Word watch: Five frequent mistakes to avoid in business writing

Details matter. Regardless of whether you write occasionally or every day, you need to express yourself clearly. Grammatical and spelling mistakes may seem minor, and fixating on them may seem picky, but they can be genuine barriers to career progress. In one survey, 72.2% of recruiters said they had rejected resumés with spelling mistakes. In the same survey, 72.9% warned that spell check and autocorrect were not enough to compensate for inadequate proofing skills. Here are five things to watch for in your writing.


Words that sound the same, but have different meanings. “Your colleagues are over there. They’re having their coffee.” It may not make a difference when you’re speaking, but in writing, it may lessen the impact of what you’re trying to say. It may not always be obvious, but your choice of words (diction) makes a difference. Frequently, readers will focus on that rather than on your message.


Another way to weaken your impact. Spelling mistakes can give the impression that you’re not paying attention to detail. Sometimes they’re just typos, but sometimes they’re the result of oversight. Don’t count on autocorrect or spell check to catch everything.

Singular or plural

If your subject is singular, your verbs and pronouns need to be singular as well. “Everyone should double-check their spelling?” Not exactly. “Everyone” is singular (think every one). Related pronouns need to be singular as well: “Everyone should check his or her spelling.” If it sounds clunky, reword the sentence: “They should all check their spelling.” “You should all check your spelling.” Same meaning, but the plural subject “they/you” is matched by the plural pronoun “their/your.”

Subject vs. object

The subject of a sentence acts on the object of the sentence. “I tied my shoes.” The subject is “I” and the object is “shoes.” The subject doesn’t necessarily have to come first; you can also write “my shoes were tied by me.” The subject and object don’t change, and the sentence’s meaning stays the same, but it reads more awkwardly because of the change of voice. This leads to our last example.

Active vs. passive

Sentences are easier to read and understand when they’re written in the active voice. “I tied my shoes” is preferable to “my shoes were tied by me.” The first is straightforward and flows easily; the second is clunky and forces the reader to pause, mentally, in order to process the meaning, even though it’s the same as the first. Nobody talks that way, and you shouldn’t write that way.

There are many other writing hazards, and you don’t need to be an English-language professor to recognize them. Be alert for these, however, and you’ll be able to avoid some of the most frequent.

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