I know you don’t want to read this because you think I’m going to give you a lesson in grammar. The truth is that you have read these types of articles on writing dozens of times and you know how to avoid the common errors.  Let’s all agree that our grammar skills could be improved and make a pact to look up any questionable sentence constructions, use spell check more often and avoid the common traps (then/than, affect/effect, me/I).

So, now that we got that out of the way, I want to take this opportunity to talk about the common mistakes that undermine our writing and make our prose less compelling to our target audience. Yes, grammar mistakes are a tremendous turn off. But they are only part of a larger problem:

Mistake #1 – Lack of Attention to Detail:  Typo and other errors are the result of lazy proofreading.  With spell check programs now built into word processing and email applications, glaring mistakes have become unacceptable. But even spell check is not perfect. Then there are other small glitches like using a word repetitively, awkward constructions or lack of clarity.  When we write, we are so close to the thought and so quick to relay the idea, that we don’t see or hear the clumsiness in our sentences.

Solution:  Say it out loud. Pretend you are John F. Kennedy telling us not to ask what our country can do for us but what we can do for our country. Reading out loud is like shining a spotlight on your sentences. All mistakes are suddenly revealed as you stumble and misstep around awkward phrases, misspellings and repetitions. It’s an easy trick but one seldom used as we are so eager to write and run.  Slow down, re-read , read out loud and you will see your prose improve.

Please note:  I’m not suggesting that you stand up in Panera Bread and start reading that business proposal out loud (although, who knows, you may win a new client). There is a time and place for everything, which brings me to the second common mistake in writing…

Mistake #2 – Assuming your audience knows what the heck you are talking about:  Always remember your target.  An internal audience with technical knowledge is eager to hear about in-depth plans to improve product specifications.  But a client simply wants to know how that improvement benefits him or her.  Spare them too many details.  Know the difference and speak to the level of expertise of your audience.  When all else fails, tell it in a story.  Make it compelling to get your audience as excited about your technical upgrade as you are.  I’m not always saying to assume people are stupid but we are all guilty of…

Mistake #3 – Assuming people know what you want them to do. Mistakes 2 and 3 are closely related:  #2 is about assuming your audience understands; #3 is about assuming your call to action is obvious.  Do you want them to visit your website, call or email?  Are they invited to an event, asked to write a letter of support or boycott an establishment?  Be explicit.  Tell them what to do.  Even hint at what the next step of the process might be, e.g. “Call today for a free estimate.”  It’s all part of the K.I.S.S. theory:  Keep It Simple Stupid, which brings me to my next mistake…

Mistake #4 – Assuming people have time to sort through your mess:  Chances are you are not just writing for your personal journaling pleasure. You are submitting content for a website, a press release for potential coverage, or an article to a magazine. You cannot assume that the person receiving has time to reformat, reword, correct or any other editing nonsense.  Especially in PR where you are asking someone to provide valuable space in their publication for free, you must assume that people are either busy or lazy.  Deliver your writing to them as you want it to be seen:  typed, formatted and with contact information prominently featured.  In fact, you should write like you are the journalist because you never know when a busy, short-handed editor is just going to take your press release and use it as is.  So submit it always knowing that’s a possibility. 

And, if you’ve corrected mistakes 1-3, your words will hit the mark.  You will look and sound like a pro.  

So go do it!