In business writing, the goal is to be clear and concise. It’s also a good idea not to confuse people or annoy them with some of those common grammatical mistakes we all make from time to time.
It’s strange, but most of the following grammatical no-no’s actually make some people very angry. Sometimes, they are things that have over the years become accepted; they in effect have become a cultural norm, but they are still technically incorrect.
Language is in a state of constant change, but when writing for business it’s often a good idea to err on the side of caution. The last thing you want to do is lose a sale because the person reading your sales letter couldn’t get over the fact you used “it’s” rather than “its.”
- We’ll start with the example above. It is incorrect to say, “With regard to Model S we have improved it’s electrical connections.” “It’s” means “it is,” so you don’t need the apostrophe. On the hand if you were to say, “With regard to Model S, its better than Model R in some major areas.” That would also be incorrect; in this case “its” should have an apostrophe to make it read “it is.”
- When someone says, “I could care less” you could ask them, “Ah okay, how much less could you care?” What they really mean is, “I couldn’t care less.”
- People often say, “I wish I could get off of this mailing list.” While its usage has become fairly common, “I wish I could get off this mailing list” is less grating, and certainly more concise. In the U.S. “off of” is more common.
- Here is something one sees in newspapers, magazines and books all the time,”I said that there should be no flowers on the table”instead of,”I said there should be no flowers on the table.”People often pepper their writing with superfluous “that’s” and they can add up. Do a word search of something you have written and see how many “that’s” you can legitimately remove. Again, in the States the frequent use of “that” is the norm, but far less here in Canada.
- Now, pet grammar peeves can also be linked to where the reader originates. Someone from England would very likely cringe at hearing, “I wrote Bill to say he should stop worrying about how people say stuff” they would phrase it, “I wrote to Bill …” Missing out words can certainly cause a reader concern.
- Here’s one that seems to annoy a large number of people. “We are starting to pack less units in each box.” The correct wording is, “We are starting to pack fewer units in each box.” The key to this is that if you can count what you are talking about, it’s fewer, if you can’t then it’s less. For example, “We are using less packing than we used to.”
- Lastly, it’s common to see people incorrectly use the words, there, their, and they’re. Let’s look at them:
- First the easy one; “they’re” means “they are.”
- “Their” shows possession as in, “It was their table.”
- And “there” is the opposite of “here” as in “Their table is over there.”
This is not a definitive list and not all are grammar errors per se, but avoiding the wrath of your business readers can only be good for business.