Skip to content

Clear, Error-Free Writing–What Is It Worth?

At the close of a recent Better Business Writing workshop, a participant who works for a consulting firm asked a question I had never heard before. It went something like this:

If my employer bills $150 an hour for my work, should I take the time to edit and proofread what I write? Is it worth it?

As someone who would not be in business if clear, correct communication were not valuable, I immediately responded, “Yes, it’s worth it!” That was my gut reaction.

Here is my thoughtful response. It is worth it to the consulting firm–and to all of us–because:

If unclear or incorrect writing reaches clients and customers, they lose confidence in us. They may begin to doubt our recommendations and conclusions, and they may eventually take their business elsewhere.

When presentations contain obvious errors, the audience focuses on the errors–not on the content.

If proposals contain errors, potential clients may say to themselves, “If this is their best work in the proposal stage, what kind of mistakes will they make on our project?”

Some errors cost money because work needs to be redone.

Some errors cost money and headaches because contracts are not clear about fees, or they include incorrect fees.

When writing is not clear, it requires the time and effort of many follow-up messages read by many people.

When writing is not clear and correct, it doesn’t get the desired response.

To return to the student in Better Business Writing, his consulting firm needs to include the cost of producing clear, correct documents in its bids and proposals. It’s the cost of doing business–and staying in business.

When it comes to written communication, it does take time and effort to get it right, but it takes so much more when we get it wrong!

Any comments on this subject? Please share them.


Posted by Avatar photo
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.

6 comments on “Clear, Error-Free Writing–What Is It Worth?”

  • Hi,
    The worst case of sloppiness I have noticed is getting a client name wrong, in a pitch slide or a proposal. I am surprised you were asked such a question. First impressions do count and the best effort has to go into making pitches and proposals. Of course this should well continue till the project ends.

  • Full disclosure… my perspective is biased. My company makes software that helps to reduce errors in business writing.

    But here’s a true story about a consulting firm… they wrote a proposal and were invited for interview:

    Intervier: What are the quality control procedures at your firm?

    Consultancy: We have a rigourous QC check which is described in our quality assurance policy

    Interviewer: And that would make sure there are no mistakes in your outputs? Not even typos?

    Consultancy: Absolutely.

    Interviewer: So when you wrote “slag an error”, did you mean “flag an error”?

    Suffice to say, the proposal was not successful. The consultancy lost a $60,000 proposal because of a typo. Does it get worse than that?

  • I believe pricing must be included when a company writes for an individual or a company too especially if they are writing coursework.

  • English as second language in the country ie Malaysia, typo is common in business writing. However, we are still able to get the sales with our sincerity.

  • The answer to the question depends on the quality of your writing and the context. If you are prone to mistakes then you know you should proofread. If the output is important then even if you are very good at first drafts, you know you should proofread because of the possible consequences of a mistake.
    I think the problem comes when you see shoddy work being accepted as OK around you. Do you use this as a reason to accept lower standards for yourself, or do you set your own personal standards and stick to them? Sometimes it is hard, but I prefer to be happy that I am doing the right thing, in the hope that one day I will get my rewards…

  • Thanks to all for your rich comments. I loved “slag an error”! It’s a perfect example.

    I too prefer to set high standards and stick to them.

    It was interesting to read about English as a second language in Malaysia–an excellent observation.

    Again, thank you for commenting.

Comments are closed.