Writing for Business? Here Are 10 Common English Writing Mistakes You Are Probably Making
How often do you write at work?
Think about it. How often do you write letters, emails, reports, notes, memos, texts or chat messages?
If your answer is “every day,” then you are like many of us.
You probably spend a large part of your normal work day answering emails and writing reports and other things (after your cup of morning coffee, of course).
The coffee might help, but coffee alone is not enough to help you to write better.
At work, you often have to write to people from many different countries. Your message must be clear, effective, professional and easy for anyone anywhere in the world to understand.
What do I mean by “effective”? What makes an “effective” piece of writing? To write effectively means to write in a meaningful way that will give you the results you want.
“But how? What should I do?” you may ask.
Well, to help you produce more effective professional writing, we are going to discuss some mistakes you can avoid in your business writing. Before we talk about these common mistakes, we should talk a little bit more about why effective writing is really important for your career.
Why You Need to Write Effectively in Business
To Create a Good Image
It is important to create a good image of yourself and your company when writing to your co-workers, customers, clients and business partners. You want them to think well of you and your company. The goal is for your reader to think you and your company are professional, responsible, intelligent and trustworthy.
To achieve this goal, your writing must show that you are confident and well-informed (your information is up to date).
To Sound Professional
If you sound professional in your business writing, your reader will take you seriously.
A good way to sound professional is to use more formal language in your writing. You can learn how to do this here.
To Make Your Message Clear
In business, you may be dealing with people from many different countries and cultures. So it is important that your message be clear, concise (the message is all about the main point) and easy to understand.
Learning to write effectively in business is not hard but it needs a lot of practice. Let’s start by looking at some mistakes you should avoid when writing in business.
Oops! 10 Business English Writing Mistakes You Can Easily Avoid
1. Using Texting Language
These days, we use our phones all the time for texting and messaging. You may even message your supervisors, coworkers and customers sometimes. You probably use texting language to do this.
While texting language is fine for messaging your friends and family, you should avoid using it in business. This is because texting language does not use standard English spelling and vocabulary, and it often uses abbreviations (short forms) of words and phrases.
For example, you might text something like this:
Pls B there B4 6 pm. TY.
Pls means “please,” B means “be,” B4 means “before” and TY means “thank you.” Not everyone will understand this message. Even if your reader understands all the informal language and abbreviations, this message seems like you were being lazy or did not care about being mature and professional.
In business, always use standard English spelling and vocabulary that everyone can understand. Therefore, this message should be written as follows:
Please be there before 6 pm. Thank you.
2. Forming Very Long Sentences
A common mistake is writing very complex sentences which are long and difficult to understand, with little or no punctuation. Long and complex sentences will contain many, many ideas. Your reader might not be able to understand each individual idea if they are all written together.
Punctuation includes periods ( . ), commas ( , ), question marks ( ? ), exclamation points ( ! ) and other markings which separate ideas, phrases and sentences. You should always separate your most important ideas into separate sentences using the proper punctuation.
Here is an example of a sentence that is too long and complex, without much punctuation:
We wish to inform you that the weather is bad so our shipment will be late and now we are trying to get in touch with the shipping company to see what they can do to make sure the delivery comes on time therefore we hope it will not cause any problems for you.
You can rewrite the above sentence more effectively by breaking it into three shorter sentences and using professional words where possible. Here is an example of how you can do this:
We are writing to inform you that our shipment has been delayed due to bad weather. We are now working with the shipping company to speed up delivery. We apologize for any inconvenience.
3. Combining Many Ideas into One Paragraph
Another common mistake is including too many ideas or topics into one paragraph.
The paragraph below talks about 3 different topics:
You are invited to our project meeting at 3 pm to discuss our weekly progress. The samples will not arrive in time for our sales launch next month. John is still waiting for your customer survey forms to write his report.
Instead you should start a new paragraph for each new idea or topic. For example:
You are invited to our project meeting at 3 pm to discuss our weekly progress. (This paragraph will contain more information about the meeting.)
The samples will not arrive in time for our sales launch next month. (This paragraph will contain more information about the samples.)
John is still waiting for your customer survey forms to write his report. (This paragraph will contain more information about the report.)
If the topics are very different, you may want to write three different emails. Then each email can focus on a separate issue.
4. Repeating Words Unnecessarily
Repeating words unnecessarily (when there is no need to repeat anything) is another common mistake in business writing. For example:
The shipment has been delayed due to bad weather, but we are not sure when the shipment will arrive.
Instead of repeating “the shipment,” replace it with the pronoun “it.” For example:
The shipment has been delayed due to bad weather, but we are not sure when it will arrive.
Don’t you think that this sentence sounds better? It is much clearer and more concise.
5. Using Incomplete Sentences
Incomplete sentences don’t make sense and can confuse your reader. They will wonder what you really mean to say. For example, this is not a complete sentence:
Since we are planning to hire new staff for our Customer Service Department.
You can easily fix this problem by checking to make sure you don’t leave any sentences unfinished.
The completed sentence could look something like this:
Since we are planning to hire new staff for our Customer Service Department, we will be able to handle more customers.
6. Misspelling Words
Spelling mistakes can make your writing look unprofessional. Luckily they are very easy to fix.
Can you spot the misspelling in the example below?
We didn’t expect to recieve so many orders this year.
That’s right, the correct spelling is “receive.”
You can easily avoid this problem by using the spellchecker that is built into most software applications. Spell-checkers will usually underline the misspelled words in red.
Some spell-checkers can be set to autocorrect, and the misspelled words will be automatically corrected as you type.
7. Confusing Singular with Plural
A very common mistake among English learners is using the singular form where plural form should be used and vice versa. If you are talking about one, single thing, you must use the singular form, and when you are talking about multiple things you must use the plural form.
This is often challenging because in many languages the plural form does not exist.
In the following example, using the plural form for the word “information” is incorrect. “Information” collectively refers to facts about a certain subject and has no plural form.
All the informations you need are in this folder.
In English, uncountable nouns (for example, information, water, coffee) and collective groups (for example, staff, work, information) are considered as single units.
Unlike countable nouns, they cannot be made plural by adding -s to the end of the word. They are always discussed in singular form, so they are used with singular verbs or pronouns.
The correct sentence should be:
All the information you need is in this folder.
In the following example, using the singular form of the word “customer” to refer to more than one customer is incorrect. “Customer” is a countable noun and to make it plural, you add -s.
We have more customer visiting our store this month.
The correct sentence should be:
We have more customers visiting our store this month.
8. Leaving Out Articles “a,” “an” and “the”
Not including “a,” “an” and “the” is a very common mistake among English learners. This is because articles may not exist in other languages.
In English, these 3 little words are very important. They are used to show if you are referring to a specific noun (“the”) or an indefinite noun (“a” and “an”).
For example, the dog is describing a dog that we already know. We both know this dog, and you know which specific dog I am talking about. However, a dog could be any dog in the whole world. You do not know which dog I am talking about, so this is indefinite.
In the following example, imagine that your boss is introducing you to a consultant whose arrival has been talked about. There are two articles missing. Do you know which ones and where they should be placed in the sentence?
This is consultant who will work with us for week.
The correct sentence should be:
This is the consultant who will work with us for a week.
This is the consultant who will work with us for the week.
9. Changing Tenses Mid-sentence
Tenses are very important in English because they show the time when an event happened. However, other languages may use fewer or no tenses at all. This is why many English learners find tenses difficult to understand.
In the following example, the sentence starts with the present tense and then changes to the past tense.
The manager is (present) not in today because he was (past) feeling unwell.
As a general rule, you may find it easier to simply use the same tense in one sentence. The correct sentence should be:
The manager is (present) not in today because he is (present) feeling unwell.
10. Translating Directly from Your Own Language
It is a very common practice for English learners to do direct translations from their own language when speaking or writing in English.
They think in their own language and translate their thoughts word for word into English.
As a result, their writing will reflect (show) the grammar and sentence structures of their own language rather than those of English.
Remember that every language has its own grammatical rules and structures. No two languages are the same.
If you apply the grammar from your own language into the English language, your writing will sound very strange and your reader may misunderstand your message.
Here is a simple English sentence you might say as you are leaving work:
I’m going home now.
In Korean, the direct translation for this sentence would be:
I now home go.
In Japanese, it would be:
Now house return.
Can you see how different the same sentence in English looks in another language? To avoid translating directly from your own language, learn to think in English when you are writing.
Remember to avoid these mistakes and you will be on your way to writing much more effectively in business. Good luck!