Are you making some of the following mistakes? They might be making you look like a goose or worse, you could be coming across as a real jerk. You might be surprised what people will glean from a poorly chosen punctuation mark!
1. Using txtspk
rofl will i c u l8r @ d bbq?
When texting became a thing that you could do on phones, the only way to write words was by pressing numbers on the keypad multiple times to get a single letter. Back then, it made sense for people to write the shortest possible messages by using text-speak or txtspk. This meant removing vowels, using chat acronyms (LOL), using the homophonic qualities of letters and numbers (c u l8r) and being light on punctuation and grammar.
That’s not okay anymore.
Rule: Even if you’re on a smartphone, keep internet slang to a minimum. The golden rule as always is to know your audience!
2. Too many question marks
Can you please turn the air conditioner off at the end of the day????
Are you using more than one question mark in a sentence? You’re coming across as a really angry person. Like, out of control angry. I don’t want to work with you anymore. Take a chill pill!
Rule: Use at most one question mark per sentence and two per paragraph. If you need to share a lot of questions, place them in point form so they can be more easily interpreted.
3. Too many exclamation marks
I can’t believe they just did that!!!!!!
You sound like an overexcited minion with a cocaine habit. Nobody’s that excited. Use a good adjective instead. Or, better still; create a good analogy to communicate your excited state.
And if you’re using multiple exclamation marks to convey your anger? Go and take a deep breath and come back later.
Rule: Use at most one exclamation mark per sentence and two per paragraph.
4. Writing everything in uppercase
THERE WILL BE A MEETING IN MY OFFICE AT 9AM ON THURSDAY.
Why are you yelling at me? Also, this is very difficult to read.
Rule: If you’re not really high up on someone’s family tree, you really ought to know better.
5. Writing everything in lowercase
i will be on the 3pm train to sydney.
You can’t give me enough of your time to use the shift key? You’re either rude and lazy, or uneducated. Or both.
Rule: Sentences start with capitals. So do names of things.
6. Ending your sentences with ellipses
We’ll need to have a meeting tomorrow…
This is a serious no-no, especially if you’re in a position of leadership and writing to a ‘subordinate’. Ellipses are for trailing off on a thought and so you immediately present the recipient with the question of why you’re trailing off and not completing the thought. Is there something you want to say but you can’t? Have I done something wrong? Are you breaking up with me?
…for nothing, idiot!
Rule: Unless you need to cut a section out of a quote, don’t use it. Just don’t use it. It’s just about the nastiest thing you can do in a piece of written communication.
7. Being terse
Try to strike a balance between being too verbose and too curt. It’s possible to be so brief that it’s rude. If you’re replying with a ‘Yes’ or ‘K’, that might be okay if it’s part of a longer collection of emails back and forth but for the most part, at least, give context to your answer. It’s the polite thing to do.
Things become a lot more delicate if you’re writing a single sentence or word. In that case, leave off the full stop. That little period carries a lot of rage!
Rule: Give adequate context to your replies and check you’re not coming across as abrupt.
8. Spelling errors
You’re writing on a computer. Let it help you. You can install browser extensions to check spelling or just copy and paste from a word processor. If you’re writing a blog post or article, there really aren’t any excuses.
If you’re using your phone to reply to emails, it’s useful to include a note in your signature that says the email is sent from your mobile device. People are far more understanding of poor spelling and grammar, including auto-correct gaffes, when they know you’re thumbing on a phone.
Rule: Proofread your work and let the computer help you.
9. Grammatical Mistakes
You know them. They’re/Their/There, Its/It’s, affect/effect, etc.
If you still don’t know how to use an apostrophe correctly, it’s time to learn!
Fortunately, computers are pretty good at picking out these kinds of mistakes as well. If you use Chrome, start by installing the Grammarly extension.
Rule: Read your writing out loud while proofreading. It will help you find any grammatical and semantical mistakes.
10. Forgetting about paragraphs
Paragraphs still matter! They help to break up the content. Unless it’s a particularly short email or simply a tweet, your content should have an introduction, a body and a conclusion.
Rule: Emails don’t necessarily have to be as professional as a letter, but they should still be well structured.
11. Me, myself and I
This one is so widely misunderstood that your teacher-friend might not know it. A lot of people are overusing myself. Myself (sic) included.
Firstly, let’s take a look at me and I. If you’re trying to choose between me and I, just remove the other party. Then, if you sound like a caveman or some mid-monologue Shakespearean tool, you’re sure to have it wrong.
Put down the chocolate! That’s for Gary and I.
Now remove Gary.
Put down the chocolate! That’s for I.
Okay, you sound ridiculous. You should use me here.
Now, how about this one?
Me and the girls are going to the park.
Remove the girls.
Me is going to the park
Smarten up, caveman!
I am going to the park.
The word myself should only be used in sentences that also contain the word I or my.
I wanted to keep some for myself.
He encouraged me to stop lying to myself.
The above two examples are correct usage. Beyond that, you’re probably using it wrongly.
Rule: Use the above hacks to find the right pronoun. A grammar checker can also help here.
Not every piece of writing is a chance to show off your vocabulary. You might sound clever. You might also sound like a tool. For the most part, try to write how you speak.
Rule: Find your own voice but keep it concise and direct.
13. Avoiding emojis
This one might surprise you but sometimes you really should be using one or two emojis. If you think you’re being terse or something might come across with the wrong tone, a well-placed emoji can make all the difference. Just don’t overuse them. I tell my students to use a maximum of two per email.
Rule: Emojis are becoming more and more acceptable but still aren’t appropriate for your most formal messages.
If you follow the above rules, you’ll have a better chance of your message being received how you intended. You might also avoid seeming like a moron or a rageaholic.
And that’s important.