This is a guest post from DailyWritingTips.
Is your email campaign ready to be sent? Have you checked all the nuts and bolts of your new newsletter? These are only some of the questions you, as an email marketer, probably ask yourself each and every time you hit the send button.
How many times have you launched critical correspondence only to realize that it contained pesky spelling or grammar mistakes that could’ve been easily avoided? Don’t worry; it happens to everybody once in a while. Even the most well-knit business emails fall victim to writing mistakes.
The modern means of communication have significantly changed the way we write. Messaging apps and social-networking platforms empower uninhibited exchanges of information in which the form is of secondary importance.
Those channels rely on speed and deliverability rather than stylistic flair and grammatical accuracy.
Keeping those factors in mind, you should identify the vulnerable areas of your writing and make sure that the bad habits don’t stick.
6 common grammar and spelling mistakes in business emails
Read on to discover 6 common grammar and spelling mistakes that are plaguing business correspondence. Then be sure to take a look at some of your recent emails and see what could be improved.
One of the areas that have been heavily affected by the age of instant messaging is capitalization. How often do you use upper case letters in your text messages or online communicators like Messenger?
Unfortunately, this manner of writing often seeps into business correspondence. Apart from being stylistically unsound, it can hurt your professional credibility.
While capitalizing the first letter of a sentence is not exactly arcane knowledge, there are some additional rules you should keep in mind to preserve both the clarity and professional manner of your writing.
Remember the following:
- Capitalize proper nouns (brands, countries, religions, political parties, names).
- Always capitalize the pronoun I.
- Capitalize units of time, including days, months, and holidays (excluding seasons).
- Your rule of thumb for titles should be capitalizing adjectives, nouns (including proper nouns), and verbs (e.g., Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?)
- If you’re still in doubt about uppercase letters in titles, you can use this handy tool.
“Names are the sweetest and most important sound in any language.” —Dale Carnegie
Nowadays, when personalization is a staple in every successful marketing strategy, Dale Carnegie’s words resonate more strongly than ever. Building rapport in a business relationship is a delicate thing, and it can be easily disrupted by misspelling your recipient’s name.
I occasionally receive emails where my first name is either spelled wrong (with “v” instead of “w”) or not included at all. While I can understand that the latter category aims at quantity rather than quality, the former makes me wonder: “If my name of five letters gets misspelled, then what happens to more complicated names out there?”
Mistakes like this may stem from cultural differences, difficult spellings, or simple absent-mindedness.
Regardless of the reason, you can avoid them by applying the following tips.
How to get names right:
- Be mindful of cultural differences and names that are deceptively similar across different languages.
- Watch out for doubled letters and language-specific characters.
- Simply copy the recipient’s name from the address book or the email body instead of trying to type it manually.
- If you can’t distinguish the recipient’s first name from the surname, look it up.
Confusing BrE and AmE spelling
Nowadays, the English language is regarded as the international lingua franca. The language itself, however, is not as uniform as its usage. There are subtle differences that occur between dialects like American English (AmE) and British English (BrE).
While there are many other dialects you may want to investigate when targeting a specific audience, for most situations, you should be perfectly safe sticking to just one of the two.
The differences can occur in punctuation, grammar rules, spelling, and the meaning of certain words. It’s important that you pay attention to those differences in your business correspondence to avoid confusion.
- AmE prefers -or endings of words to BrE -our (e.g., color vs. colour, honor vs. honour or labor vs. labour).
- BrE words ending with -re receive -er endings in AmE (e.g., metre vs. meter, ochre vs. ocher or centre vs center).
- Words ending with -ise in BrE switch to -ize in AmE (e.g., patronise vs. patronize or legitimise vs. legitimize.)
- Many words in BrE have doubled consonants (e.g., cancelled vs. canceled or jewellery vs. jewelry.)
Spelling made easy:
- Be consistent. Don’t switch between spelling patterns within one text or campaign.
- Be mindful of your target audience. When in doubt, use the AmE spelling pattern.
- Use an online dictionary like the Cambridge Online Dictionary to look up correct spelling for the AmE or the BrE dialect.
- Use tools like Grammarly that allow you to choose from a number of dialects for proofreading.
“A period is a stop sign. A semicolon is a rolling stop sign; a comma is merely an amber light.” — Andrew Offutt
One of the universally dreaded aspects of writing is punctuation. All those pesky commas, colons, and semicolons never seem to fit just right. In business communication, proper punctuation can make or break your point, so make sure to get it right.
Common punctuation mistakes include:
- Using more than one exclamation point (e.g., “Keep your exclamation points reasonable!” vs. “Keep your exclamation points reasonable!!!”).
- Putting final punctuation outside quotes (e.g., “this is not acceptable.” vs “this is not acceptable”. Caveat: This does not apply to BrE).
- Using multiple spaces after periods and commas (you can use the “find and replace” option in a word processor to change this).
- Using unnecessary quotes for emphasis (e.g., “We sell ‘reliable’ pumps”—there’s even a reddit thread devoted to this mistake).
- Joining independent clauses with a comma, aka the comma splice (e.g., “Buy your tickets today to get a 20% discount, the concert is going to be fun”).
- Punctuating every single part of a sentence.
- Mixing single and double quotation marks (This refers to the AmE/BrE dichotomy I mentioned before and, once again, calls for consistency in usage. The AmE variant favors using double quotation marks for quotes and single quotation marks for quotes within quotes. The BrE does the exact opposite).
The misplaced apostrophe
While the apostrophe belongs to the domain of punctuation, it deserves an independent mention amongst frequent mistakes in business correspondence.
The two most common applications of the apostrophe are contractions and possessives. Even though you should be generally safe if you stick to these two usages, there are a few additional insights you should be aware of when using this punctuation mark.
- Pay attention to the differences between there/they’re/their. The rules here are simple: Use there to indicate a place, they’re as a contraction of “they are,” and their to indicate ownership for plurals (most mistakes in this category stem from rush rather than ignorance).
- Don’t use you’re/your interchangeably. Once again, the rules are simple: Use you’re as a contracted form of “you are” and your to indicate possession. This one also happens quite often, and, just like in the previous example, it’s mostly caused by haste.
- Don’t form plurals with apostrophes (e.g., write the 1990s instead of the 1990’s). An exception from this rule is that you can still use apostrophes to plurals of singular items like digits and letters—e.g., “7’s” (for multiple digits) or “F’s” (for multiple letters).
- Discriminate between it’s (contracted form of it is or it has) and its (indicates possession).
The hyphenated world of dashes
Much like the apostrophe, hyphens and dashes deserve their own place in the pantheon of common email mistakes.
For many people, the line between dashes and hyphens is so obscure that they simply use hyphens most of the time.
Things to keep in mind:
- There are two types of dashes: the em dash (—) and the en dash (–).
- Both the em dash (—) and the en dash (–) are longer than the hyphen (-).
- Dashes and hyphens cannot be used interchangeably (except for consistently replacing the en dashes with hyphens).
- You should use hyphens to connect parts of words and numbers (compound words) (e.g., “sugar-free” or “twenty-two”).
- You should use em dashes to indicate a pause or break in your text (e.g., The employee—who had criticized the senior management’s decisions—decided to leave the company.
- You can safely replace the en dash with a hyphen to indicate ranges or spans (e.g., 9-5, 1995-2005).
- Many word processors automatically convert two hyphens into an em dash.
If any of the items from this list seem familiar and occur in your emails, it’s a good time to review your habits and make sure that your writing is clear and accurate.
You don’t have to religiously follow every grammar, punctuation, and spelling rule, but you should be aware of their existence to make the most out of your writing. Small blunders often go unnoticed, but they can quickly add up and hurt your professional credibility.
Dawid Bednarski is a writer for DailyWritingTips.com, a website that offers daily articles about grammar, punctuation, spelling, and more.