By Barbara McNichol
Now more than ever, clarity in communication is important.
We’re all adapting to more virtual meetings and a great deal more email communication. Documents that were discussed around a meeting table and then edited by a single person now make their way to multiple colleagues via email.
We’ve become accustomed to common abbreviations in text messages, such as, “C U @ 8pm @ Rogers, bring appie.” It gets the point across that your friend will show up at Roger’s house at 8:00 pm and you’ll bring an appetizer.
But what about in business interactions? Are correct spelling and grammar still relevant? I’d argue that they most certainly are…and I offer advice for professionals seeking clarity and credibility in their communication.
Here are four common grammar and spelling mistakes that undermine your credibility.
Let me be clear: we’re not going for Shakespeare. But don’t discount the possibility that your peer, manager, or potential employer has a solid grounding in the rules of English grammar and spelling. When you break those rules, you lose (not loose) credibility.
Let’s take a look at four of the most common mistakes. I call them Word Trippers…
1. Who and That.
Who refers to a person. That refers to an object.
“The person that sent you the proposal is an authority on the subject.”
“The person who sent you the proposal is an authority on the subject.”
“That proposal is worth considering. The person who wrote it is an authority on the subject.”
2. Me, myself and I.
I’ll grant you, this one is counter-intuitive. People often use “self” in a sentence, I suspect because they think it sounds more academic and authoritative. It’s “padding” in a sentence, which rarely adds meaning. So you’ll read phrases like this…
“Please contact myself if you have any questions.”
“Please contact me if you have any questions.”
“Myself and Jim will be there at 4:00 pm to discuss the proposal with yourself in person.”
“Jim and I will be there at 4:00 pm to discuss your proposal.”
Yourself is your self…no one can contact yourself. It’s a reflexive pronoun. You can talk to yourself. But nobody else can talk to yourself; he or she can only talk to you.
Consider these examples:
“Jim and me attended the meeting yesterday and it was very informative.”
“Myself and Jim attended the meeting yesterday and it was very informative.”
“Jim and I attended the meeting yesterday.”
Here’s a great way to avoid tripping on this: Test your grammar by removing the second person from the sentence. For example, say this awkward – and grammatically incorrect – sentence:
“Me went to the meeting yesterday.”
And so is this:
“Myself went to the meeting yesterday.”
3. Further or farther?
Have you ever wondered about the difference between further and farther? There’s constant debate around this – and since English is a living language, it’s ever-evolving. However, most experts agreed that further is figurative and farther is literal, referring to a measurable distance.
“Jan has traveled further than anyone else in the company to meet with clients.”
“Jan has traveled farther than anyone else in the company to meet with clients.”
“Farther to the point Jan was making about excess travel for sales meetings, I’d like to send you this report regarding our fleet mileage costs.”
“Further to the point Jan was making about excess travel for sales meetings, I’d like to send you this report regarding our fleet mileage costs.”
4. Apostrophes: the ultimate tripper.
Of all the grammar glitches I see, this is the most common. Misusing this punctuation mark rarely creates confusion in meaning, but it’s a glaring error for people who know the proper usage.
“Its likely we’ll miss our fourth-quarter revenue projections.”
“It’s likely we’ll miss our fourth-quarter revenue projections.”
“Since our sales teams travel expenses have been so high, we’ll take a loss on our fourth-quarter revenue.”
“Since our sales team’s travel expenses have been so high, we’ll take a loss on our fourth-quarter revenue.”
An apostrophe plays two roles in the English language. It signals an abbreviation – “it’s” instead of “it is” – and possession – “the sales team’s travel expenses.”
Pay attention to these common missteps in written communication. There are many others.
Don’t get let poor grammar and spelling prevent you from showing clients and colleagues you’re knowledgeable about your product or service. Contact me for more information.
Did these tips help you? Are you interested in improving your writing? I am offering a $29 discount on my Word Trippers program until the end of May.
Enjoyed this article? Here are three more to help you communicate effectively:
One of my favorite resources, Dictionary.com, gives us a host of word meanings that have been essential (or at least useful) during this coronavirus period. Words matter; that’s why we should dig into their accurate meanings.
This link opens a meaningful door to terms we’re hearing every day.
When you go there, you’ll also see a number of relevant “word trippers” such as “epidemic” vs. “pandemic”; “respirator” vs. “ventilater”; “quarantine” vs. “isolation.”
Take a few moments to study word meanings that matter the most these days!
In The Elements of Style, iconic authors William Strunk Jr. and E.B. White called word clutter “the leeches that infest the pond of prose, sucking the blood out of words.”
Yes, the same E.B. White who gave us beloved children’s stories like Stuart Little, The Trumpet of the Swan and Charlotte’s Web also gave us that visceral description…
What is word clutter? Word clutter refers to unnecessary words in a sentence. Why – and how – do you eliminate them? If Strunk and White’s metaphor doesn’t make a believer out of you, then read on, because voiding word clutter in your writing will help you become a better, more effective communicator.
To clutter or not to clutter – that is the question.
When writing poetry, descriptive words are acceptable – even expected – because you’re trying to paint a picture with words. The art is in the rhyme, the imagery, the emotions you want to invoke in your audience.
But in business communication, it’s imperative that you trim the excess fat. Your readers are busy like you – they don’t need to wade through extra words to get the meaning of your message.
No one in business wants to think of themselves as a “cog in the wheel,” but Strunk Jr. summed up the importance of brevity beautifully:
A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences, for the same reason that a drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts.
Your business is like a piece of machinery, and efficiency matters. So, do your reader a favor: tune up your writing and whack out the extra phrases.
“Word clutter” refers to unnecessary words that don’t add meaning to a sentence. When you’re writing a non-fiction book or an email, whack them out. This often means choosing an active, rather than the passive verb.
Take time to fine-tune your message by whacking these phrases:
- “is intended to” or “is meant to” or “is designed to”
Example: “He gives a workshop that is designed to teach writing skills.”
Fine-tune it: “He gives a workshop that teaches writing skills.”
- “it is all about” or “the fact of the matter is” or “it’s important to remember that”
Example: “It’s important to remember that it’s unwise to drive during a blizzard.”
Fine-tune it: “It’s unwise to drive during a blizzard.”
- “is going to”
Example: “She is going to be a key contributor.”
Fine-tune it: “She will be a key contributor.”
- “In order to…”
Example: “Add keywords in order to describe the new position.”
Fine-tune it: “Add keywords to describe the new position.”
- “there is” or “there will be”
Example: “There will be several managers attending the meeting.”
Fine-tune it: “Several managers will attend the meeting.”
- “The reason why is that”
Example: “The meeting has been moved to the 2nd-floor conference room. The reason why is that we need more seating capacity.”
Fine-tune it: “The meeting was moved to the 2nd-floor conference room because we need more seating capacity.”
- “at this time”
Example: “We’re not accepting any more registrations for the conference at this time.”
Fine-tune it: We’re not accepting registrations for the conference now.”
Never forget: more words don’t necessarily give more meaning, especially in business communication. Your time is valuable. Show respect to your colleagues by trimming your emails, memos and reports – whack wordiness! You’ll be doing your colleagues a favor.
Now, do yourself a favor: get a red pen and take time to read over a recent email or letter you wrote. Ask, “Did I really need that word/phrase?” Circle all the unnecessary words. Then think about the time you could have saved yourself and your reader if you’d left them out! A little investment in time at the beginning of your writing project will save you and your readers time in the long run.
Do you have any “pet peeves” when it comes to word clutter? I’d love to know about them. If you’d like more helpful tips, you can sign up for Word Trippers Tips or book a WordShop for your whole team to strengthen your business writing skills.
Did you find this article helpful? Then you might enjoy these:
This article was originally published on March 26th, 2015, and has since been updated.
By Lynne Franklin (reprinted with permission)
Kathy was my first assistant when I was working at a public relations agency in my twenties. I made a point of writing thank-you notes to her when she finished something for me.
Walking through the office one day, I heard Kathy talking to another assistant. She said, “Lynne writes me thank-you notes for everything. That makes them all kind of meaningless.”
I was shocked! I thought I was being a good supervisor … Not knowing what to do, I never discussed this with Kathy and just wrote fewer of them.
What’s the Difference?
Praise is defined as “the expression of warm approval or admiration.” It comes from the Latin pretium, meaning “reward, prize, value, worth.”
Gratitude is “the quality of being thankful; readiness to show appreciation for and to return kindness.” Its root is the Latin gratus, for “pleasing, agreeable, thankful, grace.”
If this seems like so much hair splitting, here’s the sense I make of it. Praise recognizes something a person has done. Gratitude is about the meaning of what they do and who they are to you.
With that in mind, I can see how my notes fell short for Kathy. They didn’t show approval or admiration of her work. Nor did they show appreciation or a wish to be kind back. She was right: my scribbles were a meaningless pleasantry that made me feel good.
Our Brains on Gratitude
Here’s the great thing. Gratitude is a gift to the giver and receiver.
It stimulates both brains to produce the neurotransmitters serotonin and dopamine, which make us feel good and boosts our moods. It also reduces fear and anxiety by lowering the amount of stress hormones in our systems.
When we practice gratitude every day, this rewires our brains. We strengthen these neural pathways, making us more grateful and positive by default. (This affects the people around us, because moods are contagious.)
Then we all get the documented benefits of gratitude:
- Being happier—having more positive emotions and thoughts, becoming more aware and awake, feeling greater satisfaction with ourselves, enhancing our mood
- Being healthier—building a stronger immune system, having fewer aches and pains, having optimum blood pressure and heart function, experiencing better sleeping and waking cycles
- Being better versions of ourselves—improving our communication with others, having more empathy, having stronger relationships, being more likeable, being a more involved team member
Don’t make my mistake of sending thoughtless thank yous. Whether giving praise or gratitude, be specific:
- Praise—“You did a great job of leading that meeting, Kathy. You kept things moving. We got a lot done—on time! And now everyone knows what to do next.”
- Gratitude—”You’re an inspiring leader, Kathy. This meeting is a great example. Not only did you get everything covered in an hour, but you made sure we all felt involved in the solution and know what to do next. I’m so happy to be part of your team because we’re making a difference!”
Look for opportunities to express gratitude. It could be a comment—face-to-face or phone/Zoom/Skype. It could be a note—which has even more impact when you deliver it in person, or even read it out loud to the recipient first. It could even be thinking about someone and thanking that person in your head. And don’t forget to regularly send yourself a note or thought of gratitude.
Make gratitude a practice. Some people keep gratitude journals, where they write what happened this day or week that they’re grateful for. Or they have a “gratitude partner” whom they regularly discuss this. Whatever path you choose, focus on how these instances made you feel.
In the middle of your over-busy day, take time to notice and express appreciation. Consider it the emotional equivalent of the boost you get from coffee or chocolate—without the calories!
Lynne Franklin is a communications expert who can increase your persuasiveness in three ways:
- Speeches, workshops and coaching that give you tools you can use right away
- Strategies that help you turn difficult business communications into opportunities to succeed
- Written and spoken communications created to reach your corporate and marketing communication goals
Get more people to do what you want. Let Lynne show you how. Call 847-729-5716
by Barbara McNichol
Have you crossed that line? There are some common phrases to avoid if you don’t want to come across as arrogant or condescending.
It’s important that you temper your language when writing. You don’t have the benefit of voice intonation, hand gestures, emotions…all the things that impact a face-to-face encounter with your audience.
If you give off the wrong signals in person, you have an immediate opportunity to correct your misstep.
That can’t be said of your writing. Once you’ve pressed “Send”, mailed the letter, circulated the memo or published the book, your opportunity to explain your intent has passed.
You don’t want to set a tone that can be misconstrued if you’re not there to explain what you meant.
There are several phrases you can avoid – they pad your writing with extra words but don’t add any meaning to your message.
Here are 12 phrases to avoid that will save you from sounding pompous:
- Not to mention… Okay, then don’t mention it.
- It goes without saying… Right, then don’t say it.
- If I may say so… Well, since you’re the author, of course, you can say so.
- I believe that… Now the reader wonders if your message is based in facts.
- In my humble opinion… An automatic signal that you’re not feeling humble.
- To tell the truth… Implies you’ve lied to your reader in the past.
- To be honest with you… Again, a suggestion that you’ve been dishonest.
- For the record… If you’re not under oath you don’t need this qualifier.
- Let me be perfectly clear… Usually followed by complete bafflegab.
- This may sound stupid but… Check yourself, the rest of that sentence probably sounds stupid.
- With all due respect… The prelude to an insult, no respect implied or taken.
- In other words… The worst culprit. Just use the right words the first time.
Take these pompous-sounding “fillers” out of your writing to avoid confusion and gain clarity in your writing. This is particularly helpful in business communication, approach your reader assuming they’re pressed for time. They need information, not prose or poetry.
Are there other “filler phrases” that make writing sound pompous? Share them in the comments section below or send them along and I’ll add them to the list.
Did you find this article helpful? Here are three others you’ll enjoy:
This article was originally published on September 22nd, 2016, and has been updated.
Your English teacher begged, cajoled, implored, beseeched you to use them in your writing.
And when you’re writing poetry or prose, playing with the English language is wonderful.
That’s when active verbs come into play. Using them is critically important in book writing and daily business communication.
What do you mean by active – versus passive – verbs?
Here’s a quick summary.
- Declare who or what is (or should be) performing the action you’re suggesting.
- Help your reader “get to the point” more quickly.
- Tend to eliminate extra words.
How can you identify passive verbs? Think, “To be, or not to be; that is the question.”
It’s a seminal phrase in Shakespeare’s prose and has its place in literature, but any use of the verb “to be” in business communication is passive and doesn’t inspire action.
So here are two examples of passive versus active verbs in a sentence:
Passive: The juicy watermelon was eaten by the boy.
Active: The boy chomped into the watermelon’s juicy belly.
Passive: Employees are seen by their managers as responsive and enthusiastic.
Active: Managers see their employees as responsive and enthusiastic.
When you want to place emphasis on the object of the sentence, passive verbs help.
In these examples, do you see how the passive verb puts emphasis on the watermelon and the employees while the active verbs place the emphasis on the boy and the managers?
It changes the perspective for the reader. And as the writer, you have to ask what you want them to care about?
Own the problem.
In stripped-down terms, not owning the problem is called “passing the buck.”
Passive verbs can be used to hide the person – or people – responsible for a mistake or lack of action. Worse yet, they can be used to validate inaction. For example, when you sign a lease, you’ll likely see a clause along these lines:
“The rules for the homeowners will be enforced.”
Rules by whom?
Or you might have received a message like this during your workday:
“Mistakes were being made that resulted in a failure to comply with regulations.”
Mistakes by whom?
Do you see how the ambiguity of the passive verb lays a foundation for poor business relationships?
What active sentence structure works?
A general pattern for a sentence employs an active verb rather than a passive one. It’s typically “subject + verb + direct object.”
Here’s an example:
“The landlord (subject) will implement (verb) the new safety protocol (object) to ensure renter safety.”
This sentence makes it clear that the landlord is responsible for the actions detailed in the contract.
Now it’s your turn.
Passive: “This policy is being implemented in an effort to streamline our process.”
I look forward to hearing from you!
If you found this article helpful, you might enjoy these: