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Online editing service aims to make e-mails error free.

gramlee_website.jpg

A page on the gramlee.com website

Julie Verran, a senior director of operations for a consulting firm in Portland, Ore., opened her e-mail one afternoon to find a message with a seemingly minor error. The sender forgot one letter in one word. The only problem was, the word was “shirts” and the letter left out was “r.”

“It was one of those where I went awww,” Verran said of the email that went to more than a hundred recipients. Verran, who often hires employees, will not consider a candidate who sends an e-mail riddled with spelling and grammar mistakes. “We live in an electronic age, and we’re judged not on how we speak but how we write,” she said of the irrevocable power wielded by the send button.

Gramlee.com, an online editing service Verran discovered, has capitalized on this very principle. Most editing services are well suited for academic papers, lengthy business proposals and even novels. But editing these documents can cost up to $175 for a single spaced page.

Online Services like A1 Writing and Editing are willing to edit e-mails, but because the cost is significant, they don’t frequently receive requests for them. EditAvenue.com also edits e-mails but customers have to pay extra for their work to be expedited and e-mails often contain information that must be sent in a timely manner.

While Gramlee edits the same materials the more traditional services do, 30 percent of what they receive are e-mail messages. Paying for e-mail editing may seem excessive, but there’s no shortage of people who are familiar with how costly errors can be.

Chantelle Karl, a public relations manager in New York City, had a coworker at her former job who often sent e-mails without any punctuation whatsoever. “It might not seem like a big deal at all,” said Karl, 27, of the spelling and grammar mistakes she dubbed “horrific.” But when certain vendors refused to take orders from the company because they no longer wanted to deal with the illegible e-mails, the employee’s correspondence became a problem, as he was responsible for ordering food and supplies for the office. “We couldn’t get almonds,” she recalled.

“There are a lot of people out there who don’t have perfect English grammar and don’t know how to state things professionally,” said Rushang Shah, Gramlee’s founder. Shah, 30, was frequently editing business documents for his wife when he realized there was a business opportunity in the untold amount of correspondence produced by the everyday writer. To that end, no piece of writing is too small for Gramlee, not even that three-sentence e-mail you’ve looked at long enough to become cross-eyed.

“I’m literate, but I was not an English major,” said Evan Kane, a 37-year-old real estate broker in a Chicago suburb. Kane found that even when he asked work colleagues or friends to read over his written work, there were always errors to be found. While looking for someone to edit some marketing materials before they were printed, Kane found Gramlee. He started using the service to review e-mails to potential clients and people higher up in his company.

The concept is simple, with customers cutting and pasting materials into messages that are edited and returned within 24 hours. Customers pay by the word, and services are rendered according to packages. If you purchase 510 words, about one single-spaced page, it costs $9.95. If you don’t use all the words covered in a package price, the balance is kept in your account for future use. Gramlee says it assures confidentiality to its customers. According to the Web site, once a document is edited and returned, the editors are no longer able to see the information.

The Gramlee editors themselves are a staff of about twenty. “To join the staff they must be professional editors, or technical writers or copy editors,” said Shah. He added that many of his employees have experience editing documents in academia. However, because of confidentiality agreements Shah says the editors sign, there is an element of mystery as to who is sitting behind the editorial curtain.

“Good old Editor 19, whoever the heck that is,” said Meg Metcalf of the person who saved her from the frustration of struggling with a business letter. “The longer I looked at it, the more stumped I became,” said Metcalf, who works for a division of the public transit system in Portland, Ore., recalling the day she first used Gramlee.

As part of her job, Metcalf often needs to respond to customer service inquiries. She says that, as a policy, she responds to people in the same way in which they contacted her. “As folks get more Internet savvy, we’re getting more customer service comments via e-mail,” Metcalf said.

With business increasingly conducted electronically, professor David Blakesley included a chapter on e-mail in The Thomson Handbook, a writer’s guide he co-authored. Blakesley suggests making sure you revise and edit an e-mail multiple times before sending it.

“This is an obvious one, but people don’t do it enough,” he said. Other tips include avoiding a quick reply to an e-mail that provokes emotion. In other words, “Bite your tongue.” he said. Blakesly says e-mail is an effective way of communicating both personally and professionally. However, he explained, “The problem is that people don’t make a distinction between the two.”

As director of Purdue University’s professional writing program, Blakesley’s students often e-mail him to ask that their grades be changed. Those who opt for the greeting “Hey Dave” tend to be unsuccessful, so a good rule is to err on the side of formality.

While professional e-mails make up the majority of those Gramlee receives, Shah has seen more personal material as well. One customer submitted an e-mail in which she broke up with her boyfriend. The same customer later followed up requesting edits on an e-mail that she was sending the presumably now ex-boyfriend’s parents. Another woman sent in an e-mail explaining to her family why she had decided to act as a surrogate mother for a couple.

Regardless of the nature of the e-mail, Shah says the editors are diplomatic and don’t address a person’s tone unless they’re specifically asked. As Shah explained, “We won’t flat out tell you you’re going to get fired for an e-mail.”

E-mail: katiebindley@hotmail.com