Guest post: What’s in a word?

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The following is a guest post by Suzan St Maur. Her bio is at the end of the article. 

People say a picture’s worth 1,000 words. But a few right words are worth 1,000 wrong ones. Especially online, in blog posts, web text, and above all in social media posts and comments.

Why? Because despite the chances we have to use pictures, video, audio, infographics or other gizmos online, what really reverberates is words. Text. Written (or spoken) information.

Online, written words are nearly all you have to represent you, and your brand.

Unsurprisingly, then, your choice of words in whatever you write online is critical, if you want to maintain a credible and ultimately profitable business profile.

Choosing the words to include in all your media activity should be something you focus on carefully. Yes, of course – a blog post or a comment on Google Plus will be gone in an instant (well, a day or three), but the image it can leave behind with readers can last for a very long time … especially if your words have been abusive, stupid, inappropriate, ill-conceived or any one of a dozen more whoopsies.

Don’t be fooled by the “grammar doesn’t matter” promoters

It should go without saying that using reasonably correct grammar, spelling, punctuation and syntax is essential if you want to be taken seriously and come across as a professional.

Needless to say there is a hard core of people in cyberspace who stubbornly assert that all such pedantry is of little importance: what really matters is the message you’re communicating even if it does have mistakes in it. They may be right, I guess, up to a point, but…

Do you really want you, and your business, to be associated with silly errors in grammar, spelling, punctuation, etc.?

Can you afford to lose business because a prospect thinks, not unreasonably, that if you can’t get your grammar and spelling right in your blogs and social media content, how can you get your product or service right?

My own view is, don’t be intimidated by the nay-sayers who wallow in poor English (or any other language). Getting your writing right isn’t hard, and it really does pay dividends.

But getting that right isn’t all there is to it…

Never publish stuff when you’re angry, depressed, drunk or otherwise irrational

No matter how much you may think a blog post, comment or other written contribution online might be absolutely bang-on right when you’ve had  a couple of drinks, never hit “send.” Review what you’ve written next morning in the cold, sober light of day and you’ll usually find that you need to edit it, modify it, or dump it altogether.

If you’re angry about a topic or issue, leave it overnight in the same way. There’s nothing like a good night’s sleep to calm you down and make you see that the seemingly well-deserved insults you would have slung at someone in the heat of the night, aren’t actually deserved in the same intensity. And as insults can cost you in many ways, you may now choose to detune your words before publishing.

Avoid using words that readers could misinterpret

If your readership / customer base consists largely of people for whom English is their mother tongue, skip this section.

But if you – like I do – have an international readership, you need to realize that no matter how much you feel that flowery, figurative language in English will work for your English-speaking readers – for your other readers, it won’t.

However this doesn’t mean that you have to grind your words right down to very basic, elementary English.

You’d be surprised at how sophisticated many countries are even where English is a 2nd language

On my site, the second largest group of readers is from China (after the USA). They seem to understand everything I write despite my using figurative – and sometimes rather rude – English!

All the same, bear this point in mind, because many, many countries are possible business sources for you – and if you don’t phrase your English in a way that they can understand, you could lose out. (And don’t rely on the various auto-translation options via Google, etc…some of them are very misleading.)

What experiences do you have of your words, or those of others, having been misinterpreted? Please share!

Canadian-born, UK-based Suzan St Maur is a content writer, blog writer and trainer, speaker, editor and best-selling author. She is also the founder of the very popular resource HowToWriteBetter.net.

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