Whatever Happened to Good Business Writing?
(To read the first article in this series, please follow this link.)
(To read the Twelve Worst Business Email Etiquette Mistakes of All Time, as determined by the editors of AskTheManager.com, follow this link.)
As promised in yesterday’s post, here is the list of my favorite typos, grammatical errors and other business email faux pas I’ve collected over the years.
If you have too much time on your hands, and you’d like to see all of the most common mistakes in the English language, check out Paul Brians’ Common Errors in English Usage.
The Best Bad Email of All Time
The worst email I ever received was a response to my request for a price quote on a new car from a local dealer. It was obvious that the salesman didn’t know how to operate his CRM tool very well, and that whoever set up the system never attended a business writing class:
Dear (enter customer name),
my name is (enter salesperson name) and I bring you good news we have the (enter Make) (enter Model) your looking for. I understand that buying a car is stressful and my job is too make sure you get all the help you need too make a informed choice. their are many options available for the (enter Make) (enter Model) you wants and I want too be sure you tell me all the things your looking four. Please call me right away at (enter salesperson phone number) so than we can set up appointment.
(enter salesperson name)
(enter salesperson title)
(enter dealership name)
I received this exactly as it shows above including the parentheses, and I still have it to this day. Needless to say, I didn’t buy a car from him.
The Most Annoying Business Email Habits Ever
Surely there are hundreds of annoying business email habits out there, but the following four really tend to annoy me. What is most irritating about them, is that there is a distinct lack of forethought and professionalism exhibited in each:
Blank Subject Lines – I don’t know about you, but I like to file many emails for later reference. When someone sends me an important business email with nothing in the subject line, I am required to forward it to myself with a descriptive subject so that when I file it I can easily retrieve it. I understand this could just be an oversight for many, but I know a few chronic abusers who routinely forget to include a subject and they seem oblivious to the need.
Subject Lines that Include Only My Company’s Name – I know who I work for, so when you’re sending me an email, I suggest you include your company’s name and not mine. Imagine how my email files would look if every email arrived with the same subject. This one could be worse than omitting the subject line, because it shows the sender actually thought about what to include for the subject.
Reply to All – The inadvertent clicking of this option in an email response has created some of the funniest messages I’ve ever read. Just in the past two weeks, I’ve been copied on messages not intended for my eyes when someone at another company accidentally hit “Reply to All,” though they only intended to send it internally to someone in their company. You gain great insight into the people you’re dealing with when you see what they really think about you.
What annoys me with the “Reply to All” button is when someone refuses to use it. I have been on countless important email strings that were interrupted because some numbskull hit “Reply” instead of “Reply to All” and then sent their message. Listen up, offenders, start using the “Reply to All” when you intend to send your words of wonder to everyone copied on the original message. Get it?
The Use of Stationery – Forgive the sexist overtones here, but this seems to be a faux pas committed solely by women. Ladies, when you use the stationery features of Microsoft Outlook, you transmit very pretty emails that make us all long for the days before the Internet.
However, you seem to forget that business stationery back in the day rarely included watermarked bunnies on a pink background. Additionally, when any of us attempts to respond to or forward these beautiful emails, your stationery takes over our response, often requiring we adjust the color of our text while destroying the layout of our email signatures.
Quick business tip: never, ever use the stationery features of any email program for your business emails. The rest of us thank you in advance.
The Worst Word Confusions of All Time
These aren’t typos, though many will argue they are. Typos, as I’ll show in the next section, are true fat-fingering instances that even a rudimentary spell checking program could detect.
The following mistakes are the result of a combination of laziness and low IQ, and by no means do they encompass all of the common grammatical errors we see in business writing today.
There, Their and They’re – Look them up. One belongs there, one is their choice and they’re all different.
Loose and Lose – I come unglued when someone warns me that we are about to loose something if we don’t act now. Frankly, if we loose it, that’s our choice. I’m really more concerned about what we lose.
Affect and Effect – These are probably the most commonly confused words in the English language. I recommend that every time you wish to use one or the other, and you are not certain which is which, you check out an online resource like the University of Kansas website. One quick tip I use: affect is most often a verb, and effect is most often a noun.
To, Too and Two – These really don’t even belong on the list, because even a first grader knows the difference. If you find yourself using to incorrectly too often, you really should reference one or two grammar resources for help.
i.e. and e.g. – These are both abbreviations of Latin terms and only one is misused – primarily because almost no one knows how to use e.g. i.e. is the Latin abbreviation for id est, which means “that is.” In business writing, I often see users include i.e. to mean “for example.” If you don’t believe me, check the greatest online dictionary in the world, i.e., Dictionary.com. e.g. is the Latin abbreviation for exempli gratia, which means “for example.” I never see e.g. in business writing, unless I’m the one doing the writing. I think if we’re going to use Latin abbreviations, we should understand what we’re doing. I know of a few good online resources that can help you understand what different words, phrases and abbreviations mean, e.g., Dictionary.com.
A Few Great Business Typos Typographical errors are great, because they are usually the result of the overanxious, fat-fingering apathetic who fails to proofread. (Grammatical errors, on the other hand, show a poor grasp of the English language – most likely the result of leaving school in the fifth grade.) What you see below are some terrific typos I’ve encountered over the years:
Combining Words – More ignorance than typographical, the Web has made this such a cool practice through the combination of words in domain names (e.g. AskTheManager, WordPress, etc.) that many feel compelled to create their own words by combining two words often found next to each other. Everytime I see this I want to scream, but every time is always, always two words. Amazingly, this mistake is so common it shows up on more than 51 million sites on the Web.
Mixing the Order of Letters – One of the greatest letter mix ups of all time is typing Interent when you mean Internet. “Interent” actually seems to me like it should be a real word, like it means something was definitely intended. Interestingly, there are over 1.5 million websites that screwed this up for all of us to see. Follow this link to see these Interent-savvy websites.
Omitting Letters – I often see this typo when someone wants my company to move forwar with somethin or they just want to get my atention. Luckily, most spell checkers will complete these words for you. When they don’t, and you post them to the web, you join the other 914,000 websites that left off one of the Ts in attention. To view these masters of marketing, follow this link.
Adding Letters – The uneducated masses who add letters sometimes believe these words are spelled with that extra T, L or M; though more often than not, they simply get ahead of themselves when they really should ommit the extra letter. Check out the more than 470,000 websites that contain an extra M they should have ommitted when you follow this link.
Fat-Fingering – This typo occurs when you meant to type one letter, but your sausage-like digits hit numerous keys at once, resulting in something like thjis. Not surprisingly, these are incredibly common in business writing and on the Web. Follow this link to see the more than 60,000 websites that prove thjis is true.
Mistyping – As unbelievable as it sounds, TheManager has actually committed this egregious error at least once in the past. Recently, I posted an article on Leadership, though I entered the page title as Keadership. No excuses, but the K and the L are very close together on my laptop, and there are no spell checkers available on the page title form in WordPress. Once I noticed the error, I fixed it, but Google had already cached the page, so every time I see my indexed pages, I am reminded of this glaring typo. Of course, I’m not alone – more than 700 others writing about Leadership also caught the K by mistake. Follow this link to see these geniuses of Keadership.
The Solution While we all have access to spelling and grammar checkers in nearly every program where we create emails or other documents, the real answer is we need to start caring about what we write. We need to care enough to set up automatic spell checking, to look up words at Dictionary.com, to keep reference guides like Alicia Abell’s Business Grammar, Style & Usage handy, and to proofread before we publish or send. Unfortunately, this will not change anytime soon. Typos have become so common that a whole industry exists selling misspellings of common domain names. Of course, if you’re thinking of buying Googel.com, Yahooo.com or Amazom.com, you’re too late, they’re already owned by the websites that Web surfers intended to type in the first place.