I read a really great post yesterday by Carolyn Bogart of Fathom Digital Marketing. The article covered the basics of proofreading…and it got me thinking about how small business people can improve their writing. Most of the small business people I’ve met are great storytellers. They are passionate about what they make and/or sell, and they have no problem talking about it. However, when it comes to converting that speech into text, it’s a completely different story…
How can someone be a great storyteller and not a great writer? I think the key is the way we break up our thoughts in speech versus the way we break them up in text. In speech, we separate thoughts by pauses and emphasis. In text, we separate thoughts by periods and semi-colons. For whatever reason, many great speakers obsess over the use of the comma when they actually go to write their speech down. Take a look at this body of text quoted on Gawker.com:
Because I mean one of the truths about being a modern Western individual is that you likely have this idea about a person you want to be, and that person has a title even, a title like Young Professional or All-Around Good Person Of Above Average Intelligence, and to justify excessive ‘gaps’ in productivity by holding firm the belief that you’re “only human” and thus naturally lack sufficient motivation to do anything beyond obsessively watching YouTube videos and browsing reddit—where the premise of the idea of doing “anything beyond” obsessively watching YouTube videos and browsing reddit has, in a kind of relief, suddenly become sort of congratulatory, as if by doing “anything beyond” watching YouTube videos and browsing reddit you’ve become secretly heroic or are, just by not wasting oxygen, currently actualizing a person you want to be/ have always known you were/ are at your core—to justify your inaction with the belief that you’re “only human” is a behavior that stands in opposition of who you tell yourself you want to be and believe you are, if you have any Western-style aspirations at all.
Do you have any idea what the author is trying to convey? Probably not. Why? Because you can’t tell which clauses go together. This author has a sever problem with run-on sentences. Such is the case with many small business people. They tend to write like they speak–that is, with an endless flow of words and phrases. They don’t see their speeches as being finished until they are done talking. They tend to structure their sentences accordingly.
How to Curb Your Addiction to Commas
Here’s the trick. Think about the way you speak. Each time you finish a complete thought and
- A) give a brief pause,
- B) add emphasis to the final word, or
- C) begin the next thought with a transitional word,
use a period instead of a comma. If you are using “and” as a way to connect thoughts, stop and think about whether or not they would do better as separate sentences.
Example 1: An email to a prospective customer
How you might say it: Click for Audio
How you might write it: The scrub pants come in a dark blue, which is very nice, because it is stain-resistant, also, it offers a professional look, and it has three pockets on each leg as well.
How you should write it: The scrub pants come in a dark blue. The color is very nice, because it is stain resistant. Also, it offers a professional look. Furthermore, it has three pockets on each leg.
Example 2: A listing in the newspaper
How you might say it: Click for Audio
How you might write it: This 3-bedroom country cottage sits on 4.2 acres, and it is relatively new, having been built in 1995, also, there is a finished basement, and it comes with central air.
How you should write it: This 3-bedroom country cottage sits on 4.2 acres. It is relatively new, having been built in 1995. Also, it comes withe a finished basement and central air.
Really, it’s all about consolidation. We tend to speak many more words than we write. We add fillers and tie everything together with the word “and.” Writing in such a way looks unprofessional and can simply be difficult to read. In communication with your customers, practice breaking your thoughts up into different sentences. In many cases, it will make or break a deal.