The Herald Bulletin

June 6, 2013

Susan Miller: Is your message write?

By Susan Miller
For The Herald Bulletin

— It’s not just what you say that can hurt you. When it comes to searching for a job or pursuing a client, poor writing can send your correspondence into the reject pile faster than you can say LOL.

First impressions are often a matter of words. At a time when conversations are often driven by texting thumbs, opportunities for misunderstanding and offense abound.

Sometimes it seems like an entirely new language is emerging. I work with an association that serves young women between the ages of 18 and 24. Like any marketer, I want to know what the target audience is saying, so I listen in on their social media channels. Turns out I needed an Internet dictionary just to understand a recent blog post.

Can you translate any of the following? LOL, LOQ, LSP, LOA and YOLO — With the exception of the first and last acronyms, I couldn’t decipher the meanings. An Internet dictionary came to the rescue.

The translations? LOL equals laugh out loud; LOQ equals laughing out quietly (really?); LSP means less sensitive person, LOA stands for love on arrival (now what recruiter wouldn’t snap up that applicant?) and YOLO means you only live once.

Then there are the little emoticons that portray expressions ranging from chagrined and perplexed to exasperated and flummoxed. After all, why type flummoxed when you can simply paste a confused face into your email?

Remember, in a digital world, employers aren’t looking only at your paper trail. They’re also likely to peruse your social media profile. Therefore you won’t want to use LOWNB2D, which translates to “laid off with nothing better to do.”

When it comes to professional correspondence, there are plenty of non-digital opportunities for error in invitations, print ads and customer letters. These opportunities usually emerge in the most embarrassing contexts.

I worked for an ad agency that represented one of the world’s largest manufacturers. We created a life-size pop-up display that called out the expertise of their technicians. An arrow pointing right to the technician’s head misspelled the word “knowledgeable.” Like many errors, it wasn’t caught until the 6-foot tall cardboard technician was standing in the agency’s lobby. Can you say expensive lesson learned?

That brings me to proofreading. Don’t rely on your computer’s spell check to serve as an editor. Many words will show up as correctly spelled but will be used in the wrong context. Principle vs. principal is my favorite and many thanks to a teacher who wisely reminded me that the principal should always be your pal.

When it comes to proofing, we’re often less likely to see our own errors. Avoid this problem by using a proofreading service or contact a local college’s English department and ask about student proofers. These individuals have been especially helpful to me when preparing white for publication.

Do you still think proofing is unimportant? Consider Mark Twain’s words: “A nearly right word is the same as the difference between lightening and the lightning bug.”Susan Miller is owner of Ewing Miller Communications, a public relations and marketing consulting company. Her column runs on the first Thursday of each month. Write to her at susan@ewingmiller.com.