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As American business communicators and long-time residents of Spain, we’ve seen more than our share of writing – emails, reports, articles, project briefs, blog posts, you name it – created by people whose first language isn’t English.

Based on our years of “field research,” we’ve compiled a few suggestions to help non-native speakers avoid some common mistakes. Here they go, listed in no particular order!

1 – There’s nothing wrong with contractions!

Native English speakers use contractions (don’t, won’t, she’d, he’d, it’s) all the time in both oral and written communications, yet some of our clients are decidedly “contraction-adverse,” considering them informal or somehow inferior to spelling out each and every word.

To be clear, texts that eschew contractions are grammatically correct yet can sound stilted to a native ear. If you are/you’re 🙂 still not convinced, for the sake of consistency, just make sure your text doesn’t mix them.


2 – Watch out for homophones

Homophones like there/their/there are easy traps for even native English writers yet add a layer of difficulty for non-native speakers. We’ve seen mistakes ranging from “this days” (these) to “in order to be affective” (effective).

The good news: you can catch nearly all mistakes by taking the time to re-read your text and using the spellcheck function! We also suggest doing a second-round edit with Grammarly since it often spots grammar and spelling mistakes overlooked by MS Word.

3 – Nouns, nouns, nouns

Sentences with noun pile-ups (“female unemployment rate trends” or “technology revolution impacts”) are hard to decipher because they force readers to scan them at least twice to figure out which words are serving as nouns and which are modifiers.

To make it easier on your audience, either hyphenate where necessary (i.e. female unemployment-rate trends) or even better, clarify the concept by unpacking the components, as in “trends in female unemployment rates” or “the impact of the technological revolution.”

4 – Run-on sentences: run the other direction!

Long and meandering sentences might sound perfectly fine in some languages, but they generally don‘t translate well into English. If you’ve just written a sentence so long it could pass as a paragraph, review the points you want to convey and try to spot a natural place to break it up. Trust us, your readers will thank you!


5 – Use vocabulary that resonates with your readers

Your ultimate goal is to clearly convey your ideas in a way that resonates with your audience. With this in mind, stay away from obscure words and opt instead for those that your average reader readily recognizes and appreciates.

 

 

Most of us send and receive an on-going stream of emails throughout the day, most of which are back-and-forth workaday communications. But every so often, we’ll have to write one that literally gives us pause.

With no way around it, we’ll have to relay a message – whether to a colleague, a higher-up or a prickly in-law – that sends our shoulders northbound and staggers our breathing. If you’re faced with this situation, here is our advice:

1 – Take a deeeeep breath

And remind yourself to keep on breathing 🙂

2 – Flip the script

If it were the other way around, what would you like to hear? For the sake of argument, let’s say you screwed up – and let’s face it, we all do. Ask yourself: if you were the email recipient, what would you like to hear? Put yourself in the recipient’s shoes before banging out an email.

3 – Ask yourself: what’s your ultimate aim?

As the magnificent Mary Poppins taught us, “A spoonful of sugar makes the medicine go down.” Remember Mary’s advice if you’re about to serve a potential bitter dose of medicine.

Do you need to gently remind a colleague that you – not them – have ownership of a project? Do you have a client who changes her mind every other day, two steps forward and three steps back? Or perhaps you’d like your adult children to know that you’re no longer willing to host all of the holiday meals?

Whatever the case, put a positive spin on it! You simply want the optimal outcome, the best possible product and a truly enjoyable holiday meal!

4 – Set the tone

At some point in time, we’ve all been on the receiving end of messages along the lines of, “I run the show and you will do as I say.” Honestly, is this approach really conducive to achieving any objective? We think not.

Nearly always, the how is remembered far more than the what. The late, great Maya Angelou said it best: “People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” With this in mind, reflect on the right tone to achieve your objective.

And while we’re at it, a word about capital letters. As most – but trust us, not all – people know, THEY MEAN THAT YOU’RE YELLING. Never use them unless you mean it, and try not to mean it!

5 – Write it, read it, revise it. Repeat last two steps. Then wait.

Say what you have to say, re-read it at least twice and if possible, wait a while before sending it. Never be afraid to speak your truth, but remember that emails last forever like Willy Wonka’s everlasting gobstoppers, so don’t be in a rush to hit that “send” button!

 

Photo by JESHOOTS.COM on Unsplash.