Do you consistently proofread your work?
That’s one of the questions I asked readers in a recent Weekend Poll. I also asked about how consistently you proofread different types of work, including minutes and emails.
For some, the answer depends on the nature of the material you’re preparing. For example, 86% of respondents said you always proofread minutes before circulating them. Another 14% acknowledged you proofread your minutes fairly consistently, yet not more than 75% of the time.
Emails: When it comes to emails, the percentage of respondents who said you always proofread them dropped to 43%. The same percentage of respondents said you almost always proofread such outgoing communications. The remaining 14% said you do so fairly consistently, yet for no more than 75% of your emails.
When it comes to general communications, 57% said you proofread all such material and the remaining 43% said you proofread the majority of your work.
Proofreading choices can impact reputations
The extent to which we proofread or bypass proofreading has potential to impact reputations, yours among them.
What you and your principals think of the quality of your writing skills
I also asked how you and your principals (bosses) would rate the quality of your business writing skills and spelling. Almost half, 44%, said business writing is one of your strongest career skills, and another 42% said you’re competent, yet business writing is not among your strongest skills. The remaining 14% noted business writing is a weakness, and a skill they need to improve.
We can improve our business writing skills. You can source out training that works for your schedule and budget. I deliver training on business writing in webinars and in person, for employee development and at conferences. I last presented on business communications at a June conference, and will do so again in November. We can always benefit from refreshing and updating our writing skills, and you may wish to target such sessions the next time you attend a conference.
Spelling: How would you and your principal rate your spelling skills? Half of all respondents said you’re competent spellers, and you ensure you have access to an online or hard copy dictionary. The other 50% said your spelling skills are strong.
That’s beneficial, particularly in the case of one reader who wrote that her CEO is mildly dyslexic and doesn’t trust his own spelling or written language. With this in mind, he preps and then turns letters, reports and his weekly blog over to his assistant to check. With the handover comes his request, “Make pretty the words”.
A list of common mistakes for you to reference – and avoid
It occured to me that it would help if I built and published a list of common mistakes to avoid. These include misplaced punctuation, homophones – words that may sound similar, yet have different meanings and/or spellings. Examples include new and knew as well as there, their and they’re – and more. I’m including that list below and on a separate page, so you can bookmark the list and have it handy.
Brushing up on our business writing skills
I asked, and 57% of respondents said you’ve taken courses or training on business writing/communications since your school or post-secondary education days. Of that group, 50% undertook such training in the last five years. The remainder have participated in business writing training during the last two years – 24% within the past year, and 26% within in the last 24 months. This is wise, especially when you consider the extent to which we’re communicating in writing in this hybrid world of ours.
Oops! – the joys of autocorrect
My final question in this particular Weekend Poll related to the autocorrect feature. I invited assistants to share examples, suitable for printing, of instances in which autocorrect has resulted in a funny or awkward communication.
Thank you to everyone who sent in memorable examples! There are so many, dozens of them, that I’ll feature these in a separate article. As some of the autocorrect faux pas generated language we wouldn’t typically use in a professional environment, I’ll be creative with how I phrase those submissions.
Our 2022 grammar hall of fame
I’ll preface this by noting the obvious: It’s not only assistants who make mistakes. Automated teller machines (ATMs) at one major Canadian bank feature signage with punctuation errors. There’s inappropriate use of apostrophes, and I’ve seen this at branches in different parts of our country. In a different national bank in our neighbourhood this summer, signage about an upcoming holiday, BC Day, incorrectly referred to our province as British “Colombia”. While we know mistakes happen, they don’t inspire confidence.
Proofreading and reputational impacts
Proofreading – or a lack thereof – and mistakes that leap from the page or screen: One reader wrote, “Many of the people I work with simply do not have time to proof their emails, and I often see mistakes such as missing or extra letters in words (which can create a whole new meaning!)“. People also noted capitalization, spelling or grammatical errors that, to them, were obvious. Another reader reporting losing count “… of the number of times colleagues have checked their dairy “.
Let’s make time for proofreading. If such mistakes are obvious to your peers, who else notices them? When I speak to assistants about business writing, I remind people that our communications have the power to build or diminish reputations – ours, those of our colleagues, and those of our employers.
Beings (“who”) and objects (“that”)
Readers correctly noted misuse of the word “that” in reference to beings. It’s appropriate to write, “… person/people who …” or “those who …” rather than “… person/people that…” or “those that“. The use of the word “that” implies reference to an object rather than a being.
Do you know when it’s appropriate to use capital letters within a sentence?
Conventional, rather than imported, spelling
The English language presents challenges. Sometimes a word is spelled one way in one or more countries, and yet another way in other countries. One reader expressed frustration with use of spelling that reflects another country’s norms. The reader wrote that such variations are “… not always easy (quick) to correct”, which I interpreted (appropriately or not) to mean there’s an expectation of catching inconsistencies and editing them.
Coulda, shoulda, woulda (and more)
Readers noted use of the terms should of, could of and would of rather than the appropriate terms, could have, should have and would have.
Familiarity or formality
Write with the appropriate level of formality. If in doubt, have a look at resources such as Purdue’s Online Writing Lab.
When referencing a number lower than 10, spell the number within a sentence. Try to phrase sentences so they don’t begin with numbers. If this is awkward or unavoidable, spell out the number or percentage you insert at the beginning of a sentence.
Punctuation: Readers cited both misuse and the absence of apostrophes as problematic. If in doubt, turn to online resources or other forms of training.
Readers encouraged attention to the appropriate tense – past, present or future. When I deliver training on minutes, I remind people to write minutes in the past tense.
A homophone is one of two or more words that sound similar yet have different meanings and/or spellings. Here are some examples. If you rely on autocorrect functions, double check the results when inserting homophones. When in doubt as to which word is appropriate, check a dictionary.
- accept, except
- affect and effect
- are, hour, our
- bare, bear – as in, please bear with me
- board, bored
- cite, sight
- compliment, complement
- discrete, discreet
- higher, hire
- incite, insight
- its, it’s – know whether you want to imply possession (its) or a contraction (it’s)
- passed, past
- sole, soul
- stationary and stationery – If in doubt when referencing writing supplies, think of one reader’s reminder to use the version with the “e”, as in “envelope” .
- than, then
- their, there, they’re
- to, too
- wary, weary
- you’re, your
Could you use more help with your minutes or other business communications?
I offer live and on demand webinars.