You’ve probably heard the expression, “You never get a second chance to make a first impression.” For many of you, the first chance to make a good impression may be through your marketing materials such as a workshop mailer, postcard, or brochure. (Other tips for making a first impression) One way to ensure that you’re putting your best foot forward is to be aware of commonly misused words and to remove them from your marketing materials.

For more than a decade, I’ve written and edited marketing materials for insurance agents. The following five examples show some of the most common errors and how to correct them.

Example 1: Assure, Ensure, and Insure
According to the American Heritage Dictionary, assure means to inform positively, as to remove doubt. Ensure means to make sure or certain, and insure means to provide or arrange insurance for or to make sure, certain, or secure. Scratching your head yet?

While these three words may seem exactly the same, the authors of the book, 100 Words Almost Everyone Confuses and Misuses explain that assure is used with reference to a person in the sense of “to put the mind at rest. And, although ensure and insure may be used interchangeably, only the word insure is used in the business sense to mean “to guarantee persons or property against risk.”

In your marketing materials, the proper usage of each of these three words may look something like this:

  • I assure you that you will receive the paperwork tomorrow.
  • This approach may help ensure that a portion of your retirement assets is protected from longevity risks.
  • Your new policy will help insure your family’s financial wellbeing if you die prematurely.

Example 2: Affect and Effect
Affect is a verb that means “to act on or to produce a change in” whereas the word effect is a noun that means a “result or consequence.” If you want to read more about the differences between these two words, you can check out what Grammar Girl has to say about them in her “Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing: http://grammar.quickanddirtytips.com/affect-versus-effect.aspx

In your communications, the correct usage of these words may be like the following examples:

  • Inflation can negatively affect the value of your retirement assets.
  • In 2008, market downturns had a damaging effect on many retirement plans.

Example 3: Its and It’s
Its is the possessive form of “it.” It’s, on the other hand, is the word representing the contraction of “it is” or “it has.” In your writing, the use of these words should look something like this:

  • This annuity and its income rider may be a good fit for you.
  • It’s unlikely that many employers will continue to offer pensions.

Example 4: Your and You’re
Similar to Example 3, the word your is the possessive form of “you” and you’re is a contraction of the two words: you are.

  • Your invitation to the workshop is enclosed.
  • You’re invited to the workshop.

Example 5: Anxious and Eager
This may be the granddaddy example of misused words. While most people use these words interchangeably, they have very different, and often misunderstood, meanings. According to www.dictionary.com, anxious means “full of mental distress or uneasiness because of fear of danger or misfortune; greatly worried; solicitous.” On the other hand, eager means “keen or ardent in desire or feeling; impatiently longing.”

  • Agnes feels anxious about a long withdrawal charge schedule because liquidity is very important to her.
  • Looking forward to spending time with her new granddaughter, Janice is eager to begin working part-time next month.

By using the five examples and the resources described in this article, you can remove commonly misused words from your marketing materials. The more polished your marketing materials, the more likely you are to make a good first impression.

Amy Kennel is a freelance insurance communications specialist based in Des Moines, Iowa. You can contact her via email at aakennel@gmail.com. Check out more of her Marketing Tips articles.