Business Writing in an Age of Warp-Speed Communication: Not an LOL Matter

Share By Sachin Shenolikar

It’s 6:37p.m. on a Friday, your mind is on Happy Hour, and it’s just about time to head out for the weekend. That’s when you hear that dreaded ping on both your computer and phone. An important client has sent an email marked “urgent.”

You respond immediately, and the millisecond after your note is sent, it hits you: Not only did you misspell two words, but your tone may have come across as abrupt or gruff.

OMG.

Over the past decade, we have seen communication methods evolve dramatically in business — telephones are used less frequently for talking, email correspondence has sped up and moved to mobile platforms, and “informal” correspondence that was once only for friends and family — such as text and instant messaging — has now been integrated into the workplace.

“There are so many more ways to get in touch with people and connect,” says Amanda E. Clark, the founder of Grammar Chic, Inc. “At the same time, people have become sloppier in their approach.”

And therein lies the issue. In work correspondence, it’s crucial to respond promptly while also keeping a level of formality and clarity — and proper grammar. “It’s great to grow technologically, but language skills should not be forgotten as we race to the future,” says Clark.

Real Business asked Clark for tips on how to communicate with clients and co-workers in the digital age:

1. Never hit “send” before proofreading. Clark has noticed that many people fire off emails without thinking twice about what they wrote. The result: “Not only could you make grammar mistakes, but something written in the heat of the moment, or without proper planning, could be disastrous,” she says.

Bottom line: No matter how urgent the matter, double-check your work.

2. Think about tone. Words, phrases, and sentences can have several meanings, even when you don’t want them to. It never hurts to pick apart your sentences to determine whether certain words or phrases will get you in hot water. “Sometimes the intention of a message or the correct tone doesn’t come off correctly,” says Clark, “and a recipient can end up taking something the wrong way, or in a completely different way than what the sender intended.”

3. When in doubt, talk things out. Sometimes we’re on the receiving end of messages that are poorly written or unclear. What’s a tactful way to address this in a work situation? ”I never call a client out and make them feel bad about their lack of communication skills, but will simply say that I need to speak with them one-on-one as I have some additional questions,” says Clark.” It makes it look like I am engaging in due diligence measures while also taking the conversation to a platform that the client is probably more comfortable on—talking instead of writing.”

4. Keep it formal. Some workplace environments are more relaxed, and a vendor-client or manager-subordinate relationship may appear to be informal and friendly. Still, always remember that you are being judged by your writing. It’s okay to be conversational, but avoid unnecessary abbreviations and emoticons in business communication — all caps and excessive exclamation points, too. “Nothing hurts my eyes more when people engage in ‘Twitter-speak’ or ‘texting language’ in professional communication,” says Clark. “If you are writing a formal email, there should be some level of decorum. You shouldn’t end emails with ‘Thx’ or other forms of text speak.”

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