We use the expression “there’s no room for mistakes” when we want to underline the importance of doing something correctly. But still, as you probably know from experience, mistakes appear whether there’s room for them or not. They don’t ask whether there’s room for them, partially because they’re not very polite, but mostly because mistakes can’t speak. They happen anytime and anywhere, so you can rest assured they will appear in your business reports, memos, business emails and letters, and job applications. Some of them are not too bad. Some are catastrophic. And some are just embarrassing. So we tried to gather the biggest and most embarrassing, potentially devastating, and sometimes sneaky mistakes people make in business writing.
1 Using i.e. and e.g. Interchangeably
I.e. and e.g. might look similar. They even have somewhat similar meanings. But they are not the same, and they shouldn’t be used interchangeably. I.e. is an abbreviation of “id est,” which translates from Latin as “that is,” and e.g. is an abbreviation of “exempli gratia,” which translates as “for example.” Use i.e. to expand or explain something you’ve already introduced. Use e.g. to introduce an incomplete list of examples for something you mentioned earlier in the sentence.
2 Writing with an Improper Level of Formality
Different industries and different types of businesses are accustomed to different levels of formality in written communication. For example, if you were to write a business letter to a partner in a law firm or a big corporation, you’d be well advised to use a very formal business writing style—use a colon after greeting and follow all the other conventions of formal business letters. On the other hand, a CEO of a startup, even if it’s a very successful startup, might not mind if you start a business letter with “Dude!” Okay, that might be an exaggeration, but things like emoticons have no place in traditional business writing, even though they might be okay in industries that are more open to informality. When in doubt, err on the side of formal.
3 Overusing Exclamation Points
There are some things that you should never do with exclamation points in business writing. You shouldn’t write three of them in a row, even if you want to make sure your point really gets across. You shouldn’t write three of them in the same paragraph either, because that has to be one exclamatious (not a real word) email you’re writing if there’s such a need to exclaim. Generally, you can use actual words to express excitement, disbelief, surprise, or whatever you are tempted to use the exclamation points for. Save them for those really important occasions when you really need them, or when you want to express enthusiasm in the greeting or closing of a letter.
4 Problems with Clarity
“Problems with clarity” is an umbrella term we’ll use here for a whole bunch of mistakes people make that affect the clarity of their business writing. Mistakes such as writing too much in the passive voice, overuse of prepositional phrases, and confusing pronouns can all lead to problems with clarity. Overly complex sentences kill clarity. In business writing, it’s often best to keep it as short, concise, and informative as you possibly can. Exceptions exist, as they always do, but the rule of thumb is to never use two words when one will do, and never use complicated language when you can say it in plain English.
5 Bad Timing
You can craft a perfectly worded email, chock full of well-explained and well-presented information, and you can proofread it over and over until there are no mistakes in grammar or spelling. But if you send it too late, the information might lose its relevance, and all the work you put into it won’t make up for that. This is especially important when replying to business-related messages. With emails, the standard is to respond within twenty-four hours; for written correspondence, it’s five days. If it takes you longer than that, the person waiting for your reply can become worried, frustrated, angry, insulted, or simply uninterested in what you have to say.