If you go out to lunch with a prospective employer and you tend to drool when you eat, you can forget about that job.

First impressions still matter, whether they involve your eating or your writing. People do not need to know exactly what the issue is, whether it involves grammar, punctuation, or syntax; they only need to know that it isn’t right, or it looks and sounds awkward.

We are more casual as a culture and more tolerant — to a point. Readers, particularly executives, are less forgiving of mistakes that simply shouldn’t be there. They often result from carelessness because the writer is in a hurry or laziness because the writer doesn’t bother to look something up or ask a colleague. The frequently heard response “Well, the reader can figure it out” is not the issue. You can say to someone who asks a favor “I ain’t got no time” and they will figure out what you mean, but what kind of impression will you leave?

These first impressions also can affect whether a reader stays with you on a web page or even in your emails. As corporate communications consultant Bob Holland explains in one of his articles, if your headlines or subheads are boring or vague people will leave. Readers see headlines and subheads quickly and if those don’t draw them in, they won’t bother to dig into the text. It’s on to another click.

Ken O’Quinn is a professional writing coach and former Associated Press writer who conducts corporate workshops on business writing, persuasive writing, and corporate communications writing. He is the author of Perfect Phrases for Business Letters (McGraw-Hill), which is available here at Amazon.com.

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