Editing common errors in business English writing

Insights from an editor: common errors in written English

By Charlotte Stiggear and Anna Sobell

In the modern, technology-fueled times in which we live, there are plenty of useful tools, apps and devices that we take for granted and use every day, in business and at home, all in the name of convenience and efficiency. But when is it time to stop, look around and check that these tools are definitely helping, not hindering? Let’s take predictive text and spell-check, for example – what are the advantages and disadvantages? One big disadvantage immediately comes to mind: blind reliance. We accept the changes made, and we don’t worry about the mistakes we make; therefore, not learning from them, both as native and non-native speakers. Of course, the big advantage in business is the time-saving nature of these tools; after all, we don’t all have the time to carry out rigorous proof-reading and editing processes for every email, report or proposal we write. However, if we’re aware of the types of mistakes we usually make, we’ll be better placed not to make them in future. So, this post will highlight some common errors in written English, allowing you to self-edit in a more informed and efficient manner.

US vs UK spellings

Despite sharing a language, there are a few linguistic areas in which the US and the UK disagree, one being the spelling of certain words. Noah Webster, often referred to as the ‘Father of American Scholarship and Education’, believed that the complexity with which English words are spelt was unnecessary and went about initiating a ‘spelling reformation’, arguing that words should be spelt more phonetically. Webster had some successes, as highlighted below. However, there were some changes that just didn’t stick, such as; ‘wimin’ (women), ‘tung’ (tongue) and ‘masheen’ (machine). Below is a list of the main spelling differences between UK and US English:

Our/or e.g. colour (UK) /color (US)
Is/iz e.g. organisation/organization
Yse/yze e.g. analyse/analyze
Mme/m e.g. programme/program
Ence/ense e.g. defence/defense
Re/er e.g. centre/center
Ogue/og e.g. catalogue/catalog


As a company operating in the UK, using the US variation of a word is definitely not the worst mistake to make. Unless specifically stated, using the US spelling will be accepted as they are easily recognisable. However, it is very important to be consistent throughout your writing, particularly in a business context i.e. you should not be switching between the two. This demonstrates a lack of continuity and can look unprofessional.

The apostrophe

Task: the next time you’re out and about in town, pay attention to all the signs, menus, posters and leaflets you see. Pay special attention to the use of the apostrophe, and you may find that this tiny punctuation point causes plenty of problems; both with the native English speaker and the non, sometimes even more so with the former! Why? I don’t know, perhaps people underestimate it’s importance because of its diminutive size.

Before we move on, look at the very last sentence above, can you find the deliberate mistake? If not, or if you’re feeling confused, take a look at this basic description of how to use the apostrophe in English.

Apostrophes in English serve two basic functions:

1. They show possession.

E.g. The Powerpoint presentation is Sarah’s. (Not Sarahs.)

2. They indicate that letters have been removed from the original words in the process of forming a contraction.

E.g. don’t – do not and it’s – it is etc.

3. They are not necessary for forming plural nouns.

E.g. We have many international clients. (Not client’s.)

4. They are not necessary for possessive pronouns.

E.g. Is the company yours? Not your’s.

The deliberate mistake above should now be clear, if it wasn’t already: (‘its importance’ as this is a possessive adjective, describing the ‘possession of the importance’). So, by understanding these rules, you’ll be able to better and more efficiently proofread, edit and indeed write reports, emails, proposals, tweets, job advertisements etc. Because after all, time is money.

Abbreviations, et cetera…

Many native and non-native speakers and writers of English often come a cropper with the construction of abbreviations and acronyms; thereby immediately cancelling out the time-saving benefit of the abbreviation or acronym itself! We have outlined some useful examples below:

Latin Forms

Correct construction Latin form Meaning Use
Etc. Et cetera And other things Used to signify similar things that are unmentioned on a list – milk, cheese, yoghurt, etc.
CV Curriculum Vitae Course of Life A document summarising a person’s education and experience.
e.g. Exempli gratia For example To give an example or instance of something – different cities, e.g. New York, Delhi, Beijing etc.
Et al. Et Alii And others Used to show that there are more names that are unmentioned on a list – Tom, Jane, Jack, et al.
i.e. Id est  In other words / That i Used in sentences to rephrase or show a connection between clauses – Jack, i.e. the most popular associate, has been promoted.
p.a Per Annum Through the yea Used to show something in the manner of ‘yearly’ – He earns 2 million dollars p.a.

General Abbreviations

Correct contsruct Meaning Use
Dept. Department The HR Dept. is organising a team building event.
Fig. Figure Look to fig. 8 to see how the process takes place.
Hrs. Hours We will book the next meeting for 1500hrs.
Inc. Incorporated Apple Inc. was founded in the 1970s by Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak.
Ltd. Limited company Language Services Direct Ltd. was founded in 1981.
Vs. Versus It’s an issue of quality vs. quantity

Useful Acronyms

Correct construct Full form What it is
ATM Automated Teller Maching A computerised cash dispenser
BPO Business Process Outsourcing The outsourcing of specific functions of a business to a third party
FAQ Frequently Asked Questions A common section in most websites containing common queries from visitors
HR Human Resources Human resources are the people who work for the organization; human resource management is employee management with an emphasis on those employees as assets of the business
USP Unique Selling Point A term used to show how one product or service is different and unique from another

Acronyms of Education

Correct construction Full form
B.A Bachelor of Arts
B.Sc Bacherlor of Science
M.A Master of Arts
M.B.A Master of Business Administration
MBBS Bachelor of Medicine
MD Medicinae Doctor – Doctor of Medicine
PhD Doctorate of Philosophy


If you’re looking to improve your spoken or written business English skills. Find out more about our language courses for business learners.

References http://www.englishleap.com/other-resources/abbreviations

Quick Enquiry

Call: +44 (0) 20 7821 0999