First impressions matter in business, whether in person or via a written medium. In-person, we make up our minds about someone within the first two seconds of meeting them. If we notice an error in a written business document this may also cause people to judge us negatively. The latter is particularly problematic for anyone who has dyslexia or struggles with spelling and grammar for a host of other reasons.
Often your written communications are the first thing a potential client sees; whether it’s your website copy, social media posts and direct messages, emails, letters, flyers or business cards. For this reason, good grammar, accurate spelling and the ability to write in a way that gives the impression you intended are all important.
One of my earliest jobs was as a proof checker and it was a role that suited me since mistakes in written documents tend to leap out at me even when I’m not looking for them. I admit I do collect typos and proof-checking mistakes the way others might collect stamps or figurines.
There are many ways to get things wrong but the most common are listed below:
Wrong word entirely
We are all guilty of this at one time or another but sometimes a perfectly harmless word, in the wrong place, can cause your business to go viral for entirely the wrong reason. For example, the Vision Express advertisement for “Free Rectal Photography” rather than “Free Retinal Photography”.
Homophones - Similar sounding words with different meanings
This is possibly one of the most common errors people make. In English, we have a number of similar-sounding words which mean something different and it can be difficult to remember which is correct in each situation. Here are some that are frequently confused, together with their usage:
There, Their and They’re.
There indicates the position of something, Their is the possessive form of they, and they’re is a contraction of They Are.
Where and Wear
Where indicates a location and wear is to put something on such as a pair of shoes.
Pair, Pare and Pear
Pair is two of something. Pare is what you do when you take a little bit off something. Pear is a fruit.
It’s and Its
It’s - a contraction of it is. Its is the possessive form.
Stationery and Stationary.
Stationery is paper and envelopes. Stationary is when something is not moving.
Spelling Mistakes and Typos
One that I always remembered from my proof-checking days was this charming typo from a technical manual: “Please paint two black and shite lines down the fuselage”
Others that I have seen across social media include a label on a sandwich that read: "Roast beef and criminalised onion relish" and the charming government poster put up during the pandemic which read “Help us make your pubic spaces safe”
Clarity in communications is very important and sometimes the phrasing can be open to misinterpretation. One recent example was a notice on a mask dispenser which read “Please pull masks from bottom” – the simple addition of the word “the” prior to “bottom” would have avoided ribald comment.
Help is available
For those who struggle with written expression, for whatever reason, there are ways to double-check your work prior to publication. These include tools built into Microsoft Word and Grammarly, which picks up errors across a range of platforms.
In Microsoft Word, there is a spellchecker, thesaurus and an editor. All are useful tools.
A word of warning though. Relying entirely on a spell checker will not pick up every error as it will allow spellings that are correct but which are not in context. For example, it does not pick up “The make-up was barley there”.
The thesaurus is great for checking that you have used words correctly, or in situations where you have used the same word three or four times and want to use something different which has the same meaning in order to make your writing more interesting and varied.
Finally, the Editor function scores your writing on spelling, grammar, clarity, and a number of other measurements so you can be sure that your writing is as clear as possible. It will also make suggestions for alternative words in the same way as the Thesaurus. You can keep it open alongside your Word document and glance across it to see what it is finding. The Editor function button can be found toward the right-hand side of the Home menu ribbon at the current time of writing.
I love Grammarly with a passion. I have to admit that I use this all day, every day, to keep my writing on track. I have a terrible “over-long sentence with excessive use of the comma” habit that Grammarly keeps in check nicely. No one is entirely perfect at grammar or spelling and Grammarly has always worked well for me. I also really like the weekly Grammarly update that tells me how many words it has checked for me each week, and gives the total words checked since I started using the system (six million and counting). The update report also tells me where my mistakes were made, how many there were, and the tone of my writing that week.
You can find out more about Grammarly here. There is a free and a paid version. I used the Free version initially and found it was effective. However, I now have the premium version because I do so much content writing and communications work. If you don’t need to check many documents and emails then the free version is probably a great choice. However, if you do a lot of content writing, or have written communication challenges, then the paid version may be worth the investment.