Years ago, I worked for a boss who simply was not a good writer. Spelling, grammar, and vocabulary were not this guy's strengths, even though he was very smart in his business. That's why he made a very smart decision: he had me write all his important emails, and proof many of the less important ones.
It's not fair, actually, that bad spelling and below average writing can make the writer of an email seem less intelligent or sloppy with details. In fact, in business communications, writing is a skill, like needlepoint or juggling. Indeed, a writer may also have an intuitive understanding of language and some creative flair, but for a business email, the skill of writing is what's most important. Unfairly, though, it's probably the only such skill that can have this kind of a negative impact on your personal brand.
So why is it that someone who is not good with numbers, someone who doesn't do simple calculations in his or her head, isn't perceived as less intelligent? It's because, outside of a university math department or an engineering firm, perceptions of people aren't based on their abilities with numbers and calculations. In the business world, perceptions are based on how one communicates. So when that email goes out with typos and misspellings, it becomes part of the perception, the personal brand, the writer projects to the world.
I want to emphasize the word "part" above. Clearly, to people who work with you frequently, with whom you've built personal and professional relationships, the email you send is a very small part of their perception of you, possibly even insignificant. By nature, people will look first to their personal experiences with someone when making judgments about them. However, for those who only know you through an occasional email, it becomes a much larger part. If it's important to you to have a positive personal brand with these people, the quality of writing is something you should pay attention to.
That said, it's not reasonable to expect someone who is not a good speller to simply make the decision to be better, so here are a few possible solutions to consider when an email is really important.
If you have access to a strong writer, use them.
Especially if you have one who works for you. Call them over and have them compose your email. At least have them proof it and make necessary corrections.
Don't hit SEND too quickly.
Take a few seconds and read your email. Many typos happen simply because you hit two keys at the same time by accident, and these are typos you would be able to recognize and fix. It's better to have one or two small errors than five or six, .
Use your spellcheck.
If your email program has a spellcheck, run it. Many programs will underline misspellings in red as you type, which makes it even easier. All you have to do is take five to ten seconds and scan for the underlines.
Keep it short.
Get to the point quickly and wrap it up. First, the fewer words you write, the less of a chance there is for an error. Second, it's simply a courteous use of the reader's time.
Stick to words you know.
Don't try to use impressive sounding words when simple ones communicate the same thing. Also, avoid corporate jargon, which tends to use more words than necessary. In addition to helping you avoid errors, this is just good writing advice.
For most people, following this advice will eliminate a large majority of typos and misspellings. Most readers will overlook that because even the best writers miss one on occasion.
Now if you'll excuse me, I am going to proof the daylights out of this post before I publish it!
2/1/2010 01:37:56 am
You are right on. As a life long poor speller, I loved it when I had a boss that was an ex English teacher. I see it all of the time now, poor sentence structures, missing words and the evil of the spell checker, the wrong word, spelled correctly. I once got into the argument that a simulation and assimilation were not the same thing.
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