5 communication rules you shouldn't break

On LinkedIn today, I saw a posted question about whether pretentious writing makes online makes the author look stupid.

It's an interestig question, because stupid is in the eye of the beholder.

Writing is a primary form of communication and it is always geared to the audience you are trying to reach. If you are a tecnhologist writing for other technologists, you can use terms like "provisioning", which is a term others in that field would understand. If you are in sales and marketing, you can use a term like "monitizing" and most will understand it.

But if you are attempting to reach a more general audience then you need to write in terms that will be understood by the average person. Newspapers have written at a roughly 6th grade reading level for the past 50 years.

Unfortunately, a bigger problem is that more and more basic language skills have been lost. Shortcuts, lack of capaitalization, texting terms, lack of basic grammar skills are evident everywhere - on websites, on blogs, and in business writing. There's a movement that believes that these "old-school rules" don't matter any more.

But that's a mistake, because unclear writing and poor grammar obscure your message rather than communicate it. It makes you or your business look unprofessional and careless. That's a first impression that can drive people away from your business.

No matter who you are writing for, here are five communication rules you must get right:

  • No shortcuts. It is "time and attendance" not time & attendance. It is you, your, meeting, etc., not u, ur, mtg. You might be surprised at how often texting shortcuts find their way into work emails and blog posts.

  • Check and recheck the spelling of names and titles. Nothing is more of a slap in the face than misspelling my name or getting titles and affiliations wrong. This is especially true in business writing. Basic mistakes make you look careless and who wants to hire a careless electrician or a careless data center manager?

  • Use spell check but don't rely on it. No matter what device you write on - I am writing this on my iPad - there's a spell checker. Its going to catch if I missepll the word misspell, but it wont catch the incorrect use of its at the beginning of this sentence (should be it's). What's worse is that auto correct, if you use it, can completely misinterpret the word you are trying for and end up putting something completely unintelligible into your piece. Back read and double check.

  • The entire point of writing anything is to communicate. So make sure your words are clear and concise. Drop the technical language or industry terminology and talk in general terms. You never know who might read your blog post or email.

  • Be your own editor. Stop and re-read what you have written. Check your tone as well as your words, eliminate lime green text and the overuse of !. Take out any emoticons :) you might have included (unless you're writing a status update and even then you might want to tone them down!). The extra minute you take to do this will be well worth it. SEND is a four-letter word.


Bottom line: Know your audience, yes; but there's no substitute for clear and effective use of the laguage. Choose your words carefully because the right words matter


What are your pet peeves? We want to know.