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09 May 2012

So what is professional writing?

'Professional’ is a word people bandy about — probably because it sounds impressive. Yes, but what does it mean?

Where writing is concerned, we at Write hear ‘professional’ used often by writers trying to describe how they want their writing to come across. ‘Professional’ has become a catchall term for everything about a piece of writing ranging from vocabulary to tone to layout.

For our two cents’ worth, professionalism implies correctness — specifically, correctness of expression. And let’s throw in consistency as well, while we’re on the job.

Professionalism means correctness of expression

Sorry, but correctness of expression involves all those school days do’s and don’ts. Wrong spelling, misused or missed out punctuation, sentences that are badly constructed — these create a bad impression on the reader. They suggest lack of professionalism because they imply laziness and lack of attention to detail. Which in turn reflect on an organisation as a whole.

If you are a lazy or careless writer, have the grace to disguise that fact by giving your writing to someone who is painstaking and takes pride in getting things correct.

Professionalism means consistency of expression

Consistency means using the same element of language or punctuation in a similar manner throughout a document. Here are three examples.

  • If you use the word ‘report’ to refer to something, continue to use that same term (oops! I mean word) throughout.
  • Be consistent with the way you punctuate bullet-pointed lists (you may have a style guide that provides a standard).
  • If you use a capital letter for a word, for example Ministry, make sure you use the capital consistently.

We can’t all be experts

You may know you’re not blessed with the eye for detail that professionalism requires. So shoulder- tap someone in your organisation who is.

Hidden away in every organisation are members of a fast-dying race — proofreaders — to whom I will dedicate a future blog. Ask one of these rare beings to check your writing for correctness and consistency.

All the thanks they’ll want is the opportunity to explain to you why they’ve made changes — and you never know, you might learn something!

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