Friday, January 20, 2006


That's the subject heading of an e-mail my husband received a few days ago. At first, because it had an attachment, was from an unknown source, and was so poorly constructed, he nearly deleted it as spam. (You know those e-mails telling you that you've just won the Zimbabwean lottery? Literature compared to this.) But he's the webmaster for a few small sites for friends, and the text of the e-mail made him pause before hitting the "delete" button.

I won't print the original e-mail text here. I thought about doing it, but don't want to be cruel. The point I'm trying to make is a plea for professionalism. I don't want to do it at the expense of a friend's business partner.

Ah, but I want to make my point. So let's assume that my friend is an ice skater named Jane Smith, and this came from a new sponsor. The text of the e-mail ran something like this (with punctuation, spelling, spacing, and presentation preserved):

Goodevening,I am the sponsor company for jane.I am putting a link to jane's sie from ours which is being redone little by little.( highlights from Her Recent competition (jane's highlights is at all affiliate cable television networks as of today.Here is a logo of ours.She will be getting a pretty good bit of press shortly from cool entertainment).If you need any thing,just let me know. NAME OF PERSON WE'VE NEVER HEARD OF.

With great trepidation, I went to the website mentioned. A great deal of time and attention had been spent on graphics. Not so much love had been bestowed on the text.

My friend defended the website and the business partner. "He doesn't have a lot of money to work with right now." "He's a little bit dyslexic." "He's doing the website himself and doing the best he can."

To which I say, "No he is not."

I'm sorry. If you have a computer, chances are you have a spell checker. Use it. Use it before sending out any communication to people with whom you hope to build business relationships. Use it on any text you intend to post on your website. Spell check is free. So is the dictionary at your library.

If you are dyslexic -- fine. I've taught several people with severe dyslexia. Dyslexia doesn't mean unprofessional. If words are not your thing, run what you've written past someone who has an easier time with the printed language. Or skip the text entirely and record or video what you have to say and post that.

If you are doing something that is new, that is not your area of expertise, and that is outside your comfort zone -- first of all, congratulations! You will make mistakes. That is to be expected. The important thing is that you learn from them and fix them as quickly as possible. Compress the learning curve. Do not flaunt your ignorance to those that you hope will someday send you money or pay your bills.

I feel very strongly about this. It's one of the reasons that, when I teach at writer's workshops or conferences, I stress professionalism in all areas of the writer's craft.

Of course no one is perfect. I realize that. But sloppiness and laziness are not the only other alternatives to perfection. I later learned that the e-mail originator had someone offer to edit his on-site text for free. He didn't think it was necessary...

A high standard of excellence quickly demonstrates to those who don't know you that you are competent, dependable, and trustworthy. Besides -- if you allow a plethora of errors to plague an e-mail or a website, how will your prospective customers ever be able to see past the dross in order to get the "ifo" they need?