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5 Tips to Sound More Professional

People who attend writing classes often say they want their writing to sound more professional. Sometimes they believe that big words are more impressive, and they are looking for ways to choose bigger and better words. But big words are simply bigger–not better.

Here are five simple ways to sound more professional. As I reread them, I noticed that they have nothing to do with sound: they all tie to the way things look to the reader.

1. Avoid double and triple punctuation marks, like these!!! Why would anyone use them??? These multiple marks are appropriate only in the diaries of 12-year-olds.

2. Capitalize your name. A capital letter at the beginning of your name takes just one more key stroke. Yet without it, you appear to lack an understanding of the basic rules of written communication.

3. Use complete sentences. Really. Avoid using fragments like my example (the fragment Really). Fragments suggest that you are unable to communicate ideas in whole, coherent sentences.

4. Use standard spelling. Avoid shorthand such as TTFN (ta ta for now) and LOL (laughing out loud). These abbreviations are casual–not professional.

5. Avoid smiley faces and winking emoticons like this one: ; ) Whatever they communicate, it is not professionalism.

I am not saying that you have to follow the suggestions above–you only have to follow them to sound professional.

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By Lynn Gaertner-Johnston

Lynn Gaertner-Johnston has helped thousands of employees and managers improve their business writing skills and confidence through her company, Syntax Training. In her corporate training career of more than 20 years, she has worked with executives, engineers, scientists, sales staff, and many other professionals, helping them get their messages across with clarity and tact.

A gifted teacher, Lynn has led writing classes at more than 100 companies and organizations such as MasterCard, Microsoft, Boeing, Nintendo, REI, AARP, Ledcor, and Kaiser Permanente. Near her home in Seattle, Washington, she has taught managerial communications in the MBA programs of the University of Washington and UW Bothell. She has created a communications course, Business Writing That Builds Relationships, and provides the curriculum at no cost to college instructors.

A recognized expert in business writing etiquette, Lynn has been quoted in "The Wall Street Journal," "The Atlantic," "Vanity Fair," and other media.

Lynn sharpened her business writing skills at the University of Notre Dame, where she earned a master's degree in communication, and at Bradley University, with a bachelor's degree in English.

2 comments on “5 Tips to Sound More Professional”

  • Thanks Lynn – these are all big pet peeves of mine, especially with regard to internal e-mail communication at work. Account Executives make requests that often require a translator.

    One of my biggest pet peeves (right up there with #1 on your list) is when someone asks a question but ends it with a period. It comes off more like a tongue-in-cheek DEMAND rather than a request.

    And then there are the people who build a “Thank you,” into their e-mail signatures. They aren’t fooling anyone. These lazy pleasantries often appear in a different font from the body of the e-mail, and speak to the sender’s sincere insincerity.

    Why must people take so many shortcuts in communication?

  • James, thanks for these great comments. I especially like your observation about the “lazy pleasantries.” I remember someone’s use of “Thanx and have a great day” on every message. It became meaningless.

    I believe people take so many shortcuts because they are buried in email and looking for any way to respond faster. Also, they copy the behaviors of others.

    I look forward to more comments from you (and I mean it!).

Comments are closed.