What’s Up With That?
If you engaged a speech coach, that person would likely tell you it’s important to eliminate um and hmm from your presentations. I think the writing equivalent of those unfortunate flow stoppers is that. Every day, I see overuse and misuse of this word; I’ve edited many documents where I eliminated it a bunch of times — with no effect on the content other than making it shorter and more direct.
Let’s start with overuse. While you can’t delete that entirely from your writing efforts, once you start paying attention to your use of it, you’ll see it’s often easily eliminated. Here are two examples:
A. Our company is committed to excellence in all that we do.
B. Our company is committed to excellence in all we do.
A. We recommend that you hire the most experienced person for the job.
B. We recommend you hire the most experienced person for the job.
In both cases, sentence B is more streamlined than sentence A, simply because that has been eliminated. The next time you’re reviewing something you wrote, pay attention to the instances where you used that and see if they’re necessary. Don’t just get rid of them all; that does have its uses.
Now let’s talk about misuse. One of my biggest pet peeves is when that is used instead of who. It happens so often that when I point it out to people, many of them respond with, “I see it that way all the time.” Unfortunately, that doesn’t mean it’s right — it means a lot of people are making the same mistake. Here’s an example:
A. San Jose Sharks fans that watched their team in Winnipeg were thrilled with a last-second win.
B. San Jose Sharks fans who watched their team in Winnipeg were thrilled with a last-second win.
Sentence B is correct because fans are people. Thus, they should be referred to using who, not that. The same goes if you use people or any other word that describes a human being, e.g., entrepreneurs, a landscaper, the babysitter. Once you start using who correctly, you’ll probably start to notice how many others incorrectly use that to refer to people.
Apostrophes Gone Wild
There are many ways writers misuse apostrophes, including using them to pluralize acronyms. For example, if you’re referring to more than one IRA, you would write IRAs, not IRA’s. The same goes for making any word plural, e.g., I have two sisters, not I have two sister’s.
It or Their?
These two words are often misused in business writing, especially when making reference to a company. Correct: The company released its annual report. Incorrect: The company released their annual report.