- Wanna know a secret? No one speaks English perfectly—not even native speakers
- Why are we harsher on writing than speaking?
- Okay, so writing is judged more harshly. Is it that important?
- Crucially, poorly written copy comes across as unprofessional
- Error-laden copy immediately starts to erode your perceived competence
- Each error diminishes trust in your brand and your credibility
- So what does all this mean? Is professionally written copy worth it?
In my last post, I said potential clients shouldn’t worry about their English when contacting me. My job isn’t to criticize your writing mistakes. My English copywriting business exists to improve your English copy. I’m not here to judge your English conversational ability. Language is about communication. We can use whatever means necessary to communicate. And that is often how spoken communication happens.
Spoken language is ugly. It’s messy. Conversations are not polished or refined. Why do you think people write, practice, and memorize speeches before giving presentations? We need time to organize our thoughts. We plan what to say and choose the perfect word or phrase to express ourselves eloquently. That rarely happens in daily conversations.
Wanna know a secret? No one speaks English perfectly—not even native speakers
It doesn’t matter if you’re a native speaker or not. You make mistakes while speaking every day. Sometimes, it’s a grammatical error, a poorly expressed idea, or a forgotten detail. You usually correct yourself, but we all make these mistakes:
- So, I meet Sally on Saturday, I mean, I met her on Saturday.
- Your apple pie was delicious, but my mom’s will always be the best. Oh, I didn’t mean that yours was bad…yours was still very good!
- On Saturday, I had just eaten dinner…or was I going to eat dinner? Oh, it doesn’t matter. Anyways…
We all do this during daily conversations, no matter if we’re speaking our native language or not. And it’s okay. Research suggests we judge non-native speakers more harshly for these speaking errors. But I read an article years ago (which I can no longer find online) about a fellow known as Benny, the Irish polyglot. In that article, he asked, “How often have you been corrected outside of the language classroom?”
Think about it. How many imperfect exchanges have you had while traveling? How often did someone correct your English?
- Taxi driver: Where to?
- You: To the airport, please.
- Taxi driver: Domestic or international terminal?
- You: Sorry?
- Taxi driver: Where are you going?
- You: To Korea.
- Taxi driver: Okay, international terminal it is.
The taxi driver didn’t chastise you for not understanding his question. You gave him the answer he needed. You got to the right terminal and caught your flight. Everyone was happy. That’s how spoken language works. You worked together to accomplish the task at hand.
During my time in Korea, I’ve had some great ‘discussions’ that didn’t involve a common language. But with my limited Korean, their limited English, and lots of body language, we managed. I’ve had several such enjoyable conversations that lasted for hours.
Why are we harsher on writing than speaking?
We are not so carefree when it comes to writing. We judge native speakers for poor writing, grammar mistakes, and typos. This continues after leaving school. If we judge native speakers for writing mistakes, why wouldn’t we judge non-native speakers? The question becomes, why do we place such an emphasis on writing?
When you think about it, the answer is quite simple. We have the time to correct our writing mistakes. There is time to rewrite or rephrase things. We have the time to check our spelling (if our automatic spellchecker didn’t fix things on its own). We make mistakes while speaking for many reasons, but those excuses don’t apply to writing.
Okay, so writing is judged more harshly. Is it that important?
Yes. Yes, it is. Your webpage, text message, or sign in your business are all part of a customer’s first impression. And when they see writing mistakes, they’re judging you. Don’t you do the same? When you see a typo in a business email, do you not think, “That person should know better than that.” A typo on a restaurant menu isn’t likely to result in you getting up and leaving. But it influences your opinion about that establishment, regardless of how slightly.
We all know the saying, “You only get one chance to make a first impression.” It’s on my main page. And it’s true. Of course, you can also win someone over later, but you’ve got to work much harder to reverse a bad first impression. In the competitive business world, do you want to make things harder on yourself?
Crucially, poorly written copy comes across as unprofessional
A careless typo, an often-confused word, a misspelling—they all affect how professional you seem. Writing mistakes suggest you don’t pay attention to details. One mistake may go unnoticed, but if there are several, the effect of those errors starts to snowball. Potential clients question whether you pay attention to the small details when it comes to your product or service.
Error-free copy, especially as a non-native speaker, shows you care about your brand’s image. “Good enough” isn’t enough. You’re willing to go the extra mile to do things right. This shows clients that you’ll do the same with your service or that you did the same when creating your product.
A page riddled with errors and awkward English says you don’t care about how your brand is perceived. Can you afford to give potential clients any reason to doubt your brand?
Error-laden copy immediately starts to erode your perceived competence
If you can’t get your signage correct or you can’t produce a professional webpage, what else can’t you do? Shortcuts with your copy could suggest you took shortcuts when designing your product. If you can’t convey your message clearly, are other aspects of your business poorly designed? Do you want your customers thinking about this as they’re trying to decide whether to buy your product or not?
Though somewhat controversial, poor grammar is often seen as a sign of poor intelligence. I’ve met a lot of very intelligent people with poor grammar. I also know many people with great grammar that aren’t the brightest people I’ve ever known. Regardless of whether you agree with this premise or not, if your clients agree with it, you need to address it.
It can also signal that you lack any interest in improving as a brand. If you don’t want to fix typos or grammar mistakes, you’re saying you don’t care about improving. We all know that we should always be looking for ways to improve. If we can’t do that with our brand message, that indicates we’re not interested in improving at all. This may be even more damaging than appearing less intelligent based on grammatical errors. Laziness and apathy in business are never a winning combination.
Each error diminishes trust in your brand and your credibility
Though an extreme example, poor grammar is a hallmark of online scams. Anti-virus companies warn against clicking links in emails with poor grammar or awkward English. Do you want potential clients to have any doubts about the safety of clicking the link in your email? That little bit of doubt could be enough for them to delete your email instead of visit your site.
We make mistakes while speaking for many reasons, but those excuses don’t apply to writing. An email that is poorly written and difficult to understand may turn potential clients off. They may look elsewhere for someone they expect will be easier to communicate with.
Finally, they may be worried about how well they actually understand your message. If you use confusing sentences and poor word choices, clients may question if they understand your brand. It’s yet another seed of doubt that’s going to make it harder to win over this client.
So what does all this mean? Is professionally written copy worth it?
Whether you agree about the importance of making a good first impression or not, can you take that chance? Imagine going to a job interview, knowing you are more than qualified for the position. You also know that there are 50 other equally-qualified candidates. Would you show up hungover, in dirty clothes, and carrying a crumpled resume in your pocket? You may believe that wearing a suit and tie has no effect on your ability to perform a task. And you’re likely right. But the hiring committee is looking for any reason to disqualify some of the 50 candidates. Do you want to give them a single reason, never mind three?
With such fierce competition in business, why give potential customers any reason to doubt you? Why give them any reason to skip over you and look elsewhere for a business that meets their needs? None of the problems listed above are likely to be enough to turn a client off completely on their own. But if they notice a pattern, each little doubt lingers in the back of their mind. Each one has the potential to be the straw that breaks the camel’s back.
Ensuring you have professional, error-free copy can only benefit you. There are no downsides. No one is going to think you appear too professional or too competent. A few sales will likely recover the small investment of paying for this service. A few sales you may have lost if you hadn’t bothered to have your copy professionally written.
If you want to project a professional, competent, trustworthy image for your brand, I’m here for you. Contact me below to see how I can help you.
(Main image: Business photo created by pressfoto – www.freepik.com)