5 Foolproof Ways to Avoid Hurting Your Reputation

by | Sep 7, 2009 | Blog | 7 comments

Yes, it should be "It's about Trust!"

Yes, it should be "It's about Trust!"

Looked in a mirror lately to make sure you’re presentable? Or at least conveying your preferred image? Hair combed? Teeth clean? No clothing malfunctions?

Probably yes, considering how few truly slovenly people I see. But I keep spotting bad writing everywhere I look.

Why can’t people be vain about their printed words? Carelessness about poor grammar, misspellings, and word misusage is running rampant. And it can hurt your image, just as much as fashion mistakes or strong body odor.

For example, I’ve been hit over the head with the following just in the past few weeks:

Wrong word in a document by an employee of an admired Fortune 500 company: “We work with them to ensure that they’re presentations and publications….”

Misspelled word in a personal email message from an outsourcing company of a highly-respected Fortune 500 company: “Thank you for the informaiton you already provided.”

Weird page numbering from another outsourcing company for yet another well-known Fortune 500 company: “Page 5 of 4.”

Yes, everyone (including yours truly) makes mistakes. But we have tools, such as spell check and colleagues to help us. And whether you’re providing proof points, requesting action, or telling a good story, you need to proof your work.

After you use spell check, try these five ways to check your writing.

1.  Put it aside for awhile and then re-read it.

2.  Even better, read it out loud.

3.  Print it out and read it. (Yes, this isn’t a green solution, but it’s better than littering with bad grammar.)

4.  Ask someone to read it for you.

5.  Read it upside down or right to left.

Errors can tarnish not only your reputation but also those who are associated with you. For instance, the outsourcing company manager who misspelled “information” also mangled the spelling of my client’s name, deleting about 30% of the letters.

I offered to buy him some vowels once I get paid for my work. I also said if I didn’t know his company better, I’d be questioning whether I wanted to be connected with an outsourcing firm as sloppy as this one.

Yes, I’m a snob. I think it shows respect to your readers to use correct grammar and spelling. It also saves them time when you write and spell properly.

For example, consider “lean” versus “learn,” “it’s” versus “its,” and “our” versus “are.” Change the word, change the meaning.

What do you think?


  1. Brooke

    Amen! Your comments address one of my biggest pet-peaves! Typos, mis-spellings, and grammatical mishaps shouldn’t imply that a business professional is poorly educated (but they do). You are not alone in your “snobbiness”… I believe it is common practice for business leaders, customers, and prospects to discredit information if there is a typographical error or grammatical glitch – for it reveals doubt that the actual facts within the communication are legit!

  2. Molly Walker

    Liz, I share your snobbery about words and grammar gone wrong. I recently visited the website of a so-called premier branding company. The design was outstanding, the copywriting terrific — but the copyediting left a great deal to be desired. I’m with you in the quest to keep our standards high. If we don’t, who will?

  3. Pam Ross

    I, too, share your “snobbery” in this area. As we know, it comes from a good place. Readers just don’t have the time to wade through poorly written, redundant content. What never fails to surprise me is that this is often the norm in many companies, and it’s found at all levels. It takes a great deal of passion and fortitude to steer organizations, especially senior leaders, in the right direction, making them understand how sloppy writing can have a significantly negative impact on credibility and trust.

  4. Olen Jones

    “then” vs. “than”

  5. Julie Biddle

    Then vs. Than, which strangely enough appeared in the blurb that led me to this blog – in the Communitelligence newsletter. Which means you need to check up on not only your own writing, but the introductions to your writing, and links to your site. Otherwise you run the risk of someone else making you look sloppy – sort of like the guy who spills ketchup on you as you walk past the hot dog cart on your way to the job interview (true story – I’m a ketchup magnet).

    By the way, the page 5 of 4 example tells me the document was created with MS Word. That page numbering bug first erupted in version 5 (think 1995, not 2005) and has yet to be fixed. After 14 years. Only one of the reasons I HATE WORD!

  6. Liz Guthridge

    Thanks for all of the comments! I’m glad to know others are concerned too.

    And Julie, that’s fascinating about the MS Word page numbering bug. Believe it or not, I’ve never run into it before this latest experience. I hope to avoid it and ketchup!

  7. Ruth

    Ah, Brooke — that’s ‘peeve’ and pet peeve doesn’t require a hyphen.

    I think if you look at the age of the writer, it’s often under 30s who tend to care much less. Spelling and grammar are a thing of the past as far as they’re concerned — not an issue when you text acronyms, everybody will know what you mean anyway. But in many cases, that’s how they were taught. Some of our school systems are so concerned about students’ creativity, they don’t want to worry them with minor details like proper grammar. I had one young staffer ask if she could have me read everything before it went out to members of our organization. She recognized that her spelling and grammar were bad, and was embarassed by that. I liked working with her — a lot!

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