Whether in our work or personal lives, I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that we communicate more than any other activity. And we all know that the way we communicate speaks volumes about our character and our professionalism.
Whether you’re writing a email or a essay, speaking to someone in person or on the phone, or just chatting over a coffee, opportunities abound to upset someone, tarnish your reputation, or receive a lower mark than you’d hoped. Here are four common mistakes we’re all prone to when we write, whether it’s at work or study.
I think the first and biggest mistake a lot of people make is not reading over what they’ve written before hitting ‘Send’. And, unless you’re in a crowded office or the library, reading out loud is always better than reading silently. Reading what you’ve written out loud makes it easier to pick up mistakes in grammar and spelling, unnatural-sounding phrases and long, overly-complicated sentences. All those mistakes make you look, at best, careless. (And whatever you do, don’t rely solely on your computer’s spell chequer.)
Another big mistake is trying to sound like you’ve eaten the Encyclopaedia Britannica. The way you write should sound like the way you speak but with a bit better grammar and a more organised flow in term of thoughts and key points. And that really isn’t hard, since writing gives you time to think about what you want to say and how you want to say it. Even when you’re writing a formal report or an essay and there’s a certain way to structure it, you can still write naturally.
When you write naturally, you avoid the next big mistake, which is writing passively. Passive writing always gets a big yawn and makes it sound like you’re trying to ‘fudge’ the truth. Here’s passive: ‘The moon was jumped over by the cow.’ Here’s active: ‘The cow jumped over the moon.’ Much better. Here’s how to fudge the truth: ‘Mistakes were made.’ Much better to own up to them: ‘I made a mistake and here’s what I’ve learned from it.’
There is sometimes a good reason to write (and speak, for that matter) in the passive, for instance, when you want to be tactful. But generally, try to stick to the active voice when you’re writing. The clue is, any time you see a form of the verb ‘to be’ (the moon was jumped over, mistakes were made), get rid of it to make your writing active.
The fourth and final big mistake is throwing your thoughts down willy-nilly instead of thinking through what you want to say. Aim for a logical, easy-to-follow flow so your reader can easily grasp your points. People won’t read what you’ve written when you make it too hard for them.
So there we go. Whether you’re writing for work or for your studies, you can easily avoid those four big mistakes.