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Queensland Department of Health – its’* writing needs a check-up!

We can all learn from this writing example I saw just moments ago from the Queensland Department of Health.

I’ll get straight to the point on the lessons we can all learn.

1. Remember it’s its not it’s or its’ when writing the possessive form of its
2. Check your writing before you publish
3. Use hyphens to keep words together for easy reading

lack of faith

I found the lack of checking disturbing. And yes the mistake (*) in the title of this post is deliberate 🙂 I wonder how many people noticed and were disturbed by the error!

O.K. – to the example that inspired this post.

1. Remember it’s its not it’s or its’ when writing the possessive form of its

The very first two sentences in the Department of Health writing went like this:

The Department of Health is a values led organisation with a clear mandate to deliver exceptional healthcare to all Queenslanders. With a customer first approach and a commitment to empowering its’ people to enable better ways of working,

As you can see, its’ is wrong. This is a very basic mistake that (in my opinion) reflects poor writing and a lack of attention to detail and checking. I understand that writers in many organisations these day are so busy – yet it’s easy to check for basic mistakes slipping through. You just need a commitment to quality and a process where you check. Plus, you need writers to be aware of how to avoid the most common writing mistakes.

A US study found that the most common business writing mistake is putting an apostrophe in its because writers think that it must have an apostrophe because it’s possessive. In word nerd speak: possessive pronouns do NOT have apostrophes.

This mistake should have been easy to pick up and correct. Which illustrates point 2.

2. Check your writing before you publish

In the past I’ve been guilty of rushing to publish without proper checking. I better take my own advice and check this post before I publish.

And finally point 3.

3. Use hyphens to keep words together for easy reading

The modern trend to improve readability is to use hyphens to keep together words that need to be read together to make sense quickly. For example, in the Department of Health writing, I recommend using the hyphen to keep together values-led and customer-first.

The Department of Health is a values-led organisation with a clear mandate to deliver exceptional healthcare to all Queenslanders. With a customer-first approach

In word nerd speak the combined word expressions like customer-first and values-led are known as compound modifiers. The words combine to modify the word that follows.

Other examples of compound modifiers (with more than two words) include:

day-to-day duties
on-the-job experience.

While it’s not technically wrong to have the words expressed separately – the modern practice is to use hyphens.

I often help senior people improve their writing – senior in organisational status, not just senior in years. In many cases, these people were educated before it became popular to use hyphens to keep words together.

Many modern organisations create style guides that encourage writers to use hyphens to keep words together for ease of reading – especially when writing is read off a screen rather than off paper.

Anyway, I’ve calmed down now after reading the Department of Health writing. Maybe I’m just “anal” when it comes to writing. Basic mistakes like its’ annoy me. I know from experience that many other business people form negative opinions when they read writing with mistakes.

I just hope that this example helps you to remember:

1. to check your writing before you publish
2. to use hyphen to keep words together for easy reading (recommended – not essential)

and the main point…

It’s its not its’!

———–
TB CRE
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I blog about fun pop culture stuff as well as more serious business communication tips.

I’ve disciplined my self to check ALL my different communication platforms twice a day – as part of my Check-in Ritual.

Twitter

https://twitter.com/tonybiancotti

Yes, I can be an “anal” word nerd – but many organisation harness the force of my pedantic nerdiness to help then produce business writing that at least tries to reduce credibility-eroding mistakes.

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