Csn yiu resd thas?

By Laura Haight
Originally published as The Digital Maven in the Upstate Business Journal on March 22, 2013 

Have you seen this brain teaser on the internet: A paragraph of text appears scrambled and unintelligible and you are challenged to see if you can read it? Apparently, this has been going around for years and you are patted on the back at the end as having an exceptional brain if you succeeded in descrambling the message.

Well, don’t get too excited. As with all things, they are far more complicated than a post on Facebook would have you believe. And there is both truth and gross exaggeration. If you want to know more about the real science, you can read the original Cambridge University research.

But this issue presents a real challenge for business people who are doing work on mobile devices: writing and responding to emails, reviewing or even creating reports, editing documents that others have created.

Since the personal computer brought word processing applications to the masses instead of in the hands of professional assistants with dictionaries (those are those big red books on the shelf; the ones with the dust), we’ve been gaining reliance on spell check to bail us out of careless writing habits.

Some businesses make it a requirement that spell check be used by default on email and documents. Journalists, however, know that this is a bad move and that there’s no spell check that is going to correctly interpret your intended use of a properly spelled word. And although there are grammar checkers, they are so cumbersome that most people turn them off.

For an enlightening experience, watch some of your colleagues or staff as they spell check a document. OK, OK, OK, OK, OK...... They may not even be looking at the screen attentively while doing it.

Now come not-so-smartphones and tablets, typing with your thumbs and virtual keyboards. The same warm-fuzzy we have for spell check on your desktop does not translate on these devices.

Recently, for example, I was writing an email to a potential client on my iPad. I typed the phrase “very highly regarded”. I looked it over and was just about to hit send, when I thought of something I wanted to add. Good thing too, since the phrase had been auto-corrected to “ugly highly regarded.” Obviously, I had made a typo that I glossed over and then the Apple auto correct (the worm in an otherwise bucolic orchard) took over. And this is not only an Apple problem. A quick search on Google for “Android auto correct issues” popped up 1.5 million hits.

These auto-correctos (as I will refer to typos made by mobile auto correct)  have now spurred a new wrong-headed solution: adding taglines to content you write on a mobile that warns your recipient that there might be typos.

While I understand the impulse, the message is, in my opinion, clearly wrong. It says I am too rushed/lazy/busy/inattentive to read/correct my note to you. In a business world of so many choices, this is not a good impression to give.

Here are four quick tips for better communications on mobile devices:

1. Do not try to write lengthy emails on your smartphone. Quick responses are often critical, so answer messages quickly and concisely. The fewer the words, the easier to catch any errors. If a longer email is required, tell the recipient you will send a more detailed response when you return to your office. This lets them know that you are on top of things and responsive.

2. The signature on your mobile email needs to be as professional as your desktop. It shouldn’t read “Sent from my iPad” or - gasp - some of the self-promotional ones that come built in by cell phone companies (“Sent from my xxxx smarkphone on the blazingly fast xxxxx national network”.) Find the setting and change this signature right now (go ahead, I’ll wait). Include your name, title, business, and key contact information.

3. Many of us have more than one email address with emails coming into a consolidated inbox - work, home, throwaway, etc. When you respond to an email, make sure you are using the right account - especially if you have different signatures setup for different accounts. An email to a business client that comes from “bigbobby@xxx.com” might go right into spam or just ignored.

4. Read every word of what you write - twice. Sometimes it helps to read things out loud. You tend to find things that way that you gloss over when you read in your head.

Ultimately, you are what you say. And there just isn’t an app for that.