February 27, 2012
Abysmal writing in business is a terrible thing. Besides being unpleasant to read, it can instantly strip away your credibility as a cause, a brand or a company.
Sure, the advertising and retail world take a little license to play with the English language to make a point, or to create a more powerful message. But that’s intentional, so we give it a pass (to a point).
Bad spelling, misuse of words, or flat out bad grammar can hurt you. It makes you look unprofessional. It makes your message look careless and sloppy. Organizations looking to print, publish or launch something online, thinking perhaps they’re saving a few dollars by writing it themselves, well, they’re not saving anything in the end. They’re losing credibility. They’d be much better served by calling the people out there who make a living doing it.
Here’s a striking example. I got a letter from a local not-for-profit organization, working to protect open space. The header sets the tone for the entire piece, screaming, “DO NOT EXCEPT FALSE CHOICES ON TAXES”. Later in the letter, there’s a sentence saying, “If you were lead to believe…”
The entire letter is riddled with errors- grammatical, spelling, bad word usage. It’s embarrassing. The letter is signed by a Ph.D and a Lawyer. So either they never took the grammar unit in high school, or perhaps a volunteer wrote it- who knows. The point is, they signed it. If your name is on it, you need to read it.
The other thing to avoid is superfluous formatting: excessive use of capital letters, colors, underlines and bold type- by emphasizing lots of things, they end up featuring nothing. It’s just ugly and sensationalistic. This seems to be a common, yet unfortunate method many direct mailers use to try to get our attention. It does. But not in a good way.
This is an extreme example, but I can’t tell you how often I see grammatical and misspellings in business and upscale retail communications. If you have a brand to protect, and an important message to share- take the time to make it good. Your message will resonate if it’s written well. Or at least have a fighting chance.
The unfortunate mailer: