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Sloppy Writing That Can Turn Customers Away

When was the last time you wore a dirty shirt and ripped blue jeans to an important business meeting? Not since – ever, I hope. Even if your prospective new client is ultra-casual in their own dress, wearing a sloppy outfit tells them you don’t take their job seriously enough to spend a few minutes on your appearance.

Sloppy writing can have the same effect. Obvious misspellings, amateurish punctuation and other basic goofs can turn off prospective customers. You’ll never know a digital reader has clicked off the page to find someone who isn’t a chore to read. Take a hard look at your copy and the realization may come to you like a slap in the face (which is how you’ll feel when you realize your misspelling in “Take a shot” slipped past your spell-checker).

No one expects you to be a great stylist, weaving complex words and sentences into prose that verges on poetry so irresistible it immediately starts your cash register ringing. The average reader probably won’t care about, or even notice, things like dangling modifiers and singular-plural disagreement. But you risk turning off even the average reader with basic sloppiness that’s easily avoided.

Here are 7 basic writing mistakes that make you look like an amateur:

1. Over-capitalization

This may be my biggest peeve: the infestation of incorrectly capitalized words. The misconception has taken hold that capitalizing a word makes it “more important” or adds emphasis. But the rule is simple. Capitalize proper nouns like people’s names and formal titles preceding the title holder’s name. That’s it.

2. Too many exclamation points!!!!!!!

Unlike the period and most other punctuation marks, the exclamation point is used by choice rather than requirement. I advise you to choose it rarely. Adding an exclamation point does not add excitement to your words but indicates excitement that’s already there. A constant stream of exclamation points will only dilute their effectiveness. So get over it!

3. Using an apostrophe to make a word plural

This one baffles me. Why is there such hesitation to making a plural word by just adding an s?  Yet I often see apostrophes added indiscriminately. I can only guess that people are thrown off by the exception to the pluralization practice. Yes, you should add an apostrophe to some singular words to avoid misreading. For instance, “Dot your i’s and cross your t’s” rather than “Dot your is and cross your ts.” But an exception is called that because it occurs only rarely.

4. Malapropisms

“For all intensive purposes,” “virtual signaling,” “the statue of limitations” – just a few examples of using incorrect words and phrases that are just a little off the correct ones. Some, like those examples, are funny. More often they’re embarrassing: “proceed” for “precede,” for instance. Preventing  these blunders Is simply a matter of examining them and asking if they make any sense. What is an “intensive purpose”? How do you signal virtually? Why would anyone erect a statue to a limitation? It may be hard to recognize a malapropism when you’ve used it comfortably for years, but that’s why we look closely at everything we write.

5. Poor spelling

It’s been said many times, but it bears repeating. Your computer’s spell-checker will not save you from every goof. Spell-check tools have come a long way, and many now check for context. (Mine wouldn’t let me write “bares repeating” even though I spelled “bares” correctly.) But it should still be used more as a proofreading tool than a basic editor. You never no.

 6. “It’s” for “its”

Many writers are still confusing the possessive “its” with the contraction of “it is,” and I doubt the confusion will ever be fully resolved.  So, again: “It’s” does not mean “something belonging to it.” Just like “hers” and “theirs,” it’s a word that stands on its own.

7. The comma splice

This misguided punctuation, which connects two independent statements that should take a period or semicolon, seems to have become more common. Perhaps it’s because online writing has become more like spoken than written language; we don’t hear periods but commas. “Get in the car, we’re going to see Grandma.” Nevertheless, please use a period or a semi-colon. Just humor me – OK?

Bee vigilant!!!

Reed your own writing as carefully and skeptically as you would another writers. Especially if your giving writing advice. (That subhead and sentence both passed my spell-checker, by the way.)