Most of the time, we are successful at projecting a professional image. However, sometimes we sabotage ourselves. Our best efforts at professionalism are undermined in seconds by our own careless errors when we communicate with our clients. We’ve discussed the importance of good communication on Freelance Folder before, but this is the first time we’ve gotten down to the nitty gritty of discussing good grammar.
While your clients may not mind one or two typos in your emails, letters, and other communications to them (everyone makes a typo from time to time), frequent mistakes when you write to your client could give them the idea that you’ll be sloppy with their work. (It’s not just writers who need to be careful. Most clients expect you to communicate clearly and carefully regardless of the work that you will be doing for them.)
The good news is that most writing mistakes are easily fixed. In this post we’ll identify 20 mistakes to avoid. We’ll also point you to some resources where you can improve your writing.
Mistakes That Make You Look Bad
Here are twenty common errors that can make you look bad to your client:
- Misspelling the client’s name. It’s a funny thing. Clients are particular about their names. They usually like you to get them right.
- Misspelling the name of the client’s company. No client wants to see a misspelling of their company name. If you make this mistake in an email, tweet, or other client contact, the client may assume that you will make it during the course of their project.
- Misspelling your name. This may seem obvious. After all, it’s just plain stupid to misspell your own name, but this mistake actually happens. Be careful. :-)
- Misspelling the name of your company. If you aren’t careful to get your own business name right, then a client may worry that you won’t be careful about getting their name correct.
- Leaving out a word in a sentence. When you’re tired and overworked it’s easy to accidentally skip a word when you are typing. However, a missing word can change the meaning of a sentence.
- Using the wrong word. Many words in English sound alike, but have different meanings. Some examples are two, to, and too (or, they’re, there, and their). A spellchecker usually won’t catch this mistake, so you’ll have to look for this yourself.
- Misplacing a decimal. Like a missing word, a misplaced decimal can change the meaning of what you write. If you don’t believe me, which project would you rather take–the job paying $10.00 or the one paying $1000?
- Too many misspelled words. Nearly everyone has a spellchecker now (and the clients know it). While most clients will forgive an occasional typo, too many typos will leave the impression that you are careless.
- Too much slang. In most cases, it’s best to avoid using slang words in your client communications. Slang word usage differs depending on location and even on the individual recipient. You can’t be sure that your client will get the meaning that you intended to convey from a slang word.
- Using a double negative. Not only are double negatives unnecessary, they actually make your writing unclear. For example: I don’t want no project. Is the speaker turning down a project or stating their availability for work?
- Run-on sentences. Your English teacher was right (and so was mine). Connecting a bunch of independent sentences with the word “and” and stringing them into one long sentence is wrong.
- Too much passive voice. When you use a form of a “be” verb, you are using passive voice. While using passive voice is not technically a grammatical error, overuse can make you sound unsure of yourself.
- Not using complete sentences. If you’re rushed, you may be tempted to communicate in short bursts like “feel sick,” “running late,” or “up next.” However, your client may view these bursts as cryptic or confusing.
- Too many adjectives. Adjectives are those words that describe nouns. Using an occasional adjective makes your communication more effective. Using a long string of adjectives together makes you sound insincere.
- Using text messaging abbreviations. Like slang words, the understanding of text messaging abbreviations varies widely. Unless you are absolutely certain that the recipient knows that TTYL means Talk To You Later it’s best not to use the abbreviation.
- Use of quotation marks. There are very distinct rules for using quotation marks. Usually they enclose a direct quote or the title of short work like an article or a story.
- Misuse of apostrophes. Like quotation marks, apostrophes are used for a specific reason. An apostrophe indicates possession of a noun or the omission of a letter in a contraction.
- Not dividing material into paragraphs. Like sentences, paragraphs are most effective when kept fairly short. The typical rule is to start a new paragraph when you start a new thought.
- Using too many big words. While you want to impress your client with your knowledge, filling your messages with all of the four and five syllable words that you know isn’t the best way to show them what you know.
- Overusing the same words or phrase. Do you have a favorite word or phrase? If you do, chances are that you are repeating it too often in your writing.
Now we’ve discussed some problems that can damage your communications with clients, let’s examine how to improve your writing.
Four Easy Tips to Improve Your Writing
Here are some easy tips that you can use to improve your writing skills and avoid miscommunication:
- Check your writing. Even if you are just writing an email it’s a good idea to reread it several times.
- Take Your Time. Mistakes happen when we rush.
- Find a proofreading buddy. Getting someone else to look over your writing is often the best way to eliminate errors.
- Use that spellchecker. Just do it.
There are lots of online resources that can help you improve your communication skills. We’ll take a look at a few of them.
Resources to Help You Improve Your Communication
Here are four great resources that can help you improve your writing:
- Grammar Girl Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing. Grammar Girl provides regular tips and podcasts to help improve your grammar.
- The Purdue Online Writing Lab. This is probably the best known of all the grammar sites. If you have an English usage question you’ll find the answer is here.
- Grammar Monster. This site contains interactive writing lessons and quizzes.
- Grammar Slammer. You’ll find some good snippets of information here.
What Do You Do to Improve Your Communications?
Have you been sabotaged by a writing mistake? Do you have a favorite writing resource? How do you keep from making common errors in your communications?
Share your answers in the comments.
Image by bagels