Written communication tips & tricks

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Written by Amanda Watson, Marketing Director (Portage, IN)

What's your biggest pet peeve when reading an email, letter or other form of written communication from someone, whether it's a coworker or stranger? Mine is not using ellipses correctly (see Punctuation below for the correct use). What we all seem to forget, now more than ever, is that written business communications, in ANY form, reflect not just upon yourself, but upon the company you work for and its reputation. With that in mind, I want to offer a few things to remember when sending an email, writing a letter or a memo, etc.:

  1. Spelling. Perhaps the biggest error we all make is in spelling and, unfortunately, spell check won’t catch everything (and sometimes it only contributes to the problem). It’s easy to accidentally put the wrong word in your communications when typing. I recently received an e-mail with the closing of “I appreciate you help.” Spell check didn’t catch the mistake, but I sure did. I know you’re busy, but take the time to proof-read and you can avoid a lot of mistakes. Don’t forget: what you miss, others will catch.
    Particular words to watch out for:
    - their, there, they're
    - to, too, two
    - stationery, stationary
    - its, it's
    - here, hear, her
    - sign, sing
    - you, your, you're
    - are, area
    - who's, whose
  2. Subject/verb agreement. It seems correct verb tense usage is becoming a thing of the past and this is very unfortunate. Look at the subject/noun of your sentence and then see if the verb “matches” the noun.  Example:  “The children have gone to ride their bikes.”  NOT:  “The children have went to ride their bikes.”
  3. Word selection. If done incorrectly, your choice of words can confuse the reader and could even negate the idea of your message. For example, I think we've all, at one point in time, used “affect” and “effect” incorrectly. Here's a helpful guide: “Affect is the verb for influence and effect is the noun for influence. When you affect something, the result is an effect.” (from Right, Wrong, and Risky by Mark Davidson, a reference book on English usage) 
  4. Punctuation. Using the correct punctuation is another trouble spot and the age of texting has not helped this issue at all. Avoid overuse and misuse of exclamation points, commas, quotation marks and ellipses (...). Be careful when using ellipses as well; there are three dots in an ellipsis, not five and definitely not 10. When in doubt about how and when to use commas, colons, semi-colons, or other punctuation marks, just Google “punctuation” for a punctuation guide with information for correct usage.
  5. Capitalization. Be sure to capitalize people’s names and proper nouns. This is an important one that can be easily missed, but can really affect people’s impression of you.
  6. Abbreviations. In general, you should probably avoid abbreviations, especially ones that others may not recognize. For example, MOB is a common abbreviation at Holladay, but not everyone is familiar with the term. Always explain the abbreviation first – Medical Office Building (MOB) – and then you can safely use the abbreviation in the rest of your message.

Those are the general “big ideas.”  Here are some specifics to think about when sending email:

  1. Re-read your communication before you press “Send.”  You’ll be glad you did.
  2. Check the “To” and “CC” lines.  It’s easy to choose the wrong Smith if you have more than one Smith in your Contacts.
  3. Don’t use a font that is difficult to read, too large or too small. If your company has a standard font, use it. The standard font size is 10 – 12 point; try not to go larger than that, but it’s okay to use a larger font size to emphasize a key word or point.
  4. If you use stationery or a background in your emails, make sure your message can be easily seen above the background. The background should not be the first thing people notice.
  5. Always type something in the “Subject” line; keep it descriptive but short. Don’t put the body of the email in the subject or overwhelm your recipient with a subject that is too long. On the other hand, a blank subject might make your message get lost in the crowd. Having a clear and concise subject will also make it easier to find your message later on using a search tool.
  6. Always use a salutation when sending a communication to someone outside your company. Include a closing line as well, and then type your name. This is common courtesy and takes only a few seconds.
  7. Use a signature (“signature block”) in your e-mails with pertinent contact information. A signature makes it easy for new contacts to find your information and adds authority to your message.
  8. Don’t forget to attach the attachment (something I am quite often guilty of). If you follow #1 above, you will probably catch this mistake.

I hope you found this post informational and I hope it helps you improve your written communication skills. The number one key is don't rush. Take your time and read through your message to make sure it makes sense. If it doesn't make sense to you, how will it make sense to someone else?

Happy writings!

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