Shirley's Articles / Business Writing

3 Small Writing Mistakes That Ruin Your First Impression

Let’s face it – everyone makes mistakes, and no one is perfect. However, very often email is your first point of contact with new clients or colleagues, so doesn’t it make sense that we should make an effort to make it a great first impression? Misplaced commas or apostrophes can confuse your reader, and so can long rambling sentences.

“Oh come on, Shirley, is our punctuation that important? Surely we can still get the message across despite a couple of commas being in the wrong place?”

This is a question I’m often asked. Well let me ask you: do you set high standards for yourself in terms of your appearance? Do you expect high standards from your staff in your company, especially when greeting and meeting clients? Well surely setting high standards also covers the way we present ourselves in writing too? If not, well I believe it should be.

How Can Poor Writing Affect Your First Impression?

Imagine a client is contacting you for the first time. They enquire about your services and rates, plus more details about your company. You reply with an email that is sloppy and poorly punctuated. Your potential client is confused by your response, and he has a hard time understanding what some of your sentences really mean and how you can help him.

The potential client replies that he will keep looking, and suggests you work on your business writing. Ouch! You’ve lost a potential client all because you didn’t think it was important to learn more about presenting yourself well through effective business writing and good communication skills.

This is not too far-fetched either. It could happen, and it could happen to you!

Let’s look at three small, but very significant, writing mistakes that could ruin the first impressions you make, and damage your reputation.

1. Poor Sentence Structure

Forming complete thoughts in your writing is the foundation to sending effective messages. Let’s go back to basics here:

a sentence = a complete thought = a subject and a verb

Your complete thought, or sentence, should always end with a full stop. If you wish to join two closely related sentences, you need to use a comma with the word ‘and’, ‘but’, ‘so’, ‘as’ or ‘yet’.


Mark went to the meeting, he genuinely enjoyed it.
Mark went to the meeting, and he genuinely enjoyed it.

Jill didn’t go to the meeting, she was incredibly ill.
Jill didn’t go to the meeting, as she was incredibly ill.

Linda was excited about the meeting, she failed to arrive on time.
Linda was excited about the meeting, but she failed to arrive on time.

Daniel was the meeting chair, he had a big responsibility.
Daniel was the meeting chair, so he had a big responsibility.

Tip: I strongly recommend that you read everything out loud before you hit ‘send’. Say it as though you are speaking to your reader. Once you are able to hear the intonation of your message, it should be clear where you have put punctuation in the right, or wrong, place!

2. Misplaced Or Missing Commas

If you put a comma in the wrong place, your reader could pause and put emphasis on the wrong part of the sentence. Not only will this be confusing , but it is more likely to create misunderstanding. Readers may just toss your message in the bin if they have to spend too long trying to figure out exactly what you mean. Or more likely the reader will have to respond asking you questions to clarify, and this will result in what I call ’email ping-pong’, where there is a long series of back and forth emails because you didn’t get the message right first time.

Here are a few ways you can use a comma:

a. Between two separate adjectives. For example:

She has a bubbly, outgoing personality.

I don’t enjoy the cold, damp, wet weather in England in winter.

b. To separate words or phrases in a list. For example:

The girl was wearing a black, white and red dress.

The new employee needs a stapler, ruler, pencils and pens.

c. To add extra information into a sentence. For example:

Jason, my assistant, took valuable notes at the meeting.

The new manager, a young lady in her 30s, seems very approachable.

This lovely gift, a basket of fruit and flowers, arrived at my house this morning.

Tip: Help your reader to focus on your message instead of your poor sentence construction. As you read out your sentences, remember that a comma is a short pause, and a full stop is a long pause. This should help you get your punctuation in the right place.

3. Misplaced Apostrophes

One of the most common errors I see is with the word it’s. Let’s get this right once and for all.

It’s = It is or It has

It’s cannot mean anything else except it is or it has. Let’s look at some examples:


  • It’s been a great day today. (It has been)
  • It’s a shame we can’t have a long weekend every week. (It is)


  • The dog was chasing it’s tail. (we never use an apostrophe with its when it is a possessive)
  • The company celebrated it’s 10th anniversary. (again this possessive should be its)

Tip: When reading out sentences, ask yourself if your “it’s” could be changed to it is. If the answer is no, then it remove the apostrophe – it should be its.

How Can You Learn More About Good Business Writing?

I cover more common mistakes and how to easily remember the correct uses of grammar in my new interactive, video-based virtual training programme ‘Business Writing That Works’. Plus, you can learn so much more about all aspects of email and business writing skills. I can teach you and your whole team how to write more effectively so you can build deeper relationships for better business and great results. Find out more at

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Shirley is an international bestselling author. She has established herself as a leading authority in email and business writing skills. Her international bestseller Model Business Letters, Emails & Other Business Documents 7th edition sold over half a million copies worldwide and has been translated into 17 languages. Her book Email Essentials reached #2 in the USA for publishers Marshall Cavendish International. Find out more about Shirley at

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