We’ve all been there before. You’re walking along a quaint high street, enjoying a nice day out in town (or putting up with the kids moaning about how they want a toy you really can’t afford), when you decide that you want a food break. You notice a fancy-looking shop that entices you. As you walk closer, it becomes apparent that something’s not quite right: the board on the outside reads, “Coffee’s, Tea’s and Biscuit’s”. Now, your intuition tells you that the shop isn’t owned by Mr. Coffee, Mrs. Tea and their sprog Miss Biscuit; however, some sort of opinion – whether mild or strong – has been irrevocably formed.
Whether it’s via a website found through a Google search or it’s on the aforementioned high street, written language is often the very first thing a customer or client is greeted with when they come into contact with a business. As language has an intrinsic power to form opinions, it is important for every business to make sure they use it well if they want to pull in customers and clients. We’re living in a fast paced world, and with the emergence of the internet and the abundance of options available online, skim reading has become widespread – and businesses are certainly not immune to this.
What I’m trying to say is: first impressions count. This is why you should make it your priority to use an appropriate, standardised version of English, with attention paid to grammar, spelling and punctuation. It is your prerogative to win over potential customers by delivering digestible language that isn’t going to leave them feeling irked (if they’re easily bothered by sloppy language) or bewildered (if they aren’t fluent in English, for example, or their literacy isn’t the most proficient).
Not only should English be written coherently for practical purposes, it also has wider implications on the nature of professionalism. When language isn’t up to scratch, potential customers may also have doubts about the work that is actually on offer. It’s a sort of micro and macro situation: if a business hasn’t taken the time to make sure their spelling is correct, how are the potential customers to know whether this lack of professionalism hasn’t permeated into other more important areas of the work? If attention to detail hasn’t been paid to grammar, this may leave the potential customer wondering whether attention to detail is also lacking in the work of the business itself.
That’s not to say there are no exceptions to the rule: sometimes ‘bad’ language can be used to good effect. For example, if your company has an affiliation with mobile phone use, txt spk can be applied to enhance the nature of the business. Similarly, if your business is marketed at younger people, playful language like the use of alliteration can be effective. However, I would not advise littering your written language with such anomalies, and I would also make it easy to discern the fact that such unruly use of language is done with purposeful intentions!
So, to round this entry off, here are some ‘food for thought’ facts highlighting the importance of well-written language for businesses:
- In a survey conducted by the Royal Mail, 74% of all customers said that they do not trust businesses that have a habit of using poor spelling and grammar, with over 1/3 saying they would not purchase products or services from such businesses.
- In the same survey, it was estimated that up to – wait for it – £41bn per annum(!) could be lost by UK businesses due to poor communication .
…and here are some common mistakes for you to look out for in your written language:
- Misuse of apostrophes. Many people slip up on this one. It’s good to remind yourself that apostrophes are used for two reasons: to denote possession (“That book is Harry’s”) and to show letters that have been deleted from contractions (“don’t” as opposed to “do not”). The common mistake surrounding apostrophes is when people use them to denote plural words (“The shop has a wide range of biscuit’s”). On a related note, I’d recommend avoiding contractions in professional writing as they are associated with more informal styles of writing (like blogs).
- Mixing up similar words. Another very common mistake is the mixing up of words that sound similar. Prominent examples include your/you’re, there/their/they’re, to/two/too, it’s/its and are/our. It’s worth familiarising yourself with the meanings of each word in order to get each one written correctly and to avoid any ambiguities that may occur through incorrect usage.
- Confusing “of” with “have”. This mistake is relatively simple but extremely commonplace. The error stems from spoken speech, where the “h” in “have” is often dropped due to the rapidity of which the speech is delivered. The result is a word that sounds rather like “of.” An example sentence would be, “You could of used a semicolon,” where the grammatically correct version would be, “You could have used a semicolon.” Watch out for this one as it can be a very easy mistake to make, and is a definite indicator of sloppy language use.
And remember, if you’re feeling that uncertain about your use of written language, you could always employ a professional writer to do it or check it for you! Take a look at our copywriting and proofreading services.