Your English is Your Face to the World. How Do You Look?

The Earth is getting smaller. The internet has shrunk the entire planet down to the size of your computer screen. Businesses all over the world are going global, and, as the title of this blog says, English is the international language of business.

Whatever the language of its home country, a company that wants to attract customers beyond the limitations of geography must use an English version of its website to inform, promote, convince, and sell. But there can be a huge difference between English written by native speakers and the English written by people who use it as a second language. I have nothing but admiration for people who master a second language. It takes years of dedication. But no matter how much effort one puts into learning English, it is the rare person indeed who can write it like someone born to the task.

Companies who want to sell to English-speaking customers need to pay close attention to the quality of writing that appears on websites, in brochures, and in product literature. Language, skillfully used, has the power to make a connection between writer and reader. That’s a valuable asset in marketing. Well organized, error-free text, written in a pleasing style, will make potential clients feel well informed, comfortable, and confident – and more likely to buy.

But the opposite is also true. Text that is difficult to understand, or that contains distracting mistakes, will fail to connect with native English speakers. They’ll notice the flaws, such as misspellings and improperly used idioms, and their attention will be shifted away from your message. Most people will only give a website a short time before moving on. If understanding the text requires too much work, people will leave. Every time someone stops reading your site because of poor-quality writing, you’ve lost a potential customer.

Let’s look at some examples. The following are excerpts borrowed from the English versions of websites put up by companies outside the U.S. In these case studies, the first version is verbatim, the second version merely corrects errors and phrasing, and the final version is the transformation into a style that is designed to make a connection with English-speaking readers.

BEFORE (as written)
Talented people are our treasure
Producing the first-class brands and satisfying our customers are made only possible by people. If our employees are not capable to make such products or if they have no will to do so, not only such goal cannot be achieved at all, but also there can be no room for promise, growth and development. Therefore, management always need to remind itself that employees of XYZ with capable and enthusiasm are the asset of XYZ, and should always support development of employees’ ability and to inspire their enthusiasm.

AFTER (correction of errors and phrasing only)
Talented people are our greatest asset
Achievement of our primary goals – producing first-class products and satisfying our customers – is only made possible by our employees. If our people are not capable of making fine products, or if they haven’t the will to do so, then not only will XYZ fall short of our goals, but there will be no hope of growth and development. Management must always remember that capable and enthusiastic employees are our greatest asset, and must always support further development of their abilities and inspire their enthusiasm.

BEST (effective text for English readers)
Talented people are our greatest asset
Our talented employees make it all possible. They are the reason we can achieve our primary goals: to produce first class products and to satisfy our customers. Our people have the capability and the will to keep us on the right track and to ensure our continued growth and development. Management never loses sight of the vital contribution our employees make to our success. We work hard to inspire their enthusiasm and to support them in meeting the exciting new challenges they face every day.

Here’s another example:

BEFORE (as written)
Without using any chemical agent or tooth pest just water treated brush will eliminate all harmful bacteria inside mouth which cause bad odor, gingivitis, different type of gum desease, infections etc, ,
No need any kind of tooth paste, ,
Good for health, specially good for chemical sensitive person also good for enviorment, ,
Our product has been tested and certified by dentist but dentists do not want to see the brush on the market, , simple reason, less dental patients to treat, ,
We have a live salaiva test video under microscope to satisfy all of our skeptical customers,

AFTER (correction of errors and phrasing only)
Without using any chemical agent or toothpaste, just adding water to our treated brush will eliminate all harmful bacteria which cause odors, gingivitis, gum diseases, infections, etc.
There’s no need for toothpaste.
Good for your health – especially for chemical-sensitive people. Also good for the environment.
Our product has been tested and certified by dentists. But dentists don’t want to see this brush on the market because they’ll have fewer patients to treat.
We have a live saliva test video showing microscopic proof that will satisfy all our skeptical customers.

BEST (effective text for English readers)
Throw your toothpaste away! Just add water to our Magic Brush toothbrush, and eliminate all harmful bacteria which cause mouth odors, gingivitis, gum disease, and infections. People who are sensitive to chemicals will love this toothbrush. It’s good for your health, and the health of the environment too.

Our product has been tested and certified by dentists. But dentists don’t want to see this product on the market because they’ll have fewer patients to treat.

Are you skeptical? Let us send you our saliva test video showing microscopic proof.

Many people can learn to take text from the first stage to the second. Very few can create the third stage, but this is what companies should strive for. When someone translates from a language that is structured differently from English, the resulting version may still sound “foreign.” If you or your in-house people aren’t capable of producing natural sounding, effective English writing, then get help from somebody who is. It’s a worthy investment.

The type of transformation illustrated above is what I do professionally, and what I promote as part of my philosophy regarding the importance of good writing. Let the text on your website or brochures carry your reader along the path you set for him, and keep him on track. Good writing has the power to do that, and more. It has the power to convince, and to encourage action. And in this case, the translation of ACTION is SALES.

*****

Could your business use my services?

Visit my website at www.jlrco.com or e-mail me at rose@jlrco.com.

When Do You Need a Writing Fixer?

Take this test

  1. Did you write your own website text just to save money?
  2. Do you have sales and marketing copy that’s dry, boring, or confusing but you don’t know how to make it better?
  3. Do you have employees who use English as a second language whose job responsibilities include writing?
  4. Are most of your employees under 35 years old?
  5. Are you located outside the U.S. and want to do business with English-speaking customers?

Bonus Question

Do you care about the image your company is projecting?

If you answered YES to any of the first five questions, and if you got the bonus question right (there is only one right answer), you need the services of a writing fixer.

It’s what the boss thinks that counts

Through this blog, I’ve met lots of ambitious individuals, living in the U.S. and all over the world, who are working hard to improve their writing skills. They ask me questions, send me samples, and express a desire to achieve excellence. They are hungry for improvement and strongly motivated. But the reality is that very few of these people will ever produce a level of English writing that meets high professional standards – and these are the ones who are really working at it. What about the great majority who think that whatever they write is good enough as long as people can understand it? Or those who excuse poor writing because English is their second language? Or those who attend a writing workshop but never improve enough to make much difference? Some of them may be working for you, and maybe they think it really doesn’t matter. But if you’re the owner of the company, or the manager of the department, what do you think?

If you don’t care, then you’re reading the wrong blog. But if you do care, and if you’ve been searching for the answer to a problem that’s hurting your business either locally or in the international arena, then welcome – you’re the person I’m writing this for.

Another test

  1. Do you notice mistakes in other people’s writing?
  2. Do writing mistakes influence your evaluation of the author or organization?
  3. Have you ever read something a few times, yet still had to guess at what it meant?
  4. Have you ever stopped reading something you thought you were interested in because the writing was putting you to sleep?
  5. Do you have any writing pet peeves?

If you’re saying YES, YES, YES as you read these questions, you’ve got the point.

Do something about it

I’m a big fan of my own approach: Writing Repair. I know it works. Clients send me text they don’t like and get back effective writing that says what they want to say – but better. The original may be awful and need a complete overhaul. Or it may be close – almost there – just needs a little something… What I do is more than editing or correction of obvious mistakes; it’s the application of creative polish that brings about the transformation. As one client said when he compared the original and revised versions of his copy, “It’s magic!” (That was a bit dramatic, but it was fun to hear.) Whether you come to me or use somebody else, the goal is to eliminate bad writing in your business. If you get the right kind of help, it’s a lot easier than you think.

If you’re thinking that Writing Repair is just what your company needs, you can contact me at rose@jlrco.com. Be sure to mention “Writing Repair” in the subject line. And visit my website at www.jlrco.com.

More information

Here are a few articles that may be of interest.

Bad Writing – An Obstacle to Achieving Your Purpose

Some business owners don’t recognize – or care to acknowledge – how their employees’ writing influences the success of the business. One of my reasons for starting this blog was to open some eyes. So let’s look at the reasons why bad writing is such an obstacle to achieving business goals, and how I help to conquer it.

High standards of grammar, spelling, and punctuation should be expected in the workplace; but these mean nothing if the content itself doesn’t express the writer’s ideas accurately. Every piece of writing has a job to do. Whether the intention is to convince, argue, inform, or document, there’s a business purpose to be achieved.

I’ve had people say to me that perfection in writing is not important enough to spend time (and money) on. As long as the reader gets the drift, that’s good enough for them. That kind of thinking is dead wrong, and here’s why: errors in writing are not benign things that readers gloss over and ignore. Errors do damage!

Let’s separate the concept of “errors” into two parts:

  1. Grammatical, spelling, and punctuation mistakes;
  2. Flawed or confusing expression.

Errors of the first kind will damage your company’s image and credibility. Errors of the second kind will result in failure to effectively convey thoughts or information, and worse, can create serious misunderstandings. Misunderstandings in business often lead to loss of sales, damaged relationships, and even lawsuits – all with the potential to waste time and money.

I always tell clients that even small mistakes draw the reader’s attention away from the subject matter and focus it on the errors themselves. Even if they are not severe enough to cause a misunderstanding about what is being said (and all too often, they are), errors still obscure the message and detract from the company’s image. This is especially unfortunate when a company is proclaiming the superior quality of its products and/or services. The incongruity is obvious.

Don’t presume that good writing is important only in formal letters and documents. E-mails deserve the same care. However, these are often written in shorthand, and are rarely edited before they go out. When employees have substandard writing skills, and if they believe that mistakes “don’t count” in e-mails, these communications can pose an internal (and possibly external) risk to the company if they are not checked first.

As I have mentioned in earlier posts, I am not a teacher. My purpose is not to turn people into good writers; my purpose is to make their writing good. Some people, no matter how intelligent they are, no matter how compelling or sophisticated their ideas may be, no matter how earnestly they believe in what they are saying, are simply not able to get all those qualities down on the page. Often they are using English as a second language, and are just not facile enough with phrasing and vocabulary to do their own ideas justice on paper.

Sometimes, for native English speakers, their early schooling didn’t demand adherence to high standards, and concentrated instead on ideals like “self expression” (without any regard to the content) or “self-esteem” (without any regard to achievement). I have my own issues with that kind of educational focus, which I believe leaves many bright students without the necessary tools and discipline, but that is a subject for another post (and probably not suitable for this blog).

Whatever the reasons, poor writing will hamper a business in achieving its goals. So it’s to the company’s advantage to help employees do a better job. Some try writing workshops, but I don’t think they make enough difference. Workshops can provide useful tips for improvement, and that is certainly good. But language habits are deeply ingrained, and a function of how we think. Past a certain point, for many people it’s probably too late.

So what to do about good workers who have much to offer a company, but just need some assistance with writing? My answer, and one function of my business is to provide them with a resource to: (1) check their drafts; (2) talk through their written expression of ideas to make sure the reader will really understand not only the basic intent, but also the fine points; and (3) catch their mistakes. This kind of support solves the problem right away. It lets employees get as much help as they need, and it protects the company from the kind of damage and waste that writing errors can cause.

The thing to remember is, bad writing leads to bad results. Good writing… I’ll be taking that up in my next post.

*****

Could your business use my services?

Visit my website at www.jlrco.com or e-mail me at rose@jlrco.com.

Get Results by Following the Five C’s of Writing

When you’re buying diamonds, you need to know the Four C’s (color, cut, clarity, and carat). That little trick tells you what to look for, or at least what to ask about. Diamonds aren’t the only things that can be discussed in terms of C’s. Writing has some C’s of its own.

Maybe you’re a business person trying to get a reader to buy your product, agree to your terms, or meet your deadline. Maybe you’re with a charity, non-profit, or political group that seeks contributions or involvement in a cause. In any case, when you need results, your job is to convince your reader to take action.

To make that easier, I suggest following the Five C’s of writing. I hope they help you create business letters that are worth their weight in diamonds.

Case: When your purpose is to sell products, services, or ideas, you need to build a case. Line up a strong set of arguments – your selling points – to convince the reader that what you’re saying has merit. Give him good reasons to buy what you’re offering or agree to what you’re asking. You’re trying to create desire, need, or consensus. No matter what you want the reader to do, you have to address the thought “Why should I?” The better you know the answers, the better you can express them. So think carefully about the points that support your goal, and use them to build your case.

Choose: Be selective about what you write. You don’t need to include everything you can think of. If you’ve got many selling points, select the best ones. Overkill works against you. Choose your strongest, most convincing arguments, and present them effectively.

Clear: Your message should be completely clear. Usually the simplest way to say something is the best, so go for the straight- forward approach. Misunderstanding and misinterpretation are your enemies. It’s to your advantage when the reader knows exactly what you’re asking for.

Compel: This one may be the most difficult. People are busy, or lazy, or they just don’t care about the same things you care about. When you want your reader to take action, you’ve got to compel him. Give him a reason to write the check or head for the store. Push him out of his inertia. If you can’t think of a compelling reason, you’re not ready to write the letter. A deadline may work (limited time offer, on sale Wednesday only, penalty for late payment); so may a call to conscience (we need the roar of a thousand voices, if each of you sends just one dollar). Your reader has choices: the garbage pail, the “later” pile, or taking action. If you want results, it’s not enough that he agrees with you. You’ve got to give him a compelling reason to act.

Correct: Find and correct your mistakes. Mistakes are distracting and undermine your credibility. I talked about a few of the most common writing errors in my last post (Ten Common Writing Mistakes Your Spell Checker Won’t Find) and will feature more of them in future posts. Many mistakes occur simply through haste. If you write or type quickly, that’s great. But proofread slowly, and do it more than once.

Remember, you can influence the response by carefully controlling what goes on the page. Applying the Five C’s should increase your influence, and help you get the results you want.

*****

Does your company need my “writing repair” services? Contact me at rose@jlrco.com.

Three Important Ways Good Writing Affects Your Bottom Line

Good writing can do many things for a business. Here are three important ones:

1. Increase Sales: Customers are like air. You can’t stay alive without them. Unless you have more customers than your business can handle (not a good thing, by the way) you’re always on a quest for new ones. If your marketing strategy includes appealing to potential customers in writing, you may have just a few precious moments of attention in which to make your sale. Well written sales letters have a chance to persuade. The better they’re written, the more of a connection you make with the reader. That immediate gut response (“I like the way this sounds”) can be the difference between a person who buys your product, and one who throws your letter away.

2. Enhance the Image and Credibility of Your Business: Customer confidence is a key component of success. You want to be credible to your customers. While good writing doesn’t increase the reliability of your products or services, it shows that you care about communicating with people, and make the effort to do it well. It shows that quality matters to you. In my last post, I mentioned that the problem of bad writing is especially noticeable when it is in direct conflict with the promise of excellence. When letters and documents are thoughtfully written and well executed, they say several things about your company: (1) we strive toward excellence in all things; (2) we know what we’re talking about; (3) you can be confident in our abilities. If you can make that kind of an impression on the people you do business with, you’ve done your company a valuable service.

3. Add Clarity to Documents That Define Relationships and Agreements: Businesses produce many documents that define relationships and set the terms for agreements. Every contract, every proposal, every warranty, and every employee handbook, contains representations that form the basis for how parties deal with each other. They define the expectations under which people do business, and they are generally enforceable in court. What could be more important than making sure every term and condition is understood by all parties to mean the same thing? The construction of each sentence, the choice of vocabulary, and the punctuation all contribute to the clarity of such documents. When documents really say what they are meant to say, they have a better chance to do what they are intended to do. Sometimes, disputes happen despite the best preparation. If your documents are well written, you’re more likely to prevail when disagreements occur.

If you can’t honestly say that the writing done by your employees is good enough to achieve these objectives, then it’s time to consider doing something about it. It will be well worth the effort. Good writing affects your bottom line. Whether its job is to bring in new revenue, or prevent expensive problems, good writing can help put (or keep) the money in your pocket.

*****

Could your business use my services?

Visit my website at www.jlrco.com or e-mail me at rose@jlrco.com.

Good Writing – It Makes A Difference

How much does the quality of the writing on your website really matter? Let’s take a look at some before and after samples. The before samples are portions of text taken from actual websites. (I’m guessing the companies would rather remain anonymous.) The after samples show the benefit of a little “writing repair.”

I’ll start with one of my favorite examples. The company is a website design firm that offers content writing and technical services to international clients. They’re selling good writing!

Before

For the purpose of retaining in the international markets, it becomes important for the organizations to have a creative and optimized website. This is being accomplished by hiring experts who can write the contents for their websites that can be used globally with the contents being optimized as per the local needs.

This helps the companies to reduce the coordination effort in addition to ensuring that quality is maintained. Since, content/technical writing is something very important, hence it involves a lot of effort also.

After

In order to succeed in international markets, organizations must have creative and optimized websites. This can be accomplished by hiring experts who can write website content that will be effective globally, and is customized to have the greatest impact on local targets.

Our service helps companies save time and effort, while ensuring that the end result is of the highest quality. Because content/technical writing is very important, sufficient resources must be dedicated to the task, and it must be done by people who have the requisite talent and experience.

If you want to increase business, which sample do you choose?

Let’s look at another one, from a manufacturer of food packaging:

Before

In addition, under the strong faith of “Even a single dirty is not permitted” we have continuously performed “zero defect movement”…

After

In addition, under the strong belief that “even a single germ is not permitted” we have continuously achieved a standard of “zero defects.”

This next one is part of a welcome message:

Before

Producing the first-class brands and satisfying our customers are made only possible by people. If our employees are not capable to make such products or if they have no will to do so, not only such goal cannot be achieved at all, but also there can be no room for promise, growth and development.

After

Achievement of our primary goals – producing first-class products and satisfying our customers – is only made possible by our employees. If our people are not capable of making fine products, or if they haven’t the will to do so, then not only will we fall short of our goals, but there will be no hope of growth and development.

If you think the kind of writing I’m showing you only occurs on websites of foreign companies, take a look at these samples from the site of an internet services company right here in California:

Before

Instead of creating a cool looking web site (what is nice to show your friends) we will create a functional web site to achieve the company’s goals and satisfies the visitors.

After

Instead of creating a cool looking web site (that will impress your friends) we will create a functional web site that achieves the company’s goals and satisfies your visitors.

Here’s more from the same site. In this section, the company is offering tips for selling on Ebay:

Before

You can sell you products as an auction, a “Buy it Now” or sell it in your Ebay store.
Can I make a lot of many selling on Ebay?
There is still a lot of potential, however there is significant more competion entering this market daily.

After

You can sell your products by auction, “Buy it Now,” or sell them in your Ebay store.
Can I make a lot of money selling on Ebay?
There is still potential, although many competitors enter this market daily.

What’s your reaction? When you read the before samples, is your attention diverted by obvious errors? Does your brain disengage when it’s too much work to understand what the writer is saying? Does the promise of excellence fall flat when the company hasn’t taken the trouble to make sure its own website content is correctly written? More importantly, when you read the after samples, are you better able to focus entirely on the message?

If you want to inspire confidence and attract customers, you need to be sure that the writing on your website is compelling and effective. It can’t be either of those things if it’s not also correct.

For more information about “writing repair” for websites, brochures, and regular business correspondence, go to my website, or contact me at rose@jlrco.com.

“Writing Repair” – Because Bad Writing Costs You Money

writing-erasing_edited-double.JPGI’m going to tell you about my “Writing Repair Service” in a moment. But first, a little history:

In 1976 I began working as a secretary for a large Japanese trading firm. Quickly, and quite unin- tentionally, I became more than just a secretary.

All of the department managers were from the Tokyo home office, assigned to work in the U.S. for several years before moving on to other locations. There were sales people from Japan and other countries, including China, Korea, and the Philippines. A few of the support people originally came from Latin America or Asia. Most were American born and educated. In short, I was in the midst of a mini-United Nations.

While the bulk of the communication between our office and Japan was conducted in Japanese, correspondence with our customers and local suppliers was in English. The foreign employees had varying degrees of English proficiency, but most were rather fluent and it was easy for them to read and speak the language. Writing it was a different story. They could get something down on paper, but not something that was ready for customers or suppliers to see. This came as no surprise.

What did surprise me was that many of the American employees had serious writing deficiencies as well.

Word quickly got around the office that I was a good writer, easy to work with, and willing to help. My co-workers started coming to me whenever they had to write something important. Manage- ment saw this collaboration as a good thing, and encouraged us. Because of my help:

  • distracting grammatical errors were eliminated, allowing the reader to focus on the intended message;
  • employees were no longer sending out poorly written letters that challenged the reader to figure out what was being said;
  • the company image was no longer undermined by correspondence that was in direct conflict with our promise to provide the highest quality products and services;
  • poorly expressed ideas, capable of causing damaging misunderstandings, were identified and corrected before they could cause conflicts – or worse, lawsuits;
  • writing took fewer hours out of the workday, because it was no longer a struggle;
  • employees became more confident about their ability to do a good job, because they were supported in their efforts to communicate their best ideas to full advantage.

People started calling me “The Living Dictionary” and “English- to-English Translator.”

I was promoted several times and eventually became a project manager for sales of special-engineered machinery for waterworks projects. All the while, I was moonlighting, in plain sight, as a “writing fixer-upper.” Virtually every reference letter and evaluation I received in my career cited my writing ability as a significant factor in the smooth completion of our projects, and my willingness to assist others as an important contribution to the company’s overall success.

But circumstances are never static, and life takes unexpected turns. In 2004, I decided it was time for me to go on to something else. I took some time to adjust to the changes in my life, and then decided to go into business for myself.

* * * * *

My years of experience have taught me that every company has some employees who need a “writing repair service.” When companies acknowledge the problem, and decide to do something about it, I can save them lots of time, trouble, and money.

Here’s what I do:

  • I correct obvious mistakes;
  • I identify and clarify passages that could be misunderstood;
  • I organize the information so that it flows logically from one idea to the next; and
  • I make the entire piece effective enough to achieve the desired result.

I can work from completed drafts; I can help during the formulation process; or, if someone has an idea but just doesn’t know how to get it down on paper, I can do the writing from scratch.

I’m not a teacher. I don’t do training sessions, seminars, or writing workshops. I think the impact of these is very limited. My personal opinion is that past a certain point, it’s just too late. My goal is not to turn people into good writers; my goal is to make their writing good.

I work directly with individual employees, perfecting their actual business correspondence and documents. People are usually aware of their own limitations, and welcome my support. Some companies see the value in this approach right away. Some need more convincing.

* * * * *

I am offering a new and different way of dealing with the problem of bad writing. Most companies have never considered using an outside party as a continuing resource for employees who need help with writing. But I believe it is the best way to get immediate and significant improvement. I am offering them a cost-effective solution that can eliminate the problem from the very first day.

Many executives I have spoken with acknowledge that the problem exists, but believe they already have an adequate way of dealing with it. Perhaps employees who are better writers are asked to assist those who need help. Perhaps supervisors make corrections before written work goes out. But these measures are hit or miss.

My way is better – here’s why. If I am available as a resource:

  • The problem is handled on a consistent, company-wide basis.
  • Employees who are good writers can focus on their own work.
  • Supervisors and managers can address their attention to the strategy or completeness of a piece, and not on the writing itself.
  • Pieces that have solid thinking behind them can be ready to go on the first shot, reducing the need for rewrites.
  • People, knowing that the company has provided a dedicated consultant to support their writing, are much more likely to ask for input. This is especially important for employees who aren’t expected to check their work with higher management.

Some executives don’t think writing matters. They don’t see that poor writing can ruin the company image, damage relationships with customers and suppliers, and cause disputes or lawsuits. They just don’t get it.

Want an example? I wrote to the president of a large foreign- owned company, and here’s what I got back:

WE HAVE NO NECCESITY AT THIS MONMENT,PLEASE CONTACT OTHERS.

This is not a joke. Can you imagine how frustrating it was to receive that?

* * * * *

I know some of you reading this are business owners who have faced the kinds of challenges I describe. I’d love to have your comments and hear about your experiences. Even better, if you are thinking, “I could really use her services at my company,” then I especially want to hear from you.

This blog is a place to talk about my business and about issues related to writing itself.

I have much to say. You are welcome to join me in the discussion.

Judy Rose

Could your business use my services?

Visit my website at www.jlrco.com or e-mail me at rose@jlrco.com.

______________________________________

Key Concepts: business writing, writing, writing repair, employee communication, writing skills, education, basic skills, international, small business, marketing, clients, getting clients, consultant, grammar, spelling, text, organization of text, formulation of text, assisting management, writing mistakes, writing errors, employee support services, language, English, English writing, communication, effective communication, sales, sales pitch, customer relations, customer communication, lawsuits, disputes, conflicts, time-saving.

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