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June 23, 2008
Quality Writing Skills Taking on Greater Importance

Whether you are fresh out of college looking for your first job, president of a company retiring next month – or somewhere in between on the career path – communicating through writing is an essential skill.

However, just because you can write, it doesn’t mean you can write. Our writing is often the first impression we make, and it affects how we are perceived.

I’m not talking about the different types of writing styles. You know that the writing style for a news release is different from a print advertisement, from a TV ad, from a Website and other marketing communication vehicles. I’m talking about English and Writing 101: What we learned in high school and need to apply in our lives.

I’m sure you’ve seen and read enough examples of poor or simply sloppy writing: misspellings in proposals, poor grammar in memos, misuse of verb tenses in headlines, and other writing and formatting errors you wouldn’t expect from professionals. I am by no means always perfect in my writing. I often write “it’s” – whether or not I mean “it is” or an object showing possession.

As online marketing and communication take on greater importance – so do our writing skills. Social media and other online marketing means that quality writing is important for professional work – as well as being vital for communicating with those we are trying to reach via emails, blog posts and comments, instant messaging and other means.

While it’s and its gives me fits, find out what gives you problems and keep an eye out for it. Below are a few common mistakes, a few resources to assist with your writing, and where you can see good examples of bad writing.

  • Your versus you’re: Your is a pronoun used to show possession, while you’re is a contraction of you are.
  • Hold versus conduct. The newspaper copy editor I worked with in Fostoria, Ohio, always said the only things you hold are babies and hand grenades. You cannot hold meetings. You conduct them or schedule them.
  • When using a pronoun to refer to a single entity like a corporation or a team, use it or its. While the company may consist of many people, by itself it is singular.
  • In most cases, sentence punctuation goes inside quotation marks. Not outside. For detailed guidelines about quote marks and punctuation, see Purdue University’s Online Writing Lab.
  • Use spell check. In Microsoft Outlook, you can – and should – set your options to automatically spell check all emails before they are sent. Also, spell check all word processing, spreadsheet and other files you work on. There is no excuse not to.
  • Dictionary.com is a great resource. It’s good for not only checking spelling and definitions, but there’s also a thesaurus.
  • Wordsmith.org is another great resource. There are several tools. One is an email service that will email you the definition of a word: To find the definition of a word, send a blank email to wsmith@wordsmith.org, and make the subject line as: define myword where myword is the word whose definition you want to find. Wordsmith.org also offers thesaurus, acronym and anagram via email response.
  • Get a copy of theAssociated Press Stylebook. Even if you are not a journalist and don’t write news releases, it’s a great resource of information and word usage. You also can peruse the Ask the Editor section for good tips.

For a little fun reading of “poor writing,” check out these sites:

No matter what tips and tricks you use or seek out to improve your writing, one tip will uncover simple mistakes as much as anything else: Once you’re done writing, walk away at least for a minute or two, then come back and re-read what you just wrote.

Now, it is your turn! What word, grammar or other aspects of writing gives you fits? What writing tips and tricks can you impart to other TalentZoo readers? Please leave a comment with your advice and online resources.

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Michael  Driehorst, president and founder of Diamond Communications, is a proven public relations professional who knows how to develop the right set of strategies and matching tactics to achieve communication objectives for the right target audience. After an early career as a newspaper journalist, Mike has worked in public relations and marketing communications since 1994. He has been active in social media marketing since 2005; read his blog.

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