I make it a priority to turn on my radio every Saturday morning to listen to “The Best of Car Talk” with hosts Ray and Tom Magliozzi. This week’s episode #1605 highlighted a few rib-tickling tidbits featuring misplaced modifiers and grammatical errors that reminded me of an important etiquette point.
At the very start of the show, Ray began reading a series of advertising signs for various businesses.
One for a gasoline station read: “We will sell gasoline to anyone in a glass container.”
Or for a dry cleaning business: “38 years on the same spot.”
Or in the offices of a loan company: “Ask about our plans for owning your home.”
Or for a Maine shop: “Our motto is to give our customers the lowest possible prices and workmanship.”
Funny, very funny. But underlying the humor of these signs is a piece of advice that runs through our communications etiquette advice: Proofread.
Proofreading encompasses more than just spelling a word correctly:
Scan for misplaced modifiers. Whoever crafted the sign for the gasoline station somehow implied that a person would be in the glass container, not the gasoline. The corrected sign would read: “We will sell gasoline in a glass container to anyone.”
Beware of word choice. The people who wrote the examples above would have benefitted from this advice. I don’t think the finance company really meant to imply they would own your home. Instead their sign should have read: “Ask about our plans for financing your home.” And the dry cleaner didn’t mean to imply that it took 38 years to clean one spot “Location” would have been a better choice than “spot.”
Most important of all: Be patient. Curb the urge to hit the send button right away. Instead, use the draft mode or use the send later button. Then revisit your message five or ten minutes later. Don’t depend on a spell or grammar checker to catch all the errors, but do pay attention to each item that is flagged.
There are two other ways you can catch mistakes you may not see when you read what you have written. Read your message out loud. You can often hear problems with your writing that you might not identify when reading it silently. Better yet, ask someone else to read your message. They’ll pick up on issues such as tone of voice as well as proofreading problems that you might miss. Remember, your writing, even in emails and texts, is an extension of you and helps create an image of you in the mind of the recipient.
If you have a business etiquette question, please email it to firstname.lastname@example.org. You can hear more Emily Post etiquette advice on the Awesome Etiquette podcast featuring Lizzie Post and Dan Post Senning. Listen and subscribe at infiniteguest.org.
Peter Post’s newest book, The Unwritten Rules of Golf, Morrow, is available at emilypost.com.
Since 2004, Peter Post has tackled etiquette issues in The Boston Sunday Globe’s weekly business etiquette advice column, Etiquette at Work. Post is the co-author of “The Etiquette Advantage in Business” and conducts business etiquette seminars across the country. In October 2003 his book “Essential Manners For Men” was released and quickly became a New York Times best seller. He is also the author of “Essential Manners for Couples,” “Playing Through–A Guide to the Unwritten Rules of Golf,” and co-author of “A Wedding Like No Other.” Post is Emily Post’s great-grandson. His media appearances include “CBS Sunday Morning,” CBS’s “The Early Show,” NBC’s “Today,” ABC’s “Good Morning America,” and “Fox News.” Follow Post: @PeterLPost.