Your language affects your reputation

photo courtesy of David Tipton

photo courtesy of David Tipton

I’ve just read a book that was quite good, but the author used the word ‘discreetly’ from time to time – except that most of the time it was spelled ‘discretely’, which means something completely different*.  A couple of times it was spelt correctly, but it really irritated me and my mind went off along the track of ‘Why didn’t the editors pick it up?  Maybe she has self-published and didn’t bother to have it edited.’  Then I was looking for other errors (and I found quite a few) – it spoilt the book for me.

What has this got to do with you?

I know people who maintain that blogging is an ‘informal environment’ and that perfect English (or any other language) grammar, spelling and punctuation are not that important; it’s all about the content.  I disagree.

When your reader comes across a misspelling it’s likely to stop them reading.  A second or two is enough – they lose their train of thought and connection to your message.  In a book it’s annoying – but you’ve already paid for that so the publishing company has already got your money.  In copy that is part of your marketing it can be the difference between getting a new customer or not.

If your reader is looking for help in the area you specialise in – and finds your blog interesting ideally, you would hope they’ll get in touch.  If there are a few irritating errors they may think twice.  Errors on a website or marketing brochure can leave them wondering if the poor attention to detail is likely be replicated in the service offered.  The interesting fact about this is that it’s not always a conscious thought process, we get the subliminal message and, even if the content is interesting, something stops us pursuing it any further.

Different strokes for different folks

The style of language you use is important too.  This is where I make no excuses for referring back to that number one essential in any marketing plan – know your audience!

If you’re talking to company directors your language will be different to talking to sports professionals.  If you’re talking to holistic therapists your language will be different to that you use for communicating with owner/managers of small businesses.  This doesn’t mean you have to be inauthentic, but you do have to ‘talk their language’, not just by referencing things they relate to, but in style and tone too.

If you don’t know who your audience are it can be difficult to get this right.  Being too informal with a formal audience (or vice versa) can make them feel uncomfortable.  You don’t work with people that you don’t feel comfortable with – in the reader’s mind they see you as ‘not our type of company’; which is not the reputation you want to generate.

Getting it right

If you’re writing to promote your business then don’t start off stressing about your spelling, punctuation and grammar.  Start with an image in mind of your ideal client and write your message just for that one perfect customer.  When you’ve got the focus right things get easier.  When you’re happy with the content THEN proof read for stray apostrophes, typos, spelling errors, etc.  If you’re not great at English find someone who is picky about this and get them on board as your proof reader – even if you have to pay a fee for it, it’s worth it for the value in preserving your reputation.

*Discreet – careful, reliable, not likely to share information inappropriately, taking action in a way that doesn’t attract attention.

Discrete – separate or distinct from another.

Put two writers together …

Same luxury less lorriesI have a number of writing friends – other copywriters, advertising copywriters, book editors, journalists – and, when we get together, the conversation almost always visits the incorrect use of some word or another.  Maybe we are pedantic, perhaps boring (to others, but never to each other) – and I know English is a challenging language with so many inconsistent spellings, sounds and irregular verbs – but sometimes we just can’t see why people get even the simplest things wrong.

I met a new writer last week and she has an additional challenge to get over; English is not her first language – but she writes it exceptionally well (better than many native speakers).  Of course, we got onto the inaccuracies of other people’s writing.  She exclaimed “‘I hope your well’!”

“Oh yes” I agreed, “I hate that – and when I get emails that start with that I always want to reply ‘You hope my well is what?’” That started a what-people-get-wrong fest.

Advice – or advise?  At least they do actually sound different, but what about practice and practise, or licence and license?  One is a noun, the other a verb (unless you’re American, in which case you just use the ‘c’ version for everything).

Complimentary or complementary?

Lose or loose?  This is so common and they are two completely different words.

Then we got into they’re, there, their and more.

We had a lovely time pinging the errors of English to and fro.  Then I left to pick up some groceries and discovered on the shelves of Tesco a pack of magnolia loo rolls that had the slogan:

Same luxury

Less lorries

Noooo!  Not ‘less lorries’; it should be ‘fewer lorries’.  When numbers are involved, it’s fewer.  Fewer people, less ice cream; fewer books, less work.  Get it?

Why am I so fussy about this?  I’m not alone in my fussiness, there are plenty of people out there who like English to be used with flair and care, not trampled upon indiscriminately.  They could be that dream client you have been hoping to attract, but if they read inaccurate English on your website or marketing materials – or even in the email you sent to them – what do they think of you?  Attention to detail?   Hmmmm.  Basic knowledge of English not great; what does that say about your overall expertise?

I know that this is not necessarily the case, but people make judgments – sometimes without realising it – and it can be a long uphill struggle to regain ground you’ve lost – if you get the chance at all.  Brush up your English grammar, spelling and punctuation – or get an expert on board to help.

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