Monday, February 21, 2011

Bad Writing: Pet Peeves

There are many commonly made mistakes in the world of business writing, and every one of them has the potential to push someone's buttons--hard. Murphy's Law says that the someone will usually be the person you most hoped to impress.

Why any one person finds a relatively minor error infuriating is as impossible a question to answer as why some people like spinach and others don't. And to protest "you're making a big deal over nothing" never wins friends or customers, even if true. All we can do is write as flawlessly as possible, prove our professionalism by apologizing when someone complains ("thank you for setting me straight" rarely fails to turn away wrath)--and remember that we also have our pet peeves. 

What phrasings, typos, and sentence constructions do you most hate to see in writing? Here are my top three:

My own name misspelled in a supposedly personal message. The dislike of this is no doubt universal, but it's a particular bane to those of us who bear common names with uncommon spellings. The gut reaction is, "You're just like everyone else--too lazy to look closely at the way I write my own name--and then you expect me to believe you're interested in me as an individual."

It's where its should be. All of us are taught in grade school that the possessive its has no apostrophe, yet the business world is full of college graduates who can't remember that simple rule.

That instead of who used to refer to a person. Technically, this isn't an actual error, but it grates on many of us to read "the secretary that typed the memo" instead of "the secretary who typed the memo." Something deep down says that the secretary has been reduced to an "it."

Please submit your own pet peeves as comments. I'd love to get a lively discussion going on this!

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