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How to Improve your Written Presentation
By Linda McGrory
Now, I don’t want to sound like an English teacher, but have you considered the effect of your written word on your prospects? And I’m not talking about what you say, or the content of your letters and emails, but rather how you write and present that content. Because this can make a big difference – the difference between selling or not selling your product.
Carrying out your business online means that the only way you can represent yourself and your professionalism is through the written word. So even though you may be at your computer in your pyjamas, you want to sound as if you’re dressed in business suit, briefcase in hand!
What you are aiming for is professional but friendly – too ‘chummy’ and your prospects will not take you seriously enough; too professional and you’ll bore the pants off everyone! You want people to respect you and trust your word, and this will not happen if your presentation is sloppy, filled with jargon, spelling mistakes and bad grammar.
Now there are more English grammar books out there than I can count, and I really don’t want to suggest that you try and read them start to finish – you’ll end up with severe indigestion. But what I do want to do is just to take you through the basics – enough to ensure that your written word can help you achieve your aims.
So let’s suppose you now have to write a sales letter, a newsletter or an article; you know what you want to say, and you’ve drafted your copy. What do you have to do now?
1) Never use all capital letters: it’s the equivalent of SHOUTING online, and is considered very bad manners and most people will simply move on.
2) Always use the spellchecker on your computer, even if you think you’ve not made any mistakes, believe me they’re probably there. Of course, a spellchecker is not going to pick up every mistake – ‘their’ and ‘there’ for instance.
3) And even when you have run your spell check, you must proofread your copy. Print it out and read the hard copy. You will pick up more errors that way than trying to read it through on screen. If you are unsure of the difference between ‘their’ and ‘there’, invest in a good dictionary and look up the words. Always, always check, even if you are only slightly uncertain about a spelling.
4) Remember punctuation? Well, surprisingly, it does serve a purpose: simply, that it enables your reader to understand your message. A long sentence without commas can become unfathomable. If your reader has to stop and go back to pick up the threads, you’ve lost him/her. In today’s instant society, especially online, people do not want to have to take the time to work out what you are saying – they want it served up on a plate! And if that means putting in a few commas, then do it.
5) Don’t make your paragraphs too long – your reader will find it too difficult to follow. Three or four sentences would be about the right length. Also keep your sentences a reasonable length – this would also solve any problems as to where to put those commas!
6) In your efforts to sound business-like, don’t use difficult words. If your reader finds your words hard to understand, then he/she will stop reading. Use everyday language, not words you’ve found in a Thesaurus – you won’t sound more knowledgeable, just pompous.
7) And now we come to the tricky subject of apostrophes! Many people don’t understand them and therefore don’t use them. But as with other punctuation, they are important and can change your meaning if used incorrectly. They have two basic uses: the first is to indicate that letters are missing, for example, ‘don’t’ for ‘do not’. Easy, yes? The second is the one most people have difficulty with and that is when the apostrophe is used to indicate possession. So, for example, ‘the dog’s bones’ – one dog with bones, but, ‘the dogs’ bones’ – two or more dogs with bones. Another problem area is ‘it’s’ and ‘its’. There is a simple rule to remember: the apostrophe is only used as a contraction for ‘it is’ and not for possession. And finally, don’t use apostrophes in plurals: one cat, two cats!
So there you have it. It’s really not too difficult, and the good news is that nowadays you really don’t have to worry too much about the finer points of English grammar such as split infinitives. So good luck and happy writing!
Linda McGrory is a professional proofreader, potter and textile artist, living in Cornwall, UK, who also runs a successful Internet business. See Linda’s website at http://www.work-from-home-earn-extra-income.com
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