People judge you

Dec 10, 2023

Those who read your emails, letters, reports, social media posts, and resumes are all deciding how intelligent you are in large part from your writing.

As a college professor, I often find myself telling my students that people will judge them by the quality of their writing. It’s a fact. Those who read your emails, letters, reports, social media posts, and resumes are all deciding how intelligent you are in large part from your writing.

Then the thought occurred to me that this judging doesn’t just happen to college students. It also happens to YOU and each of your people! If your writing isn’t up to a certain standard, your clients, potential clients, regulators, subcontractors, and everyone else will make harsh judgements about how smart or dumb you are, or worse, what kind of person you are.

Seems unfair, you might say? You and your people are architects and engineers – scientists, planners, land surveyors, and technicians. You don’t HAVE to be good writers; you just have to be competent at what you do.

But – you are wrong! Educated, intelligent, successful people are judgmental, right or wrong – it’s just the way it is. And these judgement calls make a big impact on whether or not they want to work with you or will listen to your advice at all. So it’s critical for you and everyone in your firm to write well.

Here are some common mistakes I see made every single day:

  1. Plurals on apostrophes. When did people start putting apostrophes on plurals? “Your door’s are in.” What? It drives me mad.
  2. Not using paragraphs. Why do some people think it’s OK to write a long email or report with no paragraph breaks? Makes it extremely difficult, if not impossible, to read.
  3. Not running spellcheck or grammar check. Just lazy, I guess, because these are both easy to do, and will catch a lot (not all) of your mistakes.
  4. Confusing “affect” and “effect.” Here is proper usage of the two: “Your writing affects me because it helps effect change in our organization.”
  5. Acting as if “your” and “you’re” are the same thing, as in, “Your welcome” versus “You’re welcome!”
  6. Acting as if the reader understands all of your acronyms. There are so many I won’t even attempt to cite one but this happens constantly. Always explain the acronym the first time you use it in any document.
  7. Using big words where small ones will do. This is almost always seen as pretentious, and when the big word is the wrong word, you really look bad. For example, “square columns were utilized on this building” vs. just saying “used.”
  8. Using “either” instead of “neither.” If someone says they don’t like something, and your response is, “me either,” you are just plain wrong.
  9. Writing, “I could care less,” when what you really mean is, “I couldn’t care less.”
  10. Use of too many buzzwords and cliches. There are so many I see constantly, from “at the end of the day,” to “pivot, “lean into something,” to “authentic.” These turn off a lot of people.
  11. Interchanging “their” with “there.” Obviously they are not the same thing!
  12. Using “to” when you should be using “too.” I see this constantly.
  13. Braggardly profile descriptions on LinkedIn. These don’t necessarily make you look unintelligent, but they could make you appear to be either too ego-centric or insecure. When people refer to themselves as “visionary” or “inspirational,” or as “disruptive innovators,” it’s a bit much.
  14. Using “sale” as if it is synonymous with “sell.” For example, “I will sale you my old printer if you want it.” While I admit I predominantly see this in the southern states, every time I read it I cringe.

I could go on here, I’m sure, but space is at a premium in this publication! You can think I am crazy or too picky, but ignore my advice here at your own peril! 

Mark Zweig is Zweig Group’s chairman and founder. Contact him at

About Zweig Group

Zweig Group, three times on the Inc. 500/5000 list, is the industry leader and premiere authority in AEC firm management and marketing, the go-to source for data and research, and the leading provider of customized learning and training. Zweig Group exists to help AEC firms succeed in a complicated and challenging marketplace through services that include: Mergers & Acquisitions, Strategic Planning, Valuation, Executive Search, Board of Director Services, Ownership Transition, Marketing & Branding, and Business Development Training. The firm has offices in Dallas and Fayetteville, Arkansas.