Pages Navigation Menu

Creative support for business writers, pre-published writers and for writers-in-a-rut.

Business Writers

Find your Creative Voice in the Workplace

Posted by on Mar 10, 2016 in Business Writers | Comments Off on Find your Creative Voice in the Workplace

Find your Creative Voice in the Workplace

I love my job. When I talk to people about what I do to earn money, they often respond with a sigh and then a dismal, “I wish I could do something I love”. I am in a creative environment and my creative voice is part of my company brand. My present way of earning money is deliberate and the result of many years of learning and making mistakes.

The world is changing. The rules for happiness are changing. People realise that making money is not the key to happiness. Today’s fast-paced, commercialised life, people are searching for meaning. Surely there must be more to life than driving to work, doing the work, driving home and then repeating the process all over again the next day. Again and again until retirement.

How can the corporate worker create meaning? By exploring their creativity.

Think about this:

Childhood is about creativity. The imagination is filled with expression and make-believe worlds. Far too soon, the creativity is stifled at school. Children are told to ‘colour in the lines and colour the sky blue and the grass green’. Consider this: have you noticed the sky being consistently blue? The winter sky becomes moody. Sometimes it changes from a depressing grey to a threatening black. Creativity is not about stereotyping. It is about experiences and using your senses to create meaning experiences.

Business is about meeting deadlines, reaching sales targets and keeping a wary eye on budgets. Then it is report writing, emails, agendas, maybe a marketing piece or two. People are consumed in the world of balancing salaries and monthly expenses. No wonder creativity flies out of the window.

I worked in the corporate world and I often felt as if each day was a fight for survival: get that promotion and make more money, meet tight deadlines, get on the good side of the tea lady so that she made my coffee the way I like it. Sure, I made more money. I was promoted but was I happy? Not really. I had to find my creative voice before I died.

I started a social newsletter for the company. The company was not big and obviously budget was tight so I asked one of the staff members with some design knowledge to compile an electronic newsletter. The outcome was wonderful. Another person was an amateur photographer so he was responsible for taking photos at our socials. This soon extended to sporting events and even everyday fun moments in the office. A few people created interesting tags and captions for the photos. Slowly people started contributing interesting news and facts and the social newsletter became a collaborative affair. It also did wonders for company morale.

Finding creativity in your business needs some out-of-the-box thinking. If creativity does not seem to be a viable option for your workplace, then explore your own creativity. Start a hobby that requires creative thinking or action. Perhaps what you need to do is slow down and get back to basics: use your five senses to experience the beauty that surrounds you and then translate that into something creative.

As a writer, I find that writing is not only a great way to explore your creative voice, it is also cathartic. Bad day at the office? Write about it. Keep a journal. Who knows? Perhaps one day that journal will keep you.

Need to pump some creativity into your office. Book a space on our the Writer’s Voice breakfast workshop. For more information contact: or call 071 636 8028.

Whose line is it anyway?

Posted by on Mar 3, 2016 in Business Writers | Comments Off on Whose line is it anyway?

Whose line is it anyway?

I received a phone call from a cellular company congratulating me because I would receive a cell phone. Another cell phone? Surely, the caller would notice that I already had a cell phone seeing that she dialled my number to speak to me. Intrigued I wanted to see what this particular company was going to offer.

I told her I was interested and wanted to know how to claim my prize. The telesales person warms to my enthusiasm. Let us face facts here. Telemarketing and cold calling is a thankless job.

She tells me that the company she is representing would deliver it to me. If I were not the jaded person I was, I would be delighted with this. What a terrific company. Free phone and delivery. And all it took was one lucky cell phone number.

Sound familiar?

There is a huge problem with this call. It is misleading. I know that there is no free lunch and that I will be paying for this lunch somewhere down the line. But the lunch may turn out to be more expensive than I imagined. And it often has something to do with the contract that I will be expected to sign at the end of it.

The telesales person did not specifically mention the word ‘free’ or that the delivery was free, but her sales pitch was constructed in such a way that I was led to believe that the product was for free.

The call happened a few years ago despite the fact that the Consumer Protection Act (CPA) had been launched. The CPA has been in force for five years and I still receive calls similar to this one.

The telephone is a painful marketing tool

Companies need to promote their products. The point of marketing is to inform the consumer about products available to them. Marketing budgets do not come with a blank cheque and marketers have to find cost-effective ways to reach and to expand their target market.

The telephone is a useful but very intrusive tool. Often these calls are made during suicide hour. You know, that time when kids are miserable, mom and dad have arrived home from work and the geyser has burst once again.

Cold calling is a difficult way to promote a product. It is much easier for a person to put the phone down and the reason why marketers use the ‘giveaway’ option. This is the hook to keep the person on the phone and to maintain their attention which will eventually lead to the sale. But this is also known as ambush or bait marketing and it contravenes section 30 and 40 of the CPA.

Plain language and understanding

South Africa is a diverse country with literacy problems. Consumers who do not have the language capacity or adequate educational background to understand the conditions there could be serious repercussions for accepting this ‘free’ gift. Before they know it, they have signed a contract which they may think they understand but then discover that they cannot afford the ‘terms and conditions’.

If the consumer happens to be on the breadline then this contract could make a difference between putting food on the table and trying to avoid legal action because they are unable to meet their monthly payments.

Don’t eat your ummm … words

It is for this reason that the CPA and plain language has been introduced. It is to bring back the ethics into marketing.

It is no longer possible for companies to hide behind clever words to sell products. The person on the other end of the line needs to understand what they are buying. This means that communication should be effective and in plain language. When a company offers something for free then it must be free. The consumer must be aware of any conditions attached.

If corporate communications do not conform to this legislation then companies may find that the marketing budget may extend to defending themselves in the commissioner’s office.

This could be destructive for company reputation and ultimately sales. It is important that companies ensure that all communicators are familiar with the language used in the company and that it is communicated transparently. In other words, there should be no ambiguity to get that sale at all costs.

If plain Language is a problem in your corporate communication or you are unsure that your documents comply with the Consumer Protection Act then Writer’s Support can provide guidance.

Contact: or 0711 636 8026

The Language of Meaningful Content

Posted by on Feb 10, 2016 in Business Writers | Comments Off on The Language of Meaningful Content

The Language of Meaningful Content

“I don’t know the rules of grammar. If you’re trying to persuade people to do something, or buy something, it seems to me you should use their language.” David Ogilvy

Writers use words with intent. They understand that the language needs to support the purpose of the document: informing, entertaining, persuading or educating. Ad people realise that certain words have an emotional connection and will use it when they communicate with their target market. Using these words in your company communication will go a long way to connecting with your customers.

According to many websites and writers who position themselves as language specialists, there are top words that you should use to persuade people to buy your product or service.

These words are (in descending order of importance or popularity):

  1. You
  2. Money
  3. Save
  4. New
  5. Results
  6. Health
  7. Easy
  8. Safety
  9. Love
  10. Discovery
  11. Proven
  12. Guarantee

I have seen these words on many blogs and training manuals. The list has been accredited to a Yale University research. (FYI: I am not sure where these people received their information. Yale did not conduct any research and the origins of this list is unclear.) However, looking through this list, it is obvious that they are relevant in creating an emotional connection.

Top of the list, YOU, is an important word to keep in mind when trying to persuade people to use your product or service. For example, FNB’s “How can we help YOU” is direct and answers the question to the problem many people have with banking.

David Ogilvy, well-known advertising executive, put together a list of words used in persuasive language in his book Confessions of an Advertising Man (1963). These words still have relevance in today’s world of competitive wordsmithing.

Suddenly                           now                               announcing
introducing                       improvement              amazing
sensational                        remarkable                  revolutionary
startling                             miracle                         magic
offer                                    quick                             easy
wanted                               challenge                      compare
bargain                               hurry

According to Ogilvy, ‘The two most powerful words you can use in a headline are FREE and NEW. You can seldom use FREE but you can almost always use NEW – if you try hard enough’.

Unfortunately, the modern customer knows that there is no such thing as FREE so this word will have limited influence unless used in the correct context. And even then, I wonder how many people will connect with the word with anything other than scepticism.

Although both lists contain different words (except for NEW and EASY), the words all have positive connections and persuasive qualities.

Although you have a list of persuasive words, this does not mean that they will always be effective. It is important to follow Ogilvy’s advice given in the quote at the beginning of this post: ‘use your customer’s language’.

Ask the following questions to determine which words will work for your copy:

  1. What are the benefits of your product or service?
  2. How will your customer connect emotionally to your value offering (that is, how will they feel using your product or service)?
  3. Does your value offering deliver on your promise (that is, if your product is EASY to use it must be EASY to use)?

With practise, you should discover which words will work for your business and which will connect emotionally with your customers.

Ulrike Hill is a business and creative facilitator. She also helps companies inject creativity into their business documents. 
Contact writer@ulrikehill or call +27 71 636 8028.

Make Your Point

Posted by on Feb 3, 2016 in Business Writers | Comments Off on Make Your Point

Make Your Point

Lynne Truss’s book Eats Shoots & Leaves is an entertaining book about punctuation. The blurb of the book provides a humorous anecdote about the misuse of punctuation.

It explains that a panda walks into a café, orders a sandwich, eats it, draws a gun and fires shots in the air. The waiter is confused and asks why. The panda gives him a badly punctuated wildlife manual and asks him to look up panda in the manual.

The waiter does and this is what he reads:

Panda. Large black-and-white bear-like mammal, native to China. Eats, shoots and leaves. Obviously, the panda shoots_emaze_commanual was explaining the culinary habits of the panda. The comma got in the way. Shoots and leaves became verbs in this context instead of nouns.

Many communicators may understand the basic punctuation rule: start a sentence with a capital letter and end with a full stop, question or exclamation mark. Somehow, business writers seem to have forgotten how and when to use the end-of-sentence punctuation mark correctly and effectively.

This is especially true with the exclamation mark.

For the more creative mind, the exclamation mark is the mark for self-expression. Rule number one: exclamation marks should be used after true exclamations (What a show!) or imperatives (Stop!). One exclamation mark is sufficient and not to be overused like this!!! Or this?! Your writing will sound more like a squeaky cheerleader.

In creative writing the full stop can be used effectively to show excitement. Consider the following sentence: Oh. My. God. He. Looked. At. Me.  Reserve this style for storytelling. It has no value in the business world. This style will capture the attention of teenagers who are rebellious and hate their English teachers. Business readers want credibility. They need to feel secure that the company they are investing their money with has the ability to understand simple things like when to use a full stop or not depend on the exclamation mark to express urgency.

Many communicators seem to have forgotten the uses of the comma and the difference between a colon and a semi colon. The best advice? Register for a grammar refresher course. Invest in books that explain the principles of punctuation in a clear and concise manner. (Ed: or keep reading  these posts.)

The last thought: if you are not sure, keep it simple. Stick to the basics. Short sentences make more sense. If it does not sound right, then rewrite.

Punctuation giving you headaches? Don’t know your commas from your semi-colon?
Writer’s Support provides a consulting service and business writing workshops.
Contact writer@ulrikehill or call +27 71 636 8028.
This article was first published on inov8t online magazine.

The Business Writer’s Guide to Great Style

Posted by on Jan 26, 2016 in Business Writers | Comments Off on The Business Writer’s Guide to Great Style

The Business Writer’s Guide to Great Style

Stop for a minute and examine your company’s written communication.

Notice the spelling of words such as organisation/organization. How do the people in your company write numbers when communicating with clients? Do they know that acronyms can cause confusion? For example, BA can have different meanings in different industries. Try these for size: business analyst, British Airways, Bachelor of Art (degree) or even bad attitude.

This is the perfect time to create a style guide for your company.

How can a style guide improve communication?

A style guide creates consistency. This important business document provides a roadmap for internal and external written communications.

If everyone is on the same page (pun intended), there is less chance for misunderstandings to creep in. This includes standardising spelling conventions (American versus British), formatting of documents (headers, paragraphs, document length) and how to write acronyms and numbers.

A good style guide should also include brand principles. It is important that people in the company understand how they should write and stylise the company name. The use of logos, colour and symbols is an area often neglected in written communication and the reason for the marketing department’s headaches.

The style guide is crucial business tool to help people in the company, as well as freelancers, to follow the company’s style of business language.

Getting started

Many companies are unsure about the guidelines that should be included in the style guide.

The first tip is to examine the current documents in the company. Make a list of the types of errors that are made consistently. People who are writing in the company may use jargon, complicated terms, passive voice. Language usage may vary from department to department. Make a list. This list will form the foundation for the company style guide.

Suggestions for style guide content

We have compiled a basic list of the things that should be included in your company’s style guide. Please note these are merely suggestions. You need to define the literacy level of your client base, what information is important to your company and the industry your company services.

  1. Spelling
    • Decide which spelling convention your company needs to implement. There are two kinds: British English (UK) and American English (US). The international trend is British English
    • Choose a dictionary as the company’s base for spelling references. We recommend Oxford Dictionary (online reference: and
    • List common spelling errors to differentiate between US and UK spelling. Example: specialise (UK) vs. specialize (US)
  2. Punctuation
    • The apostrophe is the most misunderstood punctuation. Ensure that people understand the usage
    • Include bullet point usage in the guide and the use of full stops and capital letters
    • Highlight the difference between hyphens and dashes and usage. Example: hyphens are used in compound nouns and adjectives
    • Use of ellipses (…)
    • Square brackets and parenthesis (additional information)
    • Capitalisation is interesting because writers tend to become lazy and forget the rules of capitalisation. Include a section about capitalising job titles
    • AbbreviationsThe rules of the following forms of abbreviations should be explained and examples provided:
      • Acronyms and Initialisms
      • Ampersand (&) and Symbols (%)
      • Abbreviations allowed in the company and punctuation rules. Examples: etc., Mr
  1. Numbers
    • Explain when numbers should be written in words or numerically
    • Date, time, decimals and measurement standardisation
    • The use of terms like “more than” and “fewer”
  2. Active vs. Passive voice
    • Explain the difference between active and passive. Provide suitable business examples to explain the differences
  3. Pronouns
    • Standardise viewpoint appropriate documents. Example: Marketing and sales communication can make use of “you” but technical documents may only use third person or neutral viewpoints
  4. Jargon and Technical Terms
    • Acronyms often fall under this list as they become habits when they are used on a daily basis in written and spoken forms
    • Jargon is industry specific and creates miscommunication so should be avoided in business writing
    • Create rules for the use of technical terms
  5. Readability Statistics
    • This is a useful electronic tool to use in the organisation and should be activated in MS Word
    • Create standards for passive voice and sentence length
    • Ensure that the spell checker is activated for MS Word documents and email and language is set to check UK English
  6. Document Format
    • Create a standard for the look and feel of all business documents. The formatting of written communication can be department specific or one rule for the entire company.
    • The following conventions should be specified:
      • Headings and levels of headings
      • Body text layout
      • Page numbering
      • Italics, bold face, capitalisation and underlining
      • Referencing
      • Company specific type face and font size
  1. Trademarks
    • This is often left out of style guides as many companies prefer to include this in their brand or communication guides
    • Trademarks refers to any words, symbols or designs that the company uses to identify their products or services
    • Do not use trademarks as verbs

Need help? Let Writer’s Support assess your current style guide. We can also compile a style guide for your company to ensure that your company complies with best business communication practice.

Want to do it on your own? Email for a style guide template.

This article was published on Writers Write blog 14 September 2013. This is an edited version of the original article.

*Yawn* Phrases in Business Emails

Posted by on Jan 18, 2016 in Business Writers | Comments Off on *Yawn* Phrases in Business Emails

*Yawn* Phrases in Business Emails

According to a study conducted by The Radicati Group Inc,  the typical corporate email user sends and receives about 105 email messages per day. That is a lot of ‘commercial noise’ in a user’s inbox.

How does a business ensure that important emails are read and not deleted?

By applying the rule, keep it short and simple. This means pruning out the many useless phrases that thrive in business emails.

Emails have become an extension of our thoughts and communication. The modern email user will write an email and press the ‘send’ button before checking if the contents are correct. This is understandable in a world of I-have-no-time. The problem with this approach is that there is no ‘face’ to the email and the email could create a negative perception about your company. Spelling errors and overused phrases can spell commercial disaster. It conveys the perception that your business is unprofessional, rushes through everything and that the use of correct language is not important.

It is time to examine your emails. Do your emails let you and your business down?

The top five useless phrases in emails

  1. I think … When a sentence begins with this phrase, it tells the recipient that you are unsure about yourself. Your tone must be assertive and confident.
  2. Please be advised… People often use this lawyer-type phrase. It is unnecessary. Be direct. If you are informing a debtor that payment is overdue then state the obvious. ‘Your cheque is overdue’ is to the point and unpretentious.
  3. Please do not hesitate to contact me … People will contact you if they are interested in your product or have a query. This is an irritating cliché used in emails. The message you are sending out is that you are not an original thinker.
  4. Kindly … ‘Please’ works better than this old-fashioned word.
  5. Enclosed please find … People tend to use this phrase because it is neutral and the user avoids using the personal pronoun ‘I’. The word ‘find’ shows a lack of understanding about the use of language. It suggests that the reader should look for the document. Rather write ‘ Document X is attached to this email’.

Do not allow unnecessary words to taint your clients’ view of you or your business. Phrases are useless communication ‘fillers’, rather like small talk. And, who has time for that?

Having email problems?
Writer’s Support provides a consulting service and business writing workshops.
Contact writer@ulrikehill or +27 71 636 8028.
This article was first published on Writers Write’s blog 9th September 2013.


Avoiding Sparrow (or Monkey) posts

Posted by on Jan 5, 2016 in Business Writers | Comments Off on Avoiding Sparrow (or Monkey) posts

Avoiding Sparrow (or Monkey) posts

Penny Sparrow has become an overnight success for all the wrong reasons. Sparrow’s post has landed her in big poo and she is now receiving death threats, her former employers are threatening to sue her as are prominent activists. Using ‘monkey’ in her post was the reveal about her feelings.

What Sparrow considered to be an innocent observation about black people celebrating the festive season on Durban’s beaches has gone viral in a bad way. Unfortunately, this mampara did not learn her lesson.

Give that woman a spade

Sparrow’s comment comparing black people to monkeys being ‘released to the beaches [and] town’ was blatant racism and although she later posted an apology, the apology was nullified in an interview with News24  when she claimed that she was ‘stating facts’.

After reading through both her Facebook post and her comments made in the interview, it is clear that Sparrow is a racist and that her comments are far from factual.


Because her comments are personal rather than focusing on the issue that lead her to creating the post in the first place: overcrowded beaches, unruly behaviour and excessive littering.

Sparrow gets emotional

Trying to sweeten the derogatory term ‘monkey’ applied to black people in her social media post, Sparrow claimed that she actually likes monkeys and that she considered them ‘cute and naughty’.  Animals are cute and naughty. Children are cute and naughty. Would one apply this to people like Nelson Mandela or Barack Obama?

I do not think so.

I can think of many positive adjectives the majority would use but cute and naughty would not be on that list.

In its literal sense, monkeys are mammals. Then there is the emotional connection. Monkeys are also known to be pests for many KZN residents and coastal resorts. Definitely not ‘cute and naughty’. Extending this association further, monkeys are also used as derogatory terms when used to describe black people.

Backpedalling from her initial comment will not get Sparrow out of jail. She meant to be offensive to express her disgust.

Justifying comments using ‘facts’

In her interview, Sparrow tries to demonstrate that she is not a racist. “I work with blacks and I am kind to them”. One wonders why she cannot treat black people as equals. Why is kindness an important reciprocation towards black people.

Other comments like “I was born in East Africa and I was raised by blacks” and “She’s a wonderful girl and she’s an Indian” are empty statements. Being ‘raised’ by black people does not automatically release Sparrow from racism and the fact that an Indian lady happened to be ‘nice’ makes the reader wonder whether this is a rare occurrence.

Are people of colour not nice?

Does skin colour automatically predetermine a person’s behaviour?

Consider the facts

In response to her interview, many (white) people felt that Sparrow was stating facts. Some wrote about Zuma and his behaviour and claimed this supported Sparrow’s comments.  It is clear that there are many South Africans who do not know how to separate opinions from facts. Don’t attack the skin colour, attack the issue.

What was the issue that Sparrow failed to express?

Kwazulu Natal beaches are overcrowded during the festive season. It just so happens that certain beaches are populated by a certain demographic and this particular area happens to be frequented mainly by black people. It also means that when large groups of people come together in a public place, littering tends to happen and behaviour can get out of hand especially if there is alcohol involved. This is why we (should) have rules and law-enforcement. It has nothing to do with skin colour.

Has anyone looked at the state of a cinema once the movie has ended and everyone has left? Pop-corn and empty containers lie all over and cleaners emerge with bags of rubbish. People often become amorous in the back row. Sometimes quite embarrassingly so.

What about rock concerts? Different demographic and yet same behavioural tendencies: littering, making out, fighting. So why does the Durban beach issue have to be a black issue?

Generalising about a certain group of people is dangerous.

Rule number one: consider your emotional response before posting

Prejudice is a bitch. It will eventually expose you. Too often, people get away with flyaway remarks when they are uttered to friends and family. The problem is that comments made verbally are easily forgotten. Social media does not provide a sympathetic ear. Words do not fade away and are easily shared electronically. Your comments will remain etched in cyberspace, hauntingly scary – exposing your weaknesses.

Be warned. Clear your heart before you write.  Your words will expose your true intent.

Writer’s support provides a consulting service and business writing workshops. Learn how to communicate effectively.
Contact writer@ulrikehill or +27 71 636 8028.

The Politics of the Pronoun

Posted by on Dec 1, 2015 in Business Writers | Comments Off on The Politics of the Pronoun

The Politics of the Pronoun

The politician is the ultimate salesperson. Speeches are the platform for gaining power and are drafted with this purpose in mind. Special attention is given to the simple pronoun; that obscure part of speech so often taken for granted by the average person.

Barack Obama’s famous slogan for the 2008 Presidential Campaign, “Yes We Can” shows the power of the pronoun. The power of this simple slogan is that unlike previous candidates, Obama was not saying what he would do for his voters but rather that they would work together. It worked. He won the 2008 election and was voted back into power in 2012.

The pronoun we is used to invoke a sense of collectivism and to share responsibility whereas they is used to separate self from other; often in a discriminatory sense. ‘They are troublemakers’ creates a definite barrier between the speaker and the ‘other’ very different group.

The use of pronouns provides insight into the words of writer or speaker. Is the person actually ‘one of us’ or ‘one of them’. Does the person overuse the narcissistic I or the collective and fuzzy-feeling we?

According to, viewpoint is defined as “a mental position from which things are viewed”. This definition is a wonderful way of expressing the power of the pronoun. The use of a personal pronoun either in first , second or third person can reveal whether the person is arrogant, expressive or detached.


The first person I , is used to express a personal opinion. The plural we has become a popular pronoun in business. It has been used to include leaders in the mix of the common people.

However, the collective we can be negative as well and is often exploited to share responsibility. Consider the CEO of a company telling employees that “we should tighten our belts and save”. The CEO then drives off in the latest BMW X5 whilst the employees stand in endless queues waiting for the public transport to arrive. Who exactly will be ‘tightening their belts’?


The use of the third person (he, she, they) is recommended in business writing. It creates distance between the writer and the reader. Once again, depending on the context, the third person viewpoint can have negative outcome. Consider Marie Antionette’s famous comment, “Let them eat cake” when she was told that her people did not even have bread to eat. This comment distanced her from her people and revealed her ignorance about the suffering of the people around her.


The second (and enigmatic viewpoint) person you remains unchanged whether used singularly or to address a group. The you is used as a direct form of address and attempts to involve the reader and make them active in the writing. It is often used effectively in pulp fiction such as The Fight Club. The reader is part of an uncomfortable situation. In an argument, the you is often used negatively. “You are lazy” is accusatory. Editors of female magazines use you to show solidarity and understanding. “Be the best you” is a wonderful slogan. Consider the most popular three-word sentence, “I love you”.


  1. The use of pronouns in business or creative writing is powerful and can be used to convey a positive or a negative message.
  2. Establish the purpose of the writing and use the appropriate pronoun to support this purpose.
  3. Do not change viewpoints. It shows immaturity and a lack of understanding of grammatical rules.

Apostrophe Abuse

Posted by on Nov 26, 2015 in Business Writers | 1 comment

Apostrophe Abuse

Luisa Zissman received a large amount of media attention and not because she reached the final of The Apprentice in 2013. Instead of praising her business acumen, grammar zealots and social media fans criticised her lack of grammar knowledge.

A large section of the population was outraged because Zissman did not know how to use the apostrophe in her business name. This indignant outrage was the result of Zissman’s tweet.

“Is it bakers toolkit or baker’s toolkit with an apostrophe?!” she tweeted.

After receiving a lesson in apostrophe use from her Twitter fans, Zissman enraged her fans and the grammar zealots further by tweeting, “I like the look of bakers,” and so decided to drop the apostrophe.

Zissman’s business acumen was praised during the BBC’s show but her ignorance about basic punctuation has called her credibility and professionalism into question. Her work ethic was also questioned as people felt she was ‘being lazy’ by not attempting to understand the use of the apostrophe.

Ironically, Zissman describes herself as having ‘a brain like Einstein’.

People want to do business with companies who are professional and credible. If companies cannot grasp the basic rules of punctuation then what else do they not know that is crucial to providing a professional service to their clients?

If you still feel that apostrophe ignorance is no big deal then consider the following examples of miscommunication:

  • Your mine (a tattoo)
  • DVD’s sale (a video store signage)
  • There are two is in skiing (online tutorial)
  • A days’ leave (human resource document)

A misplaced apostrophe can change the meaning of a sentence and lead to miscommunication. Worse, it can create a negative perception about your business offering. Can you afford that?

The Emotional Email

Posted by on Nov 5, 2015 in Business Writers | Comments Off on The Emotional Email

The Emotional Email

Understanding business email etiquette

By Ulrike Hill

I was once a product manager in the IT industry. I was new to the job and eager to please. One day an important client criticised my product. I took his comments personally. Whinging back at the office about the client, my director was unsympathetic. He told me to ‘take the emotion out of business’ and to stick to the facts.

Fast forward many years later. My director’s advice still resonates with me. Thinking back, his advice was relevant in a world where technology did not dominate business communication. Technology has created a sterile business world. Business people are interacting mainly via email and are spending less time speaking to each other. Too often misunderstandings tend to creep into written messages.

How can we avoid misunderstanding that may happen without the sender realising it?

Acknowledge the recipient

In the hurried world of business, people forget the use of ‘Dear X’ and dive straight into the message of the email. Acknowledge that there is a human being on the receiving end of the email. I prefer using ‘Hello’ and the person’s name. Ensure that you get the spelling of the person’s name correct. If not, the message you are sending to the receiver is ‘You are not important enough to me’.

I am shouting at you

The sender is in a rush and does not notice that THE CAPS LOCK IS ON. THE ENTIRE EMAIL IS WRITTEN IN UPPER CASE. People tell me that it is not a big deal. But it is a big deal. Using caps lock is the same as shouting. Imagine the response if the email is about an over-due payment. Or meeting an urgent deadline.

Smiley faces

During my discussions with a few business people, some felt that using emoticons reveal the human behind the email. I disagree. Emoticons are for friends. Emoticons are for informal communication. Emoticons do not make the email human. Humans talk.

So how are you, really?

Use words that will express the human. Instead of demanding, ask. Instead of diving straight into the main message, introduce a personal line like “I trust you are well.” It is more formal than the “How are you?” but it does show that you are interested in the recipient’s well-being.

Saying goodbye is hard to do

Like the forgotten greeting, signing off the email is taken for granted. Worse still, it is forgotten completely. This is the same as walking out of someone’s home without saying goodbye. The sign-off can reveal a lot about you. Create a professional ending to your email. ‘Faithfully’  sounds fake, ditto ‘Yours truly’ and imagine how a client may react to “With love”. Signing off can be professional and still reveal the human part of business.

These are a few suggestions for email users to create the ‘human face’ behind the words and to reduce misunderstandings. Business is tough so the human touch without the ‘touchy-feely’ will go a long way to maintaining a professional relationship.

Ulrike Hill provides a writing workshop to assist people with email etiquette. Contact: or call 071 636 8028 (South Africa only).