This week I have been doing freelance writing around creating excellent website content. Also, a newsletter I receive had a discussion about proper out-of-office messages combined to get me contemplating how you take care of the little things about writing. Taking care of those little things show that you can take care of details, and quite frankly, shows that you care. When I see sloppy work, I tend to think, “the one that wrote this doesn’t really care about the reader. It’s probably someone who doesn’t want to do this or is very easily distracted.” Whatever the reason, it’s not going to be well-received by the reader. Let’s look at a few things that show you care about the reader.
Don’t depend on Spell Check. It seems obvious, but you would be surprised how casual some writers are about this. It’s dangerous to totally rely on the spell checker on your machine to catch everything. Consider this fabulous poem:
Eye halve a spelling chequer
It came with my pea sea
It plainly marques four my revue
Miss steaks eye kin knot sea.
There are 14 errors there, and the only one my version of Microsoft Word managed to catch is “chequer,” which is a British word and not technically incorrect. The correct verbiage would be:
I have a spelling checker
It came with my PC
It plainly marks for my review
Mistakes I cannot see
You can see the entire poem here. It’s a great example of over-reliance on the spell check feature.
No spelling and grammar errors AT ALL. It’s bad enough when you see people write in Twitter shorthand. “Do U rite like this, like a 12yo tween?” Yes, Twitter’s character limit, and text messaging being cumbersome, lead to this kind of shorthand. But leave the shorthand to texts and tweets. The rest of your writing should be free of errors. Ensure your writing is clear. Be fully aware of the difference between “to” and “too” as well as “breath” and “breathe” so you don’t look silly, or worse, incompetent. And for heaven’s sake, please use proper punctuation – which includes my all-time biggest pet peeve, improper apostrophe use. Please keep in mind the difference between “it’s” and “its” and use them properly. The one I hate the most is the one about the region where I live. North and South Carolina are often referred to as a single unit, “the Carolinas.” However, almost every day I see someone write “Carolina’s” instead. I’ve seen it happen enough times that it now makes my blood boil. If the offender is someone I know, I will say, “I see you are referring to Carolina owning something. What would that be?” The response is usually “what the hell are you talking about” or some variation thereof. I then have to explain that “Carolinas” is plural but “Carolina’s” is single-possessive. I am then blown off with retorts about “grammar geeks” and whatnot, but I continue to be vigilant in my pursuit of proper apostrophe use. If you’re waiting for me to shut up about it, you’re going to have to wait until I’m dead.
Exude professionalism. These points about spelling and grammar are a part of an overall appearance of professionalism. If you are writing to a large audience, your writing will have almost no jargon or overly-complicated words, or you will lose people. Given that knowledge, there really isn’t any good excuse for writing that is rife with spelling and grammar errors. It simply doesn’t look professional.
Going back to the out-of-office blog post referred to above, authored by my good friend and Virtual Assistant mentor Rhonda Scharf. She includes some downright ridiculous out-of-office replies she gets when she sends a newsletter out. Anyone who sends newsletters or other email marketing messages to a large enough list knows that there are always these auto-replies that come back to you, and that the text can vary greatly. Rhonda cited one that said, in essence, “I’m not here, and you & I are both happy for that.” Yikes! If you don’t like your job, that’s nothing new, but you certainly don’t want that to be the #1 message your customer receives. With customers being essential to having business – and therefore, employment for us – we have to at least get to the point where we accept our work, so we can meet the customer’s needs. If you are truly unhappy in your work, at a minimum try to focus on providing the customer what (s)he needs, and try to not be fixated on the things you don’t like.
Put on new shoes. That’s not what you think it is. I think everyone is familiar with the old saying, “Walk a mile in their shoes” as a way of saying, put yourself in another position, or put yourself in someone else’s place. If the customer or customer need is what you don’t like about your job, please take a vacation day and go get your mind right. Think about all the times where you are in the role of customer, and how you felt when you were sure you were not being heard, or outright ignored. There was probably some anger, or at least major disappointment. Why would you want to be the one that subjects others to that treatment? In the process of doing a job and addressing customers’ concerns and needs, there are an almost infinite list of possibilities of events and interactions. Some are good, some not so good. When you are the provider, it’s essential to keep in mind the situations where you are the customer and what your expectations are. The customer before you will have similar expectations.
Example time! Since my vision prohibits me from being able to drive, I use public transportation most of the time, and ride share services some of the time. Uber and Lyft are great services, but not completely perfect. The mapping apparatus will sometimes lead the driver to a spot that is different from where the rider is actually located. I run into this every once in a while. The driver will call me and ask where I am, and I’ll explain it. If the driver says, “well, can you walk to where I am,” my blood pressure instantly goes through the roof. You’re the one with the motor vehicle, I think. We’ll all get to the task at hand faster if you come to me. Those drivers always get a smaller tip.
There is a lot of acrimony in the world these days. People seem to always be on edge and we seem to assume the worst about each other, and we are quick to jump up and shout, even if it’s just virtually. I think we can all use an extra dose of positive vibes. As you interact with others throughout the day, be it virtual or in-person, write carefully and correctly, walk in others’ shoes, and exude professionalism. In other words, show that you care.