Don't Underestimate How Much Spelling Matters in Business Communications

Even in writing, you have just one chance to make a good first impression.

learn more about Jacqueline Whitmore

By Jacqueline Whitmore

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President Donald Trump has not even been in office a month yet and has already made some egregious errors in his professional communications.

On December 17 he misspelled the word "unprecedented" as he conveyed his outrage in a tweet: "China steals United States Navy research drone in international waters — rips it out of water and takes it to China in unpresidented act." Two hours later he tweeted the same response but corrected his spelling error and deleted his initial tweet.

Related: Bad Email Grammar Ain't Good for Getting You a Job or a Date

The White House press office misspelled the name of British Prime Minister Theresa May three times. One spelling error referenced a "bilateral meeting" between Trump and "Teresa May." Teresa May is also the name of a British former soft porn actress and model. Talk about a huge gaffe.

These examples, among other spelling errors made by the Trump administration, have brought the subject of accuracy in business communications to the forefront.

Political protocol is particularly touchy in areas of correctness. Protocol by its very definition describes a code prescribing strict adherence to correct etiquette. But in the world of business, it's equally important to check for grammar and spelling errors for three reasons:

1. It limits the chances that your message will be misunderstood or misinterpreted.

2. It reflects your credibility, intelligence and reliability.

3. It indicates that you care about how you do business.

What is your first impression when you view a company's website and discover it is filled with typographical, spelling or grammatical errors? You are likely to dismiss that site and move on to the next, which can be disastrous for the company's long-term survival.

According to data by Tony Haile of Chartbeat, you have only 15 seconds to capture a consumer's attention, so remember to keep your message short, simple and accurate. Hire a professional business writer if necessary. Freelancers can be found in your area or through online resources like Upwork or Craigslist.

Related: Everything You Need to Know About Hiring a Freelancer

According to a BBC News study, spelling mistakes can cost millions in lost sales; the analysis shows that a single spelling mistake can cut online sales in half. William Dutton, director of the Oxford Internet Institute at Oxford University, says that in some informal parts of the Internet, such as Facebook, there is greater tolerance towards spelling and grammar. "However, there are other aspects, such as a home page or commercial offering that are not among friends and which raise concerns over trust and credibility," said Professor Dutton.

Even though Spellchecker is a valuable tool, it does not always catch nuances between homophones (words that sound alike, but are spelled differently and have two different meanings). It can also automatically change the spelling of a new or unusual word, like a name, to a word it more easily recognizes, without your permission.

Here are four easy tips to observe when sending important business correspondence.

  • Slow down. We live in a fast-paced world where we try to do too much in a short amount of time. Never send anything without proofreading it first.
  • Don't multitask. Multitasking may cause you to make more errors because your brain must refocus every time it switches to a new activity. Although it may be difficult, try to accomplish one thing at a time.
  • Get a second pair of eyes. Before sending an important document, ask a trusted friend or colleague to review it and give you feedback. This may take a little extra time, but will be worth it in the end.
  • Double check facts, names and industry terminology. Spelling someone's name correctly is extremely important because a name is part of one's identity. Messing up a person's name or other relevant information can be interpreted as a sign of disrespect, and at the very least, makes you appear unprofessional. It also represents the lack of attention to detail, which can negatively affect the relationship between the two parties.

Related: Tricks to Help You Spell Unfamiliar Words (Infographic)

We are human and therefore bound to make mistakes. But your business reputation is too important to lose out over poor spelling. Try to be as accurate as possible when corresponding with clients, customers and colleagues. Your reputation (and ultimately your bottom line) may depend on it.

Jacqueline Whitmore

Author, Business Etiquette Expert and Founder of The Protocol School of Palm Beach

Jacqueline Whitmore is an etiquette expert and founder of the Protocol School of Palm Beach in Palm Beach, Fla. She is the author of Poised for Success: Mastering the Four Qualities That Distinguish Outstanding Professionals (St. Martin's Press, 2011) and Business Class: Etiquette Essentials for Success at Work (St. Martin's Press, 2005).

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