I was talking to a CEO recently who told me that executives who send her emails featuring spelling mistakes were one of her pet peeves.

The no-nonsense CEO is aged in her early 60s so she hails from an era when correct spelling and grammar were a given unlike today. She told me she is not above hauling an executive into her office for a “bollocking” for bad spelling. While I am not sure the word “bollocking” is used in the US, I have no doubt American readers will get the meaning. Amazing to think senior people a) don’t take the time to check their spelling and b) have to endure a dressing down from the boss from time to time like everyone else.

In the world of journalism you are taught that if you make a mistake such as misspelling a place name or –far worse – a person’s name then the reader will mistrust your entire article.

In creating day-to-day business correspondence, misspelling the name of a person, company, product, process or whatever could conjure up a number of thoughts about you and none of them would be good for your personal brand. I don’t want to sound too harsh but “sloppy”, “unprofessional”, “uneducated” and “careless” are just a few words that come to mind.

We all know the importance of proof reading when creating a CV or tweet, blog post or public comment (at least I hope we do) but the same standards need to be applied to everything you write.

Yes, many of us are working faster and more intensely than ever before without admin support even amongst quite senior people. Life seems a constant flurry of firing off emails and putting together briefs, memos and plans or filling out process documents and forms. However, you don’t want to distract people from what you are saying by the way you are saying it – or rather writing it.

Check your spelling and know too that using spell check and checking your spelling is not the same thing. Spell check is only a tool – it really doesn’t think for you or understand the nuances of the English language, geographic place names or the emergence of new words.

Also take care not to misuse words. No matter how fast you are going there really is no excuse for “your” when you mean “you’re” or “their” when it should be “there” or “its” when it should be “it’s”.

Basic facts can also suffer in our haste to get through work as quickly as required. I have received emails where the writer has included the incorrect year for when their own company took over a contract or was founded, described someone as a “Mr” when he was a “Dr” or a “Ms” when she was an “Associate Professor”, or that a conference was to take place in Boston when it was really taking place in Baltimore.

Using Google or Bing takes only a few seconds so there is no excuse for getting a company name wrong, using an incorrect honorific or fumbling an easy to check fact.

I often hear people say these little slips don’t matter. I disagree. Yes we all make mistakes but avoidable mistakes? It’s simply not a good look. Besides, why not earn the extra personal branding points? Too easy.


Kate Southam has been giving people advice on careers for 13 years. She has been the editor of a career website, author of a syndicated newspaper column and remains a regular blogger. She also continues to coach individuals as well as provide commentary on careers and workplace issues to TV, radio and magazines. Kate is also a communications consultant advising businesses. Follow Kate on Twitter @KateSoutham