When it comes to resumes, work documents, and other professional writings, the quality of your writing directly impacts your success. Poor quality writing can lead to missed opportunities and negatively affect your earning power or financial well-being. When you don’t write correctly, you can come across as ignorant or careless and confuse your readers.
Many people aren’t writers, but still have to write important documents at work that will be read by many people. In my work as an editor, I’ve found that most non-writers tend to make the same easily correctable mistakes over and over again. If you’d like some tips for making sure the work that you spend so much time and effort writing will be clearly understood and respected by your co-workers and clients, these simple tips will go a long way.
Tip 1: Clarify unfamiliar terms. When using jargon, make sure that all members of the document’s intended audience will understand your terminology. For terms that may be unfamiliar, be sure to define each one the first time it appears in the document. This can be done seamlessly using parentheses or dashes. If you’re not sure if a term will be understood or not, err on the side of caution.
This tip is especially important when creating a company website — make sure you write in such a way that even newcomers will understand what your company does.
Tip 2: Use complete sentences. For some reason, business people like to write in incomplete sentences. However, for the sake of clarity and correctness, in formal documents you should always avoid using incomplete sentences. Your documents will come across as more polished and professional this way.
Tip 3: Use punctuation correctly. Some of the most common punctuation errors that people make are underuse and overuse of commas, incorrect use of apostrophes, and misunderstanding of when to use “its” instead of “it’s.”
Incorrect example: “Some of the most common punctuation errors that people make are underusing, and overusing, commas.”
Correct example: “Some of the most common punctuation errors that people make are underusing and overusing commas.”
Correct Example: Use commas to set off introductory words. “Sometimes, I like to have fish for dinner.”
As far as “it’s” and “its,” most people know this rule but simply don’t proofread carefully enough to catch their typos. “It’s” is an abbreviation for “it is,” while “its” is possessive.
Correct Example: The store is in its final days before going out of business.
Tip 4: Make your verbs agree with your subjects. In order to do this, you have to be able to clearly identify the subject. This sounds easy, but when the subject and the verb of a sentence are separated by a phrase that doesn’t require commas, people often make the wrong verb choice.
Correct Example: “The survey covering several topics reveals a consumer bias.” The mistake that people tend to make is to have the verb be “reveal” in order to agree with “topics,” which is not the subject. “The survey” is the subject, and therefore the verb must be plural to agree with the singular subject.
Tip 5: Avoid Excessive Capitalization. I don’t know what it is about the Corporate World, but people sure do like to capitalize Stuff to make it seem More Important Than It Really Is. Stick to the normal rules of capitalization to avoid coming off as a Pompous Bastard.
Tip 6: Be consistent. This tip applies to all the stylistic choices you make in your writing. However you do something the first time should be the same way you do it every subsequent time. Attention to details will help your work appear purposeful and coherent. For example, when using commas in a series with “and,” use the optional comma before “and” every time or never. Another situation where people are commonly inconsistent is when making a list with bullet points. Here, make sure to use periods after each point or not at all. Complete sentences merit periods; sentence fragments do not.
There is so much bad and sloppy writing in the world that just by learning and using these six simple tips, your writing will easily stand out far above the rest. When you write well, people assume that you are intelligent and highly competent, which will help you get hired in the first place and advance in your career. Everyone is bound to make the occasional mistake, but brushing up on your writing skills in order to minimize those mistakes is a simple step towards furthering your career or business, and it should be common practice for anyone who needs to use writing in their work.