Smart Words by Sarah
Let's make it happen.

Are you making these mistakes when writing for your business? Check your words to impress clients.

Don't lose potential customers by publishing embarrassing errors.

To succeed in any business, you have to advertise. These days, most online advertising comes in the form of sales copy (think sales letters, e-mails, and ads) and content (think blog posts, white papers, and e-books).

Whether you’re producing copy or content, whatever your purpose, editing is absolutely necessary.

This is especially true for academic-oriented businesses. Any parent who knows a little about writing will turn and run from an academic service that has mistakes in their materials.

“There’s no way I’m sending little Timmy to a tutoring service that uses your when they mean you’re,” Mom says. “I can’t trust them to teach my son how to write.” It may be an honest typo, but Mom doesn’t know that. She thinks she can’t trust you.

First off, my number-one piece of advice for editing: If you can hire a pro, do. Even if you’re an amazing, experienced writer, it’s critical to have that second set of eyes. Even the best writers can’t see all their own mistakes. A lot can slip by when you’re editing your own work:

  • Typos (You see what you think you wrote—it happens to every writer.)
  • Wrong words (“What? You mean it’s ‘kit and caboodle’ and not ‘kitten caboodle’?”)
  • Weird sentence structures
  • Ambiguity

Here’s the thing: You can’t always see your own errors. You’re too familiar with the message—too invested in the words.

In writing for your business, there are some important things to consider. If you're editing your own work (or having someone else edit yours), here are some steps you can take to make sure your work is polished.

First, a read-through.

  1. Read it out loud.
  2. Have someone else read it out loud to you. (Bonus points if you get a kid to do it—that will give you some idea of whether it’s simple enough for an internet audience.)
  3. Read it out loud again.

Next, a reading-level check.

Remember: your audience may be educated, but it’s always better to bring the reading level down as far as possible while treating them with respect. Make your writing accessible. Big words don’t always impress readers, and you run the risk of alienating your customers. Academic Snob is not a good look in business.

For a reading-level check, try

Finally, a DIY proofread.

You’ll need to go through your text a few times if you want it to be perfect. Here are a few things to look out for. This isn’t a complete checklist; it just scratches the surface of some of the most glaring errors that could get you into trouble with your audience.

Comma check!

Avoid comma splices, especially, but check out all these comma errors, too. There are a lot of them, but they’re important if you’re proofreading your own work or having a friend do it for you.

Apostrophe check!

  • Apostrophes appear in possessive nouns and contractions.

RIGHT: That’s Tonya’s horse.

RIGHT: It’s my horse.

  • Apostrophes are not for plural nouns

WRONG: These gift’s are for the kid’s.

Semicolon check!

  • Semicolons are for linking two independent clauses.

RIGHT: What comes before the semicolon should be a complete sentence by itself; the same is true for what comes after.

  • You can also use them like commas when your list items have commas in them.

RIGHT: Your child should bring the following things to school: A backpack; a lunchbox with an entrée, a drink, and a napkin; a blue, green, or yellow folder; and a water bottle.

Capital letter check!

Capital letters are for proper nouns (names), beginning sentences, acronyms, and not much else. Many people use them for any important word. Please do not do this. Check your capital letters and, if you need to, ask Google.

Sentence structure check!

  • Most of your sentences should be complete with a subject and a verb, just like in English class. But this is the internet, and sometimes you can get away with shortening things. Sometimes. But not always. At least make sure it makes sense and is reader-friendly, and if you’re in the business of academics, it’s best to stick to complete, traditionally structured sentences unless you absolutely know what you’re doing.
  • Avoid misplaced modifiers (the results can be hilarious but can make you look bad.)
  • Make sure your sentence parts are structured in a parallel way.

WRONG: Our instruction and hard work of your child are the building blocks of success. (Eek. This almost sounds like the teachers are harsh taskmasters, standing by while the child works in some kind of academic coal mine.)

RIGHT: Our instruction and your child's hard work are the building blocks of success. (This one makes the teachers and the child partners in academic success. Whew.)

A word of caution about automated tools: Don’t do everything your spelling checker, your grammar checker, and Grammarly say to do. They’re great tools, but sometimes they make some really nutty recommendations. (Please say I’m not the only one who has been told to change “Joe and Sue are friends” to “Joe and Sue is friends.”) If something seems off to you, investigate further.

There are, of course, many, many, MANY more rules, but these basics will help you polish your work before sending it out into the world.

Remember, it’s A-OK to break some of the rules you learned in English class.

But do follow most of them for the sake of your message and your reputation.

Some rules to break:

  1. Start sentences with and. And start other sentences with but. Maybe even start some with or. It’s fine. I swear. Your readers will like it.
  2. Write one-sentence paragraphs. Your English teacher would cringe, but if you have a point to make, this is a good way to make it stand out.
  3. Make use of white space, bold text, highlighting, drop caps, and other flourishes as appropriate. Your English teacher would be furious if you turned in an essay with any of these, but this is not an essay. This is marketing. Aesthetics can help you capture attention and get your point across; you just have to do it with class.

A final plea

If your budget allows, please hire a pro editor to do your editing and proofreading; you'll have peace of mind that your message represents you well. If not, you can do it yourself, but please take your time and do it carefully. Use the above as a starting place to check and double check your writing. Good usage is still important, especially if you want to impress!

About the Author Sarah Foster

I’m Sarah Jenne Foster. I’m a proud Texan (no, I don’t own a horse or a cowboy hat); an experienced teacher; the loving caregiver of two kids, two cats, and a frog; and a tireless advocate of the serial comma. I'm on a mission to use the power of words to help businesses that serve children and families.

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