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You Are What You Type

  |  February 7, 2002   |  Comments

If you’re not checking spelling and grammar on your outgoing emails, you may be making an impression that’s at odds with your goals.

You may have heard the saying, "You are what you wear." Dressing well in business can have an important impact. It can help you make that sale or get that job. Typing/writing well is equally important. It also can help you make that sale or get that job. Because of the Web and email, writing today is a more important skill than ever.

"What Frederick W. Taylor, the time-and-motion pioneer, was to scientific management, John T. Molloy... is to the managerial dress code." That’s what Fortune magazine said about John T. Molloy, author of the bestseller, "Dress for Success."

Molloy’s book addresses such issues as:

  • How your clothes can make you look more powerful, friendly, or competent -- so you can achieve the results you want

  • Important regional variations in successful dressing, from New York to Atlanta, Detroit to California, and from Paris to Tokyo

  • How your casual wear can affect your chances for both social and business success

Replace "clothes" with "words" and read the above points again. Words have a power that we often fail to recognize. It was Benjamin Franklin who said, "Give me 26 lead soldiers and I will conquer the world."

Certainly, the new economy ushered in the casual era. However, as the dot-com players lick their wounds, perhaps our business dress code may become less casual. Hillary Clinton recently made the point that making sure your hair looks good is very, very important. Untidy hair distracts and detracts from the message or impression you want to make.

Untidy words have the exact same impact. Billions of emails are sent every day. Each one creates an impression. The most negative response an email can elicit is that someone wants to delete it before reading it. Do you send emails to people who delete them without reading them? Why do they do that?

One of the biggest victims of the new economy crash is speed. A few years ago, everything had to be done fast. If you weren’t living on the edge, you were taking up too much space. The mantra of Silicon Valley -- "Speed is God, time is the Devil" -- became the mantra of the world. Not anymore.

Certainly, the world has sped up. However, the human mind has certain speed limits. Why did you write that email you just "dashed off"? You want someone to read it, right? Supposing it’s full of grammatical and spelling mistakes? Is that OK? No, it’s not.

People judge you by how you write, whether consciously or subconsciously. If I get an email that is poorly written, my opinion of the sender is diminished. If I read content on a Web site that is poorly written, my impression of that organization is diminished.

First impressions count. Increasingly, the first impressions organizations and individuals make are by email and on the Web.

The next time you sit down to write an email or prepare content for a Web site, think about your reader. Take that extra time to edit what you have written so that it presents you in the best possible light. I guarantee you that extra time spent editing will pay dividends for you in the long run.


Gerry McGovern Gerry McGovern is a Web consultant and author. His most recent books are Content Critical and The Web Content Style Guide, published by Financial Times Prentice Hall.

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