London’s Evening Standard has recently been running a campaign to improve literacy in London. It has published a series of reports that highlight the capital’s poor literacy rates which affect the population from primary school children to disenfranchised school leavers through to recent graduates new to the corporate world. The paper suggests that the British education system is failing to equip our children with the fundamental basic skills to help them enter the job market. This can range from an inability to read basic instruction manuals through to poorly constructed emails to customers or more complex business reports or proposals.
© istockphoto.com/Viorika Prikhodko
Recruiters are finding that many CVs and letters of application just aren’t up to scratch and four in ten job applications are rejected due to poor grammar and spelling. Even the best candidates often need help with their basic skills and the CBI has quoted that 17% of British firms are concerned by the low literacy skills of graduates.
It is strange that many British employees demonstrate a lack of concern regarding the accuracy of their written communication and are either unaware of or unconcerned by basic errors in grammar, punctuation and spelling. The ubiquitous use of email and instant messaging means that written communication is much quicker and more immediate than ever before. However, this should not mean that it is of a lower standard or lacking in professionalism. A misplaced apostrophe, the use of text abbreviations or poor grammar can all cause misunderstanding, frustration and leave a poor impression on the reader’s screen. Few of us would attend an important meeting or job interview with a stain on our jacket or unkempt hair and so why would we think it acceptable to send written communication that we have not checked for visible errors?
Many organisations tackle these issues early on and include basic business writing skills courses as part of their training offering to new recruits. Only when elementary errors of grammar and punctuation have been rectified can employees then go on to develop more sophisticated writing skills that will enable them to convince colleagues, persuade clients and win business for their organisations.
© Communicaid Group Ltd. 2011
We have all received business emails asking us to ‘touch base’, suggest a ‘ball park figure’ or to do some ‘blue sky thinking’ or been at meetings where we have been told to discuss ‘offline’ or ‘free up some bandwidth’ for a new project and many of us will cringe at the use of these corporate buzzwords.
© istockphoto.com/ Viorika Prikhodko
‘Business speak’ has been around for a long time now and The Evening Standard recently drew our attention to its increase commenting that most of us prefer to be given our messages straight in plain and simple language.
User beware, these expressions are more often seen as clichéd and trite and an indicator of a lack of real substance. So, rather than presenting as someone who really knows about business and all its machinations, the use, or certainly the overuse, of these expressions is more likely to present you as a figure of ridicule.
Acronyms can be just as bad. They may serve a purpose as quick abbreviations but be careful when communicating with contacts from outside your organisation and sector, and be particularly cautious if your contacts are not native speakers of English. COB, AOB and POC are great for those of us that know but completely confusing for anyone unfamiliar with these acronyms and nobody likes to admit that they haven’t understood what has just been communicated.
Effective business writing and communication skills are about speaking your reader or listener’s language so try to tune into your contacts’ style. You may have colleagues who are overly fond of using these corporate clichés and while you wouldn’t want to mirror their usage in terms of volume, the use of an appropriate buzz word from time to time can act as a valuable form of shorthand between you and can demonstrate that you are ‘on the same page’ or even ‘singing from the same hymn sheet’! However, be aware that many of us prefer a ‘plain English’ approach to business communication and using these expressions can risk alienating or disengaging your fellow workers.
The best advice is to think about the language you use and its impact on your audience. This will enable you to adapt your communication style for each context ensuring that your messages are clear and easily understood by your reader.
© Communicaid Group Ltd. 2010