Writing Tips

Are these 5 grammar mistakes costing you business?

I’ve got some confessions to make.

I’m not a fully paid up member of the grammar police. This might surprise you, coming from a writing coach, but I’m just not one of those people who gets hung up on the detail of grammar points, who piles in to pick holes in a post on grammar to prove my superior knowledge or who goes on about grammar points here. It’s just not me. I’m a lot more interested in what you’ve got to say and the person that I hear talking when you write.

However - and I guess you knew there was a however coming - things change when I’m reading with a customer’s eyes. When I’m looking at your material for the first time and I stumble over grammar mistakes it affects the way that I view your business. It alters the way that I think about you and the kind of service that you might be able to offer me. And if I’m reading a website that’s littered with fundamental grammatical mistakes - well chances are I’ll hotfoot straight out of there and take my business elsewhere.

I’m not as pernickety as some. I can let a lot of grammar points and spelling mistakes wash over me. I am generally a mellow, forgiving kind of person and I do try to give people the benefit of the doubt. There are 5 basic grammar mistakes though that are a definite no-no for me. They have no place in business writing and should have no place on the static pages of your website.

My 5 worst offenders in business writing are:

  • Confusing it’s and its
  • Confusing they’re, their and there
  • Confusing your and you’re
  • Using apostrophes to try and create a plural
  • Forgetting to use apostrophes to show possession

I know, I know that these are easy mistakes to make because they sound the same. I know that you probably can’t see the mistakes in your text (if you could, I’m assuming you wouldn’t leave them there). And I know that it probably doesn’t seem that big a deal to you.

The thing is, it’s not you that’s reading your promotional material for the first time. It’s not you that’s thinking about whether or not to fork out on your service. It’s not you who’s trying to figure out what you’re like as a company by reading your website. It’s your customers. And if any of them are anything like me - you might just be losing their business.

It doesn’t need to be like this. You don’t have to master every rule of grammar to fix these gremlins. There are simple things you can do. Get yourself a plain English guide to business writing. Get a colleague to check your promotional material - including your static web pages. Ask me for help. I can help you spot the grammatical errors that you can’t see, give you tips on how to tackle the recurring (and most damning) errors, and get them off your pages before the next grumpy customer like me happens upon them - and walks away.

Enjoyed this post? Subscribe to the Confident Writing feed for future updates or explore these related articles on grammar tips:

How to use apostrophes
How to write without a spellchecker

Joanna Young, The Confident Writing Coach
Because our words count

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6 Responses to “Are these 5 grammar mistakes costing you business?”

  1. On November 8, 2007 at 7:52 pm Marek responded with... #

    I think that I am not making these 5 grammar mistakes, but …

    English is my second language and, even worse, American English is my second English. Therefore, I have problems to write consistently in American English without mixing American and British words or spelling or some grammar rules. I wonder if you have covered that issue in your blog before.


  2. On November 8, 2007 at 8:20 pm Joanna Young
    Twitter: joannapaterson
    responded with... #

    Hi Marek

    Not directly. Actually I don’t normally write that much about grammar - as I said, it’s not something I get that hung up about, and I’m always scared of making a mistake when I do!

    There was a post on copyblogger recently about punctuation, highlighting some of the differences between British and American punctuation rules. You might find that useful


    I’m not entirely sure where to go with British and American English myself. I write British English as I’m from the UK, but most of my readers are from the US. Should I change my spelling so that it’s easier for them to read, and for people to find me through search engines? (And so as not to bug people with my spelling?!) I’m not sure. It feels odd to use a spelling that isn’t my own.

    Are you aiming to write American English for your audience? And got any feel for how much it matters to the people who are reading? Depending on the context it might not really be so important as the content of what you’re saying, and in your case you have those compelling pictures to communicate your point too :-)

    Hope this helps


  3. On April 25, 2008 at 3:21 am David Bowman responded with... #

    In the world of text communication, the quality of writing will determine how the writer is judged. As we often tell our clients, a writer’s credibility depends, in part, on how well he or she uses writing conventions accurately and consistently. One of our central questions is “What does your writing say about you?” In the business world, being credible means having more customers (or more readers).

  4. On April 25, 2008 at 7:26 am Joanna Young
    Twitter: joannapaterson
    responded with... #

    Hi David, you’re right. We’re making judgements and assumptions all the time based on the written word, whether folk like it or not. The use of conventions even in blog posts or comment boxes will tell the reader ‘something’ about the writer, where they’re coming from and what’s important to them.

    Thanks for stopping by


  5. On February 5, 2009 at 6:59 am Tim Mantyla responded with... #

    Another offender: using “everyday” in place of “every day.”

    This one results from mere carelessness and is likely the result of over-reliance on spell checkers.

    I see this error in print nearly every day. It might be an everyday habit with writers who don’t carefully check their work!

    Tim Mantylas last blog post..Blogging can spur free-wheeling creativity

  6. On February 5, 2009 at 9:22 am Joanna
    Twitter: joannapaterson
    responded with... #

    Hi Tim, thanks for mentioning that one. I have to confess it’s not one I’m aware of… but I’ll probably start noticing it now you’ve mentioned it!


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