Sure, good writing is essential for writers.
What about everyone else? It can’t be that necessary, right?
The answer is yes, it is. Writing, and writing well, is a critical skill for anyone — especially those in business.
The true cost of bad writing is lost profit, pure and simple. Not only has poor writing already cost companies a devastating amount, at a rate of $400 billion per year, but it could also impact your business.
At least, unless you get smart.
To attack the problem, first you need to understand the underlying issue. What is “bad writing,” and how can it be digging so deep into business’ pockets? Let’s take a closer look.
The Cost of Bad Writing: First, What Is Bad Writing?
There’s more to writing than spelling and grammar. That’s only the first step. Making sure what you write is not only technically correct but readable can make or break you. A good writer needs to be:
- Grammatically correct
- Clear and concise
- Expressive and entertaining
- To the point
- Attentive to detail
As a business owner, you need to be picky about your writers. Not everyone has the necessary creativity and attention to detail. Sure, this means you’ll likely pay more upfront. The amount you save in the end, however, is well worth it.Good writing is essential for writers. ✅ But what about everyone else? It can't be that necessary, right? The answer is YES, it can. Bad writing costs businesses billions of dollars every year. 😱 More from @JuliaEMcCoy ✏ Click To Tweet
At Express Writers, we follow that rule. Did you know out of an average of 500 applicants a month, we only select five? That’s 1%. Phew.
But, we do it because we need to. Our standards are hella high — we live or die by the quality of our writing. One bad writer, one botched job, and a $30K monthly account could walk out the door.
We also do it because it’s not hard to run into bad writing — throw a stone, and you’ll hit it.
Bad Writing (& the Costs Businesses Pay) Is Everywhere
You’ve seen it, I’ve seen it, we’ve all seen it. Terrible writing runs rampant in the business world, from grammatical error-ridden emails to poorly worded announcements, to exhausting blog posts. Reading this type of writing doesn’t just make us tired.
It also takes time to read bad writing. It eats up our hours on the clock and saps our energy for the rest of the workday.
You know the saying — time equals money. It’s true that poor writing skills in the business world equate to a great deal of money flying out the window.
Bad Writing Costs Businesses Billions
Were you shocked by the above number? Yes, companies are losing billions per year. Up to millions per company has been lost, as well. All of it is due to bad writing.
How could this happen? At first, 400 billion lost per year sounds unrealistic. However, when you look at the history, you’ll see how simple mistakes can have devastating results.
Common Examples of Poor Writing and the Consequences
It’s incredible how one seemingly minor error can cost a company a fortune. Here, I’ve compiled a list of three prevalent examples of bad business writing and its repercussions.
1. Understating Problems and Overusing Euphemisms
A pitfall that many companies and politicians have run into is not being transparent. The refusal to admit not just the truth but the whole truth in an understandable way will always result in a downfall.
Today’s audience is both discerning and able to check facts at their fingertips. It’s easy to find out what the truth is, and someone will eventually. So, don’t lie, and don’t understate the facts.
General Motors ran into disaster when they downplayed malfunctioning vehicles. This was a mistake that not only lost over a billion dollars, but also put lives in danger.
When the company had an issue with the Chevrolet Cobalt’s ignition switch in 2014, which caused the airbags to disable, General Motors wasn’t too concerned. At least, that’s what it sounded like.
In internal communications, they called the malfunctioning vehicles a “customer convenience issue.” This understatement of the severity of the situation caused a delayed response — after all, they had other, more important things to do.
In this case, bad wording cost General Motors over $1.7 billion in total as the company had to recall a total of 2.6 million cars.
2. Spelling, Grammar, and Punctuation Errors
While this is an example that seems obvious, this problem is more recurrent than you think. Attention to detail is critical, down to every last dotted “i” and crossed “t.”
Quite literally, a single missing comma can create disaster.
You may have thought the oxford comma was no longer important. Such a small detail, and a seemingly silly one at that — how could it make such a difference? Oakhurst Dairy found out the hard way.
In 2017, the company had redefined its delivery driver overtime exemptions. The new rules stated a series of tasks were exempt from overtime, including “packing for shipping or distribution.”
Oakhurst Dairy’s workers took them to court and focused on one tiny but essential detail: the oxford comma. The lack of the oxford comma, workers argued, made it seem like the two were one action (i.e., packing for the purpose of shipping or distribution) versus being separate exempt tasks.
The court ruled in favor of the workers, and Oakhurst Dairy paid out $5 million in related overtime as a result.
3. Sloppy Editing and Inattention to Detail
Another extremely common trouble in the writing world is careless editing. It isn’t just bad form. It’s a way to lose out on everything you’ve gained.
In 1999, the NASA Mars Orbiter disintegrated into the atmosphere after having missed its orbit window. Scientists at NASA were confused. How could their calculations have been so incorrect on such a crucial mission?
It turns out an obvious error ruined the NASA Mars Orbiter’s flight. Lockheed-Martin, who made the rocket system used by NASA, used imperial units of measurement. On the other hand, NASA uses the metric system. You can probably see where this is going.
No one converted the measurements when entering the data, something a quick glance at the numbers would have caught. This mistake eventually lost NASA $125 million after the mission failed.
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How to Become an Exceptional Writer
By now, it’s clear. If you want to succeed in the business world, you need strong writing skills. Or, at the least, a team of excellent writers to rely on who will propel you forward.
But in a world where mediocre has become the norm, how do you elevate your writing to the next level? The answer takes a bit of patience and a lot of dedication.
You must make your writing easy on the eyes, as well as factual and engaging. People have brains burning for new information, but no one wants to work too hard to get it.
We’ve given tips and tricks on how to produce solid copywriting before. Here’s my best advice:
- Look from your reader’s perspective: First, you need to connect with your reader. Don’t just write to write. Write to be read. If you’re churning out content and no one’s reading it, what’s the point? Remember, you’re not writing for yourself. This isn’t a diary. Imagine how your words will come across to your audience and what emotions you want to evoke. Are you successfully tailoring your writing to the reader? It’s time to pay attention to the other side’s perspective.
- Be vivid: Don’t just tell your reader what to think. Instead, describe a scenario. Go into sensory details, such as touch, smell, taste, sight, and sound. Vivid imagery pulls the reader into your writing, making them read until the end. Content these days can’t just be informative. It needs to be absolutely engaging.
- Read it out loud: Sounds silly. Doesn’t it? However, this is a trick professional writers have been using for many years. You want your writing to sound natural. When reading your writing out loud, the words should flow, one sentence into another. If speaking it aloud sounds awkward or stilted, it may be time for another edit.
- Edit, edit, edit: I cannot repeat this enough: You must edit your work. After you’ve finished, take a break. Maybe drink some coffee. And then? Edit again. Simple spelling and grammatical errors can not only make you look unprofessional, but can also cost you considerably. If you’re not quite sure you’ve caught everything, get a second pair of eyes.
Need more copywriting inspiration? Check out 57 Timeless Pieces of Copywriting Advice from industry greats.
The Cost of Bad Writing Is Severe: Don’t Let It Happen to Your Business
It may seem inconsequential. It may seem ridiculous. However, bad writing, especially in business, comes at a severe price.
Not only is there a lot of money at stake, and billions of dollars at that, but the time and mental energy spent trying to discern poorly-written communication takes its toll as well.
Fear not. It is possible to use not just good but exceptional writing to take your company to the next level. It requires some elbow grease and a bit of time, but in the end, the result is well worth it.
At Express Writers, we have a careful QA process that ensures every single piece gets humanly reviewed for factual accuracy, high-quality sources and citations, and relevancy to your business and goals.
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