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.