Business Writing Skills

Business Writing Advice: Pay Attention to the Details! (AKA Don’t Look Stupid)

Something has been lost in our hurry-up world: attention to detail. And some of the most important business writing advice we need to learn by heart is that details do matter! Details matter because paying attention to details saves time for the writer and the reader, and protects the credibility of the businessperson and the brand.

Paying Attention to Details Takes Time but Saves Time
Details, shmetails, right? We’re in a hurry! Maybe, but the time we save by going so fast can lead to time wasted later because we let mistakes happen. For example, you might think there’s really no difference between LinkedIn vs. Linked In. If you type the latter, which is the incorrect spelling, your reader will still know what you meant. But what if that reader needs to look for your email later?

This happened to me. I was searching for an email that talked about LinkedIn, and I was using the search function to do so. I could not find it. Then I tried other ways to search for the email and I did find it in the end. When I re-read it, I saw the sender had spelled LinkedIn with a space, Linked In, and that’s why my email app couldn’t find it. Technology is not that smart! It can only do what we tell it to do, and it can’t find a word spelled an alternative way. In that case, I wasted time looking for an email because of that lack of attention to detail.

Or consider this story from a friend with a web hosting company: “Just today, a client sent an email to me complaining that the mailbox for one of her employees must be broken.  She sent him an email and it bounced. Of course, she didn’t actually read the bounce message.  It explained there was no such domain. Her domain name contains the word food, and she typed foood.” Again, technology is amazing, but it’s not that smart. By not paying attention to the typing of the domain name, this person wasted the time of three people: her own time, her employee’s time because he didn’t get the email he was waiting for, and the web hosting company’s time that had to figure out the mistake for her.

Details also save time for the reader when they can read through something quickly and once without having to stop and think. Punctuation can play a key role in clarity, but only when used correctly. For example, compare the sentences below to see how a lack of semicolons leads to confusion vs. how using semicolons leads to clarity.

However, over the past few years, fears of technology-driven job losses have re-emerged with advances in ‘smart automation’ – the combination of AI, robotics and other digital technologies that is already producing innovations like driverless cars and trucks, intelligent virtual assistants like Siri, Alexa and Cortana, and Japanese healthcare robots.

Yes, I as the reader can understand that sentence…upon reading it a second time. If the writer had used semicolons after the words trucks and Cortana, however, I would have understood the sentence with ease the first time through.

Compare that example to this example of using semicolons correctly:

The analysts predict up to 4.3 million cooks and servers; 3.82 million janitors, cleaners and housekeepers; and 2.4 million movers and warehouse workers will lose their jobs due to automation.

I read that one time and I’ve got it. The writer saved me time!

(Learn more about using semicolons properly here in another business writing advice post.)

These are really nitpicky details but this applies to your business writing on a grander scale too. If you’re not catching the little nitpicky mistakes, are you catching the big ones? Or is your business writing confusing and hard to understand?

Business Writing Advice: Details Matter Because They Protect Your Credibility
Paying attention to details saves time, but it also saves credibility. There is, first and foremost, your own credibility that you’re either reinforcing or diminishing with your business writing.

For example, I’m sure the person who wrote the following sentence is intelligent, but he could have taken two seconds to write this sentence correctly: “Hi, I’m John Jones. I’m a passionate technologist, create courses for ABC Company, and speak at developer events on web and cloud technologies.” Instead, he dashed it off and chipped away at his reliability. What if a potential employer saw that lack of attention to detail?

(Note: If you don’t see the error, it’s his use of “I’m.” As written, it reads “I’m create” and “I’m speak.” If he had changed it to “I am,” it would read “I am…I create…I speak….” Problem solved! But first you have to see the problem. And that’s the problem!)

Business Writing Advice: It’s Also the Credibility of Your Business That’s at Stake
Then there’s the credibility of your business. Unless you’re self-employed, you’re probably not the only one representing your business or brand. And mistakes make your business look bad, period. My business writing advice? Demand more.

For example, I copied the following text from a customer service email: “We are only showing that 2 apps registered in your account during 12/27 evening Bonus, please see attached screenshot. I am sorry that happened. That is why you may not of received your points.”

Oh. My. Gosh. Seriously?! This was only one example of several similar emails from the same company.

Do you trust a customer service person who sends an email like this? What does this sloppy writing tell you about this brand, or the trustworthiness of this company? What other details are they ignoring? (And I promise you, I do not make this stuff up. Bad business writing samples are all around me all the time!)

Then there those times when someone decreases their brand’s credibility while paying money to do so. Like when a business pays money for an ad, but no one proofreads the ad before it goes live, as in the example below. Never mind that this ad I found online is horribly written. It has mistakes in it, for all the world to see:

business writing advice pay attention to details

I’m sure the first mistake jumps out at you: carefranchise is written as one word and should have a space between care and franchise. But do you see the other mistake? It’s an inconsistency: spelling healthcare as one word but then as two as in health care. Would you want to spend money to invest in a franchise that can’t even be bothered to proofread an ad before it goes live? In what other ways are they cutting corners as a business? What other details do they disregard?

(From a copywriter’s standpoint, it’s also poorly written because it has two conflicting calls to action. But that’s another topic.)

And finally, for a humorous “don’t look stupid” example, here’s a tweet from local law enforcement that could have used a read-through before posting: “Around 12:25pm today a man was seen attaching dark colored backpacks to Jones Bridge. Troopers were unable to locate any items attached to the bridge or the man.” So they found the man and nothing was attached to him??

Learning to pay attention to details takes time, but this is business writing advice we need to take to heart. It also takes time because we need to sloooooow down and catch our mistakes, through proofreading and by reading what we write out loud before making it public. But when in the end it saves the reader time and protects our credibility, isn’t that time well spent? Raise the bar on your own business writing, and expect more from those around you too. Because no one wants to look stupid. Do they?

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