence develops, the tone will often become conversational, but avoid initiating contact in a casual, impersonal way.
Humor is not universal. Do not assume that someone wants to joke around with you. Keep parenthetical mentions to a minimum. Colloquial anecdotes make your writing less formal. Yes, spirited interjections are appropriate and welcomed in some types of writing (say, a “how-to” article), but it’s a slippery slope when you inject personal touches in business communications. You want your message to be straightforward and clear, so stay on topic.
Spot Your Frequent Typos
Typos turn of readers—err, I mean “off”. Luckily, this typo helps illustrate the following point.
Spell-check will not highlight all of your errors. Slowly proofread each word to ensure that your thoughts are successfully transcribed in your document. “Of” is a word; spell-check will not recognize that I intended to type the word “off”.
Poor grammar and misspellings/typos are an identifiable characteristic of email spam. If that Nigerian Prince’s $5 million offer did not display incorrect syntax you might have been duped, right? You do not want any of your writing to be viewed in the same light as unsolicited email.
Write now, revise later. Obviously “writer’s block” is not a good thing. You want words to eloquently dance off of your fingertips as you plié and pirouette beautiful choreography on your keyboard. It’s important to expel your thoughts and ideas in this manner, but most inaccuracies are inserted in your text during this early stage of the writing process. If you don’t have time to correct your errors, have someone with an eye for detail review your documents. Mistakes are only harmful if they are not caught before your writing is published, emailed, or printed.