The Business Writing Mistake That’s Making You Look Bad

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workspaceThere’s something you may be doing every day that’s making you look old and out of touch — and, you probably have no idea what it is.

It’s not your clothes, or your hairstyle, or the AOL email address (although, those might not be helping either!).

What you’re doing is more subtle than all that. Worst of all, it’ something that you learned was correct in school. How or why would you someone teach you the wrong way to do something? All I can say is this: The times have changed — possibly without you.

Now, before I get on a high horse, let me say that I learned this lesson the hard way. I want to keep you from learning it the hard way, too. It’s very possible nobody else will point it out to you. They’ll just talk about you when you’re not around or wonder to themselves about your intelligence.

This sounds like a big deal, doesn’t it?

How I Learned My Lesson

When I first launched my career-coaching practice, Copeland Coaching, I wrote an eBook called Breaking the Rules & Getting the Job. I used a recommended, fantastic editor who read over the 100 or so draft pages I wrote. She combed through every page in detail, with great care.

When she was finished, I asked for general feedback on my writing style. I had never used a professional editor before and was very interested in learning as much as I could. She said something I never expected to hear: “The one thing you really need to stop doing is using two spaces after your periods.”

Wait, what? Nothing about my writing style? Two periods instead of one? But the teachers in school drilled two periods into my head!

This must be a minor creative difference, I thought. I left the eBook with double spaces and never looked back.

forestAbout six months later, I had a meeting with the newspaper for which I write a column. I had been writing the column for a few months, and with professional writers and editors in the room, I took the opportunity to ask the same question: “Is there anything I could do to improve my writing style?”

One of the editors cringed. He said something along the lines of, “Your writing style is good, but there’s one thing that would be great if you could stop doing. You use two periods at the ends of your sentences. We always delete them.”

This stopped me in my tracks. My mind began to spin. How in the world was this really a thing? How was it a big deal? How is it a pet peeve of professional writers? Where did I go wrong?

From the best that I can gather, using two spaces after periods was taught for years in school. At some point in time, the standard changed, and one space became the norm. Unless you write for a living, you probably weren’t told about the change.

Simply put: If you’re using two spaces after periods, you are dating yourself. I suspect you’re like me and don’t even know this.

Any time I tell a client about this standard, they’re always surprised that A.) this is a thing and B.) anyone cares. They probably ignore my suggestions in this area just like I ignored my first editor.

This week, a friend posted on social media about this pet peeve with a link to a recent article on the website Slate. It inspired me to write this post.

Here’s how the article begins: “Can I let you in on a secret? Typing two spaces after a period is totally, completely, utterly, and inarguably wrong.” The author goes on to say, “What galls me about two-spacers is …”

What I’m getting at here is that the “one space or two” issue is a very controversial one. And we’re all being judged.

paperIf you’re out there applying for jobs, take my advice and switch to one space. Don’t overthink it. Just do it. After some practice, it will become more natural — and it will prevent you from being gossiped about by those who are more up on writing than the average person.

After all, they’re tying your knowledge of this fact (or lack thereof) to your intelligence.

By Angela Copeland