I see a lot of emails, memos and written correspondence that looks ridiculous. You may think you don’t need writing in your job, but you’d be wrong. These six offenses will make your business documents look like poo.
#6–Inappropriate quotation marks
Quotation marks are meant to go around direct quotes ONLY.
Someone I knew once wrote:
We’ll put the birthday posters on the bulletin board for “each on” their special day.
Read that out loud and see how it sounds. Do air quotes; it’s fun.
See this website if you want to laugh your butt off at misplaced quotation marks and pray you don’t end up here.
#5–Lack of contact information
This one bugs the heck out of me. I’ve gotten forwarded emails so I can send out product information, but what do I do when the email looks like this?
To: Clerical Chick
From: Random Sales Guy
Can we send this guy a brochure overnight? Thanks.
And below that, the forward:
I need a quote for twelve widget parts, ASAP, and product info.
What if the recipient can’t remember your name, or what company you’re with? Suppose he knows three different guys named Knut. Which one are you?
Someone you’re doing business with should have multiple ways of contacting you. This looks dumb, like you have something to hide.
My work email signatures typically look like this:
Administrative Assistant, [Dept].
456 E Widget Dr
Widgetville, IL 60000
I’m no CEO. But if someone needs me, it’s easy to find me.
#4–Too much information
XYZ Company MEMO
To all employees:
Recently we had a merger with ABC Widgets and everyone there ate five kinds of cake and the the accounting department had a party, but it was only for the senior accountants. We talked to the health insurance company and they were not very helpful, but we called several times and finally got through. When we did, we got a new account rep and he helped us navigate the online system with the result that we got through it in five days instead of six.
Your health insurance will remain the same and so will your vacation. If you have any questions, ask Beulah in HR when she comes back from the water cooler after discussing the finer points of Jersey Shore. Oh, and we’ll get some new shirts with the new logo soon. Tootles!
Myrna, HR Ass
Myrna, dear, try this instead:
XYZ Company MEMO
To all employees:
Recently we merged with ABC Widgets. Our health insurance will remain the same, as will our vacation benefits. The new shirts with the combined logo will be available on Friday. If you have any questions, please contact Beulah in HR. Thank you for your cooperation during this time.
Much better. Short and sweet, contains all the relevant information without any stupid details no one cares about.
#3–Misspellings, lack of proper punctuation, etc.
To: ITFrom: Myrna, HR Ass Beulah sd vac tim isn’t goig thru thx
Okay first of all, don’t write emails like yr txtng yr BFF, k? Only kids use text speak. Seriously, my 13-year-old niece’s Facebook posts make more sense.
Your audience does not want to waste time trying to figure out what the heck you said. Write it like this:
From: Myrna, HR Assistant
Beulah said that our vacation time postings aren’t going through. Could you please check the connection for us? Thanks.
Not only is that properly spelled, punctuated and grammatically correct, it’s polite. Never tick off your IT people. And please, don’t send emails like that to customers. And Myrna, assistant is abbreviated as Asst., not Ass.
#2–Poor formatting in letters
Take a few minutes to look up business letter formatting on the Internet. A good letter should look like these.
Anything else is sloppy. This isn’t rocket science; you can take the time to make your letter legible, professional and clear. Sign it in pen, not pencil. Blue or black ink only.
In fact, bookmark that link. The OWL is a fantastic resource for all types of writing.
#1–Too much jargon
Lordy lordy lordy. I do hate business speak. Here are some words and phrases I don’t care if I ever see again.
- Reach out—used by retention and customer service teams to create the illusion that you’re giving an angry customer hands-on care.
- Utilize—why not just say use? Mark Twain said he never used a dollar word when a fifty-cent one would do. The man’s on a stamp now. I’d listen to him.
- Synergy—what does this even MEAN? Just say:
The merger will allow us to market products in ABC’s territory.
This will create a new synergy in widget production that will open up new markets.
- Going forward—some vague future.
Going forward, XYZ Company and ABC Widgets will continue to produce quality widgets with enhanced features for current and future customers.
Where else are we going, backward? Take it out. The sentence is fine without it.
Remember: plain English, proper spelling and formatting, and no extra details. Soon you too will be writing less poo-ish business correspondence.