7 Business Writing Mistakes To Avoid

I remember a few years ago, I received an email from one of the attendees I met at a trade show event. It began with “It was wonderful to sea everyone.”

I still remember that email, but for the wrong reasons. Basically, that is a lesson in how not to impress anyone.

Proper grammar is an essential and basic tool of business communication. But, according to a recent survey by York College’s Center for Professional Excellence, nearly 40 percent of respondents cited the Gen Y group as demonstrating poor grammar skills. Writing is a skill that needs to be learned like any other, but even the most reluctant writers can improve their business documents by learning to avoid the most common mistakes listed below:

1.  “It” vs. “They”
This is probably the most common grammatical mistake. It is important to remember, when writing about your company, the actual organization should always be referred to as an “it” not a “they” unless of course you are talking about the actual people working there. In a nutshell, people are “they” and a thing is an “it.”

2.  “Then” vs. “Than
Many people confuse these two words. However, once you get the hang of how and when to use them, it will start to come naturally. Here is a quick breakdown:

  • Than is used for comparing things.
  • Then is used to describe time.
3.  “They’re” vs. “Their” vs. “There”
These three are commonly misused, but here is a quick guide to differentiate:
  •  “They’re” is the contraction for “they are.” When in doubt replace the contraction with “they are” to see if the sentence still makes sense.
  • “Their” indicates possession.
  • “There” refers to a place or the existence of something.
4.  “Its” vs. “It’s”
Here’s another common mistake and rightfully so; the English language can be extremely confusing when it comes to possessives, especially when it comes to the word “it.” To clarify, “it’s” is a contraction of “it is” or “it has,” while “its” is a possessive pronoun.
Here is an example of how these two should be used:

Doe Inc. opened its second office in Maryland last year. It’s in Baltimore.

5.  “To” vs. “Two” vs. “Too”
“To” is a tricky word because it is used as part of a verb or a preposition. If you add an extra “o” you mean “also,” and if you switch an “o” for a “w,” you are now referring to a number. Confused yet?

6.  “Affect” vs. “Effect”
Here is an easy trick to help you remember. “Affect” is almost always a verb (e.g., This blog affects people’s attention spans), and “effect” is almost always a noun (e.g., The effects of this blog can be positive). “Affect” means to influence or produce an impression — to cause hence, an effect. “Effect” is the thing produced by the affecting agent; it describes the result or outcome. There are some exceptions, but very few.

7.  “Since” vs. “Because”
“Since” refers to time. “Because” refers to causation. For example, since I read this blog I’ve improved my writing skills versus because I read this blog I no longer embarrass myself.

This is just a sampling of common grammatical mistakes. For a more comprehensive list, I invite you to read the tried-and-true classic, The Elements of Style. In addition, many local community colleges offer courses on the basics of business writing.

Lastly, remember when you are writing about business, it is about business. Sure, you can be friendly and colloquial, but you also need to be professional and effective. With proper grammar, you can illustrate to others that you really care about your job and your company.

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