Here in the United States, we use US customary units of measurement, such as pounds, feet, and inches, for most of our daily activities. However, we are also accustomed to seeing—and sometimes using—the metric system adopted by most other countries. So, should we use metric or US customary units of measurement in our writing? Before answering that question, let’s take a … [Read more...] about Should You Use Metric or US Customary Units of Measurement in Your Writing?
From true crime to comedy, podcasts are all the rage right now. And unsurprisingly, the information they provide is sneaking into our writing. But, just like written sources, podcasts need to be properly cited in reference lists, notes, and bibliographies. This post explains how to cite a podcast according to three of our primary style guides: 1. The Chicago Manual of Style … [Read more...] about How to Cite a Podcast in Reference Lists, Notes, and Bibliographies
Table titles help readers understand the connection between tables and the rest of the document. They can also make tables easier to understand when viewed by themselves. Due to these important functions, all our primary style guides offer detailed guidelines for how to write table titles. So today, we’re going to compare the differing guidelines provided by three of those … [Read more...] about How to Write Table Titles
Figures are visuals such as charts, graphs, photos, drawings, and maps. Figures are normally identified by the capitalized word Figure and a number followed by a caption. A caption is a short block of text that gives information about the figure. The following seven tips explain how to write figure captions in your book, article, or research paper. Although closely related, … [Read more...] about How to Write Figure Captions for Graphs, Charts, Photos, Drawings, and Maps
Do you know what percentage of style guides agree on when to use the percent sign in a sentence? Zero! To understand when to use the percent sign instead of the word percent, we need to look at the recommendations provided by all four of our primary style guides: The Chicago Manual of Style (Chicago style) The Associated Press Stylebook (AP style) Publication Manual of … [Read more...] about When to Use the Percent Sign in a Sentence (The Ultimate Guide)
Most titles and headings are formatted with headline-style capitalization, which means that the first and last words and all the main words in between are capitalized (as demonstrated in the title of this blog post). But how should you capitalize hyphenated words in titles and headings using headline-style capitalization? The general guideline is to capitalize all the main … [Read more...] about How to Capitalize Hyphenated Words in Titles and Headings
Headline-style capitalization, also called title case, means that the main words are capitalized and the “less important” words are lowercased in titles and headings. Headline-style capitalization is the format you see in most books and magazines. This blog features headline-style capitalization for all titles and most headings. Here are several examples: Should You Use … [Read more...] about What Is Headline-Style Capitalization?
Tables and figures can add depth and clarity to your writing. But your readers may be confused or distracted if visual content suddenly appears in your document without an explanation. Avoid surprising your readers by following these five guidelines for how to reference tables and figures in text. Before we begin, let’s define tables and figures. What Are Tables and … [Read more...] about How to Reference Tables and Figures in Text
This post shares guidelines for how to write university and college names as full names and as abbreviations in sentences. We’ll also look at when to capitalize the word the in university and college names and when to lowercase words such as university and college. Note that these guidelines are for general writing. If you are writing on behalf of a university or college, … [Read more...] about How to Write University and College Names in Sentences
Have you ever wondered if you should use singular or plural pronouns for a company? The general guideline is to use the singular personal pronoun it to refer to a company or similar organization. This post explains the reasoning behind this guideline—and then shares two situations when you may want to use plural first-person pronouns (we, us, our, ourselves) or plural … [Read more...] about Should You Use Singular or Plural Pronouns for a Company?
Do you follow American-English writing standards? If so, today’s post is for you because it explains two instances when you should use single quotation marks followed by two instances when you may want to use them. Please note that single quotation marks are used more frequently in British English and, therefore, have more applications than the four instances shown … [Read more...] about When to Use Single Quotation Marks
Ships and boats hold a special place in the human experience. Our ancestors marked this importance by giving thoughtful names to their watercraft just as we do today.1 In fact, we even have guidelines for how to write the names of ships and boats to set them apart from less adventurous modes of travel, like minivans. We’ll begin by looking at the guidelines for writing ship … [Read more...] about How to Write the Names of Ships and Boats
As a copy editor, I frequently talk with people about the reference books they use when writing. Oftentimes, the books mentioned are outdated or insufficient. If you’re interested in updating or expanding your reference library, here are three types of books every writer should own: a style guide, a dictionary, and a grammar manual. (Yes, I am being a bit dramatic when I say … [Read more...] about Three Types of Books Every Writer Should Own
Suspended hyphens sound like troublemakers, don’t they? Before we accuse them of cutting class or being chronically late for work, let’s look at their less than nefarious definition. We’ll follow up with five guidelines for how to use them in your writing (without getting into mischief). What Are Suspended Hyphens? Suspended hyphens, also called suspensive hyphens, replace … [Read more...] about How to Use Suspended Hyphens
Do you have a minute? The following three guidelines explain when to hyphenate numbers with units of time such as hours, days, months, years, and centuries. Before we begin, here are a couple of brief words on multi-word descriptions: multi-word descriptions, such as three-hour, that come before nouns are called compound adjectives, compound modifiers, and phrasal … [Read more...] about When to Hyphenate Numbers with Units of Time
The writing world is riddled with “rules” based on misunderstood guidelines. One such rule is that we should never start a sentence with a number. While this blanket ban is understandable—depending on the content, starting a sentence with a number can be confusing or disruptive for readers—doing so is generally grammatically acceptable if you follow the three guidelines … [Read more...] about Three Tips for Starting a Sentence with a Number
The cardinal directions (north, south, east, and west) and the intercardinal directions (northeast, northwest, southeast, and southwest) are commonly referred to as compass points. Today’s post outlines how to write compass points in sentences. First, we’ll look at the guidelines for capitalizing them and then we’ll explore the guidelines for abbreviating them in addresses in … [Read more...] about How to Write Compass Points in Sentences
The warm weather has finally arrived here in the Midwest, so that can only mean two things: construction and ghastly traffic joy rides and road trips! So, in honor of these annual summertime traditions, today’s post explains how to write names of highways, streets, and other roadways in sentences. 1. Capitalize Road-Related Terms in Formal Names Capitalize road-related terms … [Read more...] about How to Write Names of Highways, Streets, and Other Roadways
Recently, we looked at how to write run-in lists, which are lists that appear inside sentences. In this tutorial, we’ll explore guidelines for how to write vertical lists. Vertical lists are set apart from the surrounding text and are usually prefaced with bullets or sequential numbers or letters. Vertical lists can be ordered or unordered and can be introduced by complete … [Read more...] about How to Write Vertical Lists (Ordered and Unordered)
Run-in lists are incorporated into sentences, as opposed to vertical lists that stand apart from the surrounding sentences. Let’s look at four ways to write run-in lists: (1) with commas, (2) with semicolons, (3) with parenthetical letters, and (4) with parenthetical numbers. How to Write Run-In Lists with Commas Commas can separate simple run-in list items.1 Three famous … [Read more...] about How to Write Run-In Lists
The following guidelines explain when to use italics or quotation marks with foreign words to set them apart from the surrounding English text. These guidelines are for general words in business documents, nonfiction, journalism, and academic writing but aren’t for proper nouns, such as people’s names or place names, which typically don’t require special formatting. But … [Read more...] about When to Use Italics or Quotation Marks with Foreign Words
According to the Astrophysical Journal, our universe is home to 200 trillion galaxies—that’s ten times more than the 200 billion galaxies previously believed to be in existence.1 I can’t envision 200 billion galaxies, let alone 200 trillion. However, I can envision writing large numbers according to the recommendations provided by our primary style guides. So, whether you’re … [Read more...] about How to Write Large Numbers
You can use direct quotations or paraphrasing to include someone else’s writing or speech in your own writing. Direct quotations can be formatted as run-in or block quotations. Today’s post explains direct quotations and paraphrasing in more detail…and you can quote me on that! Direct Quotations Direct quotations present the original writer’s or speaker’s words verbatim. … [Read more...] about Direct Quotations and Paraphrasing Explained
Is Colorado in the west or the West? Did the Allman Brothers Band play southern rock or Southern rock? Am I a midwesterner or a Midwesterner? Today’s post explains when to capitalize geographic regions in the United States. It also looks at when to capitalize those regions when they are used as adjectives and to describe U.S. geographic populations. U.S. Geographic … [Read more...] about When Should You Capitalize Geographic Regions in the United States?
My last currency post explained how to write euros and pounds as words and symbols. Today’s post extends the foreign currency theme by explaining how to write non-U.S. dollars as words and symbols. The guidelines below are based on The Associated Press Stylebook (AP style) and The Chicago Manual of Style (Chicago style). If your organization has an in-house style guide, … [Read more...] about How to Write Non-U.S. Dollars as Words and Symbols
In “How to Format Money in General Writing,” we looked at four different ways to write U.S. currency. Today, we’ll look at how to write euros and pounds as words, symbols, and currency codes. This post is based on the recommendations in The Associated Press Stylebook (AP style) and The Chicago Manual of Style (Chicago style). Our other primary style guides don’t provide … [Read more...] about How to Write Euros and Pounds as Words and Symbols
My last post tackled the question of which style guide is best for you. Style guides work hand in hand with dictionaries, so the logical next question is, which dictionary is best for you? Just like style guides, certain dictionaries enjoy wider usage within specific writing categories, so we’ll look at three popular options and conclude with a brief discussion on pocket … [Read more...] about Which Dictionary Is Best for You?
Traditional authors, journalists, and those in academia usually follow their organization’s or publisher’s chosen style guide. But if you’re an independent author, blogger, or business owner, you can decide which style guide is best for your writing. Today’s post provides an overview of the “big four” style guides in American English: The Associated Press Stylebook (AP … [Read more...] about Which Style Guide Is Best for You?
Is Colorado home to the Rocky Mountains or the Rocky mountains? Is the United States flanked by the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans or the Atlantic and Pacific oceans? Besides inducing an urge to go hiking, this post explains when you should capitalize oceans, mountains, lakes, and other geographic features such as rivers, deserts, and dunes. Capitalize General Nouns in Proper … [Read more...] about When Should You Capitalize Oceans, Mountains, Lakes, and Other Geographic Features?
Here are three guidelines that will help you determine when to capitalize historical time periods. Capitalization guidelines for historical time periods are influenced by tradition and whether they are named after a proper noun. As with all things influenced by tradition, these guidelines can change according to where you live—or in this case, which style guide or dictionary … [Read more...] about When Should You Capitalize Historical Time Periods?
Like the majority of Generation Xers, I was born in the decade of disco, leisure suits, and questionable mustaches. Does that mean I was born in the 1970s, the ’70s, or the seventies? Today’s post answers that question by analyzing how to write decades as complete numerals and words as well as abbreviated numerals. Should We Write Decades as Numerals or Words? As a general … [Read more...] about How to Write Decades as Words and Numerals
Are centuries spelled out or written as numerals? Are centuries hyphenated when used as adjectives? Writers and editors have been asking these questions for at least a hundred years. (Sorry, I couldn’t help myself!) So, this post is going to explore present-day recommendations for how to write centuries as words and numerals. Are Centuries Spelled Out or Written as … [Read more...] about How to Write Centuries as Words and Numerals
Today, we’re going to cover five tips for writing online instructions. These tips also apply to online tutorials and other how-to material. Important Note: The following tips are for general, unregulated instructions. If you are writing, editing, or publishing instructions for regulated products, services, or activities, contact your legal advisor to ensure that your … [Read more...] about Five Tips for Writing Online Instructions
Today’s post answers seven technology-related spelling questions: 1. Is it e-mail or email? 2. Is Internet capitalized? 3. Is it Web site, web site, or website? 4. Is it Web page, web page, or webpage? 5. Is Web capitalized when abbreviating the World Wide Web? 6. Is it tweet or Tweet? 7. Is it e-book or ebook? We’ll find the answers by examining four popular style … [Read more...] about Is It E-Mail or Email? Seven Technology Spelling Questions Answered
I previously published a post called "Five Helpful Writing and Editing Websites and Blogs." A five-item list is a measly attempt for such a large topic, so today’s post expands that original list to ten writing websites and blogs. These resources cover a wide variety of subjects, so I’m confident that you’ll find something here that you can apply to your business or nonfiction … [Read more...] about Ten Helpful Writing Websites and Blogs
Headings are usually just a few words each, but they can play a vital role in your document’s success. Their most important function is helping readers navigate your content. (No one benefits when readers are cast adrift!) And when headings are constructed with parallel structure, they also enforce consistency throughout your content and demonstrate attention to good writing … [Read more...] about Polish Your Headings with Parallel Structure
Parallel structure, also called parallel construction and parallelism, is a method of formatting written elements so that they correspond to each other structurally. Parallel structure can be applied to any closely related elements; however, it is most often applied to headings, bulleted lists, numbered lists, lists in sentences, and tightly coupled phrases or … [Read more...] about What Is Parallel Structure?
Fiction writers are often encouraged to write with reckless abandon—just write, write, write . . . drink a lot of coffee . . . and then write some more. I’m sure many fantastic novels, poems, and screenplays have emerged from this overly caffeinated do-it-now technique. But as business writers, we are more successful when we take the time to prepare before doing any actual … [Read more...] about Seven Preparation Tips for Effective Business Writing
The baby boomers are retiring! The millennials rule the world! The Generation Xers are ignored and neglected! Have you noticed all the headlines about the different generations lately? (Okay, maybe not about Generation X.) Despite all this media attention, we don’t have consistent guidelines for when to capitalize baby boomer, Generation Xer, and millennial. Here are two … [Read more...] about Should You Capitalize Baby Boomer, Generation Xer, and Millennial?
At long last, this five-part ellipses series is coming to a close with a discussion on how to use ellipsis points to create pauses and disruptions in dialogue. Use Ellipses to Indicate a Pause in the Middle of a Line of Dialogue General Rule: Ellipses in the middle of a line of dialogue indicate that the speaker stopped talking momentarily.1 “Do you know of any good places … [Read more...] about How to Use Ellipses, Part 5: Ellipses in Dialogue
Today’s post shares guidelines for putting ellipsis points in brackets when they are added to quotations that already include ellipses for dialogue disruptions or text omissions. Bracketed ellipses are a rare occurrence; so, review the other four parts of this series if you need broader information about ellipses: How to Use Ellipses, Part 1: Ellipses within and between Quoted … [Read more...] about How to Use Ellipses, Part 4: Ellipses in Brackets
The ellipsis point series just keeps rollin' along! Today’s post demonstrates how to use ellipses at the beginning and end of quoted sentences. Don't miss the rest of the series: How to Use Ellipses, Part 1: Ellipses within and between Quoted Sentences How to Use Ellipses, Part 2: Ellipses between Quoted Paragraphs How to Use Ellipses, Part 4: Ellipses in Brackets How to … [Read more...] about How to Use Ellipses, Part 3: Ellipses at the Beginning and End of Quoted Sentences
Today’s post explains how to use ellipses between quoted paragraphs. “How to Use Ellipses, Part 1” reviews the purpose of ellipsis points and demonstrated how to use them within and between quoted sentences. Part 3 covers ellipses at the beginning and at the end of a quoted sentence. Part 4 outlines ellipsis usage in brackets. And, Part 5 closes the series by discussing … [Read more...] about How to Use Ellipses, Part 2: Ellipses between Quoted Paragraphs
Ellipses, which are also called ellipsis points and ellipsis dots, represent omissions in quotations and interruptions in dialogue. That seems simple enough, doesn’t it? But, that’s where the simplicity ends because several of our primary style guides disagree on how ellipses should be formatted. Let’s unravel these conflicting recommendations point by point. Today’s post … [Read more...] about How to Use Ellipses, Part 1: Ellipses within and between Quoted Sentences
Here are five tips for using contractions in business writing and other semi-formal material. If you’re unsure if contractions are appropriate for your content, please review “Are Contractions Okay in Business Writing?” before utilizing these tips. 1. Aim for natural-sounding contraction usage rather than consistency. Unlike most writing usage issues, contractions don’t have … [Read more...] about Five Tips for Using Contractions in Business Writing
Contractions are unavoidable. They appear in everything from songs and articles to product packaging. (Even the tiger on my box of breakfast flakes is telling me that “They’re great!”) But are contractions okay in business writing? Maybe. Maybe not. That’s frustrating, I know! Here are three questions to ponder as you decide if you should use contractions in your own … [Read more...] about Are Contractions Okay in Business Writing?
“What Is a Style Guide” defined style guides and explained their purpose. Today’s post offers suggestions to help you decide when you should—and shouldn’t—create a custom style instead of following your primary style guide when dealing with an atypical writing issue. In this case, an atypical issue can be anything from the capitalization of product descriptions to the … [Read more...] about When Should You Use a Custom Writing Style Instead of a Style Guide?
Those of us in the writing world talk a lot (and I do mean A LOT) about style guides. But, what is a style guide? What is its purpose? And what is an in-house style guide? Let's answer those questions. What Is a Style Guide? Writing style guides (also called style manuals) are books that recommend specific ways to present written elements such as citations, numbers and … [Read more...] about What Is a Style Guide?
All good things must end—even this exciting block quotation series, which I’m going to close by discussing copyright concerns, reader expectations, and alternative options to block quotations. (What’s that? Block quotations aren’t exciting? How about relatively riveting? Mildly motivating? Slightly stirring?) Here is a brief summary for those who missed the first two parts … [Read more...] about Block Quotations, Part 3: Block Quotation Issues and Concerns
My last post, “Block Quotations, Part 1: How to Introduce Block Quotations,” discussed the purpose of block quotations, how long they should be, and how to introduce them in your content. Today’s follow-up explains how to format block quotations by answering the following questions: How much should block quotations be indented? How do you write quotations within block … [Read more...] about Block Quotations, Part 2: How to Format Block Quotations
Block quotations, also called block quotes, are long quotations that are indented from the surrounding text. In the first part of this three-part series, I’ll explain how to introduce block quotations in your content. But first, let's take a look at the purpose of block quotations and how long they should be. The Purpose of Block Quotations Although block quotations were … [Read more...] about Block Quotations, Part 1: How to Introduce Block Quotations
Whether you are writing an article, a blog post, or a report, quotations can add depth and authenticity to your content. (And, you can quote me on that!) Here is a quick overview on how to introduce run-in quotations, which are short quotations integrated into sentences. Please note that the information below is only intended for quotations within nonfiction works, articles, … [Read more...] about How to Introduce Run-in Quotations
My previous post, “How to Use Colons,” explains that colons can introduce lists and quotations, conclude salutations, and link titles with subtitles. Colons can also connect tightly coupled sentences, such as those with a cause-and-effect or problem–solution relationship. Today’s post tackles the question of whether you should capitalize the first word of a sentence after a … [Read more...] about Should You Capitalize the First Word of a Sentence after a Colon?
My last post outlined a basic format for how to write a business email. Today’s post highlights three things to include and three things to exclude when writing formal business emails. Although these issues may not apply to your informal business emails if you work in a casual environment, they are still important things to consider when communicating with individuals outside … [Read more...] about Three Things to Include and Three Things to Exclude in Formal Business Emails
Business communication has been around for as long as humans have been selling goods and services to each other. And over those millennia, we have developed official templates for writing business letters, but we have yet to establish an official template for how to format a business email. (Granted, email only became widely available to the general public about twenty years … [Read more...] about How to Format a Business Email
The abbreviations i.e. and e.g. can streamline examples and specific information in your sentences. However, they aren’t interchangeable, and their placement within parentheses depends on the type of content you’re writing. So, let's take a quick look at how to use i.e. and e.g. But first, let's explore the difference between them. What Is the Difference between i.e. and … [Read more...] about How to Use i.e. and e.g.
En dashes, which are shorter than em dashes but longer than hyphens, have two primary uses: (1) create number ranges and intervals and (2) establish equality between compound adjectives. Use En Dashes in Number Ranges and Intervals En dashes can be used in number ranges and time intervals as replacements for the words to and through.1 Apartments 1–15 will be fumigated on … [Read more...] about How to Use En Dashes
The forward slash (/) appears in everything from number fractions and calendar dates to poetry and URLs.* Despite this multifunctional usage, the forward slash is frequently mishandled when used as a shortcut for joining words and creating and–or situations. Here are three guidelines on how to use forward slashes in general writing that will help you avoid your own slash … [Read more...] about How to Use Forward Slashes
In a recent post, I explained that footnotes provide supplementary information such as commentary, quotations, and suggestions for further research. Footnotes can also document the sources cited in your text; however, that job frequently falls to bibliographies and reference pages rather than footnotes. While bibliographies and reference pages are very similar, they do serve … [Read more...] about The Difference between Bibliographies and Reference Pages
If the word footnote ignites memories of coffee-fueled all-night writing sessions in cramped dorm rooms, never fear, we're not going to talk about college term papers today. Instead, we're going to explore the following three questions from the perspectives of formal (nonacademic) documents and business writing: What are footnotes? Where should footnotes appear in formal … [Read more...] about What Are Footnotes and How to Use Them
Nearly every business wants to promote its products with bold, exciting copywriting. And that’s a good thing! However, that exuberance sometimes leads to inconsistent or unnecessary capitalization of general product nouns. (“Our new Sandwich is the best!”) Here are four tips to help you decide when to capitalize product names in your own copywriting. (Please note that these … [Read more...] about When to Capitalize Product Names
Everyone handles money differently: Some people budget it down to the last cent. Some people spend it as if they’ve never seen a rainy day. And, some people bury it in the backyard. Just as everyone handles money differently, you can format money differently depending on the amount and the nature of your text. Here are some basic guidelines for writing about money in general … [Read more...] about How to Format Money in General Writing
As a business and nonfiction copy editor, I provide unvarnished (but still polite) writing advice for my clients. But another part of my job is less direct: I talk with people about their relationship with writing so that I can customize my approach to their professional or personal needs. Unsurprisingly, many people have negative feelings about writing because they have … [Read more...] about Six Tips for Handling Unwanted Writing Advice
When you think of interviews, you may reminisce about Barbara Walters making celebrities cry. Or, maybe you flash back to David Frost’s 1977 interview series with Richard Nixon. But interviews don’t have to be limited to televised entertainment or political journalism. In fact, the print interview format can be an effective marketing tool because it allows you to showcase your … [Read more...] about Eight Tips for Conducting Successful Marketing Interviews
Those of us who live in the Midwest have a little secret: The Midwest is awesome. We have the Great Lakes, bustling cities, and stunning rural landscapes. We enjoy four beautiful seasons—sometimes all in the same day. And of course, we have the best food and nicest people. (Okay, I’ll admit that as a Midwest native, I’m a bit biased.) We also have vibrant writing, editing, and … [Read more...] about An Overview of Midwest Writing, Editing, and Publishing Groups
Errant apostrophe s’s can infiltrate anything—even game shows. In fact, a recent episode of Wheel of Fortune featured the questionable phrase “Someone’s knocking at the door.”1 While the phrase obviously means that someone is knocking at the door, this apostrophe s actually makes the pronoun someone possessive, as in “Someone’s car is blocking the driveway” or “I just found … [Read more...] about Apostrophe S Rules for Possession, Contractions, and Plurals
In a past post, we explored the guidelines for using the gendered pronouns he or she with animals rather than the neutral pronoun it. Today, we’re going to look at relative pronouns for animals, specifically who, that, and which. In general, the relative pronoun who applies to people, while that and which apply to objects. So, should you write “The cat who sits on the porch … [Read more...] about Relative Pronouns for Animals: Are Animals “Who” or “That”?
Last week we covered subject-verb agreement for sports teams with singular names such as the Chicago Fire and the Colorado Avalanche. This week we'll tackle a more complicated subject: subject-verb agreement for bands. While two of our primary reference materials, The Associated Press Stylebook and The Chicago Manual of Style, offer relatively clear guidance for sports … [Read more...] about Subject-Verb Agreement for Bands
Keep your eyes on the ball because figuring out subject-verb agreement for sports teams with singular names isn't always an easy win. (Sorry, I promise not to overdo the sports clichés.) Take this sentence, for example: The Chicago Fire are playing the Houston Dynamo next weekend. You may have noticed that the sentence above says Fire are instead of Fire is even though … [Read more...] about Subject-Verb Agreement for Sports Teams
Here's the scenario: You've written and edited the perfect blog post in Microsoft Word, so you copy it into WordPress for publication. Just to be on the safe side, you run the Proofread Writing tool before clicking the publish button. WordPress tells you that the name of your beta project, WackiFeet, is spelled incorrectly throughout the post. But, you know that the spelling is … [Read more...] about How to Edit Your Ignored Words and Phrases in WordPress
The individual cities, counties, and states within the United States have established borders. We also have firm definitions of our geographic regions, such as the Midwest and the Northeast. Unfortunately, we don't have such fixed boundaries for how to abbreviate United States. In fact, the sheer number of conflicting guidelines can make you feel like you've driven right off … [Read more...] about How to Abbreviate United States
I am owned by two cats named Mr. Heckle and Mr. Jeckle. I have several nicknames for each of them, including Big Guy, Little Guy, Tuffy, and Flying J., just to name a few. One thing I never call them is it. And I'm not alone: most pet lovers use gendered pronouns for animals (e.g., "Mr. Heckle wants his dinner" instead of “Mr. Heckle wants its dinner”). But are we just … [Read more...] about When to Use Gendered Pronouns for Animals
In a perfect world, we would all have time to write while leisurely sipping an iced hazelnut latte on a beachside veranda. But in the real world, we sometimes have to gulp down that latte (double shot, of course) while writing on a deadline, nowhere near the sand and surf. Here are a few tips that may help you boost your writing speed and meet that deadline: 1. Start at the … [Read more...] about Four Tips to Boost Your Writing Speed
Show Me the Plural or Singular Verbs with Money! Some people really like to talk about money. Other people put money in the do-not-discuss category alongside root canals, Brussels sprouts, and giant spiders. But even those who don't enjoy talking about money occasionally have to write about it. Here is a brief primer on when to use plural or singular verbs with money. 1. Use … [Read more...] about Should We Use Plural or Singular Verbs with Money?
In the world of nonfiction writing, there are four primary style guides that explain everything from proper abbreviation usage to number formatting. However, we're not limited to those guides; in fact, there are many alternative style guides that may meet your needs as standalone resources or as complements to your chosen primary guide. Primary Style Guides First, let’s look … [Read more...] about Alternative Style Guides
Suitcase? Check! Boarding pass? Check! Comfortable walking shoes? Check! Dictionary? Ummm . . . Some writers travel purely for the purpose of writing. For the rest of us, vacation is usually a break from the keyboard. But sometimes you have to write even when you're not prepared to do so. Maybe you're hit by unexpected inspiration or a press release can't wait until next … [Read more...] about Five Tips for Writing While Traveling
Yesterday, children from across the country competed in the final round of the Scripps National Spelling Bee. All of these young people deserve great admiration for their incredible talent, dedication, and competitive spirits, particularly the co-champions Sriram Hathwar and Ansun Sujoe who tied for first place after exhausting the entire word list! Yet, I always reflect on … [Read more...] about Bad Spellers Can Be Good Writers
Spring is finally starting to sprout here in the Midwest! Let's commemorate the occasion by reviewing the guidelines for when to capitalize seasons, solstices, and equinoxes. Guideline 1: Lowercase general references to seasons, solstices, and equinoxes unless they start a sentence.1 Tomorrow we'll start the spring cleaning. Let's go hiking in celebration of the autumn … [Read more...] about When to Capitalize Seasons, Solstices, and Equinoxes
We face many difficult questions every day: Why do cats go crazy right before bedtime? Do aliens exist? Who will triumph on Game of Thrones? (No spoilers, please!) And of course, should we use digits or spell out numbers online? Although I’ve yet to see an alien—and I only pretend to understand my cats—I was confident in my grasp of numbers until I read Hoa Loranger’s blog … [Read more...] about Should We Spell Out Numbers Online?
Finding quality writing and editing advice on the Internet is a bit like an Easter egg hunt: you’re hoping to discover a Fabergé, but you usually find a cracked goose egg that’s been sitting in the sun a little too long. Nevertheless, you can still stumble upon many hidden gems if you search long enough. Here are a few of my favorite writing and editing websites and … [Read more...] about Five Helpful Writing and Editing Websites and Blogs
Here is a sentence in the active voice: many writers and editors dislike the passive voice. Before we discuss the reasons behind this aversion, let’s define active and passive voice. In the active voice, the subject does something. In the passive voice, the subject has something done to it. Here are a few examples: Active: Mr. Heckle is sleeping on the blanket. (Mr. … [Read more...] about Active Voice versus Passive Voice
Imagine this scenario: While reading a how-to article on plumbing, you come across the term PEX pipe. You have no clue what PEX pipe is or what it does. Your trusty office dictionary doesn’t include plumbing terminology, so you turn to Google and find out that PEX pipe is a flexible polyethylene-based tubing. As I mentioned last year, Google has become our default … [Read more...] about Boost Your Website Traffic with a Glossary Page
First, let's acknowledge the elephant in the middle of this post: Many of us avoid discussing readability scores because they reflect on our writing skills and our audience’s reading ability. Frankly, no one wants to be viewed as judgmental. But, I think we should look that elephant squarely in the eye because the purpose of readability scores is not to demean or judge—the … [Read more...] about Understanding Readability Scores
Wordpress Proofread Writing function available through Jetpack Most blogging platforms provide basic spell-check functionality. If you're using WordPress 3.6 or beyond, the spell-check is built into the Jetpack plugin and is accessed through the Proofread Writing button, as shown above. Many third-party plugins and browser-based add-ons also provide spell checking. However, … [Read more...] about How to Choose a Master Dictionary for Your Business Blog
My Very Occasional Book Review series continues with a look at Blog Inc. Blogging for Passion, Profit, and to Create Community by Joy Deandgdeelert Cho. Blog Inc. covers a wide variety of topics including choosing a blog platform, monetizing your blog, and leveraging your blog to publish a book (as Joy Deandgdeelert Cho did). The book also includes eighteen short interviews … [Read more...] about Book Review: Blog Inc. by Joy Deangdeelert Cho
Last week's post introduced content localization, which is the process of tailoring content for specific areas. Today's post extends that topic with several content localization tips for business writing. Sometimes content localization requires complete translation, and sometimes it adapts the existing language for cultural or geographic differences. If your business has … [Read more...] about Content Localization Tips
Content localization is the process of adapting content for geographic or cultural differences. Content localization is an important part of localization (often referred to as L10N), which is the process of adapting a product or service for a specific area. Thanks to the Internet, content localization is no longer the domain of mega corporations bent on world domination. … [Read more...] about What Is Content Localization?
You may have noticed that Email and Letter Closings, Part 1 didn't include thank you, thanks, or have a nice day. That omission may seem strange because all three are popular correspondence endings—they're just not traditional complimentary closings.* So, today we're going to take a look at how to use elliptical clauses and sentences as letter closings and email … [Read more...] about Email and Letter Closings, Part 2
In December, we discussed salutations at the beginning of business emails and letters. Today, we'll cover email and letter closings, such as sincerely and best regards. Although these words and phrases are technically called valedictions or complimentary closings, they are frequently just referred to as closings. Regardless of what you call them, closings are almost always … [Read more...] about Email and Letter Closings, Part 1
From Internet marketing to social networking, today's businesses are expected to create more fresh content than ever before. And an important platform for publication continues to be the company blog. But finding writing ideas for your business blog can be difficult. Here are a few places to turn next time blog-writer's block strikes: 1. Visit customer support forums. If … [Read more...] about Seven Ways to Find Writing Ideas for Your Business Blog
Have you ever wondered if you should write "Dear Joe," or "Dear Joe:" at the start of an email or letter? The difference between the comma and the colon might seem insignificant, but it actually reflects the level of formality in your message. Today’s post explains how to punctuate salutations in emails and letters so you can begin all your correspondence with the desired level … [Read more...] about How to Punctuate Salutations in Emails and Letters
Introducing My Very Occasional Book Review Series I read a lot of books about writing and editing; however, I've never reviewed any of them on this blog because the vast majority are geared toward professional writers and editors—not regular people who just happen to be interested in the writing process. (That last sentence seems to suggest that writers and editors are … [Read more...] about Book Review: The Grammar Devotional by Mignon Fogarty
In September, we explored different types of editors and editing services. Today, we'll take a look at different types of writers. Just like editors, writers can serve in multiple roles for different projects, so the descriptions provided below may overlap in certain situations. In addition, we'll only focus on writers performing business or organization functions rather than … [Read more...] about Different Types of Writers
I really am fretting—about the apostrophe in the phrase life's short. The whole anxiety-ridden episode began innocently enough: I was flipping through a fashion magazine and noticed a Banana Republic advertisement that said "Life's short. Wear a mini." While I'm not particularly interested in miniskirts from Banana Republic, I was reminded of Bruce Cockburn's song "Life's … [Read more...] about Life’s Short! So Why am I Fretting about Apostrophes and Temporal Expressions?
I challenged myself to compile a list of songs about writers and writing. Of course, I could have just searched for a list online, but I wanted this to be a real challenge, so I limited myself to songs that I already have in my personal music collection. Sadly, I don't know any songs about copywriters or editors, so I have expanded the list to include novelists, poets, … [Read more...] about Ten Songs about Writers and Writing
Em dashes, commonly just called dashes, are the same width as a capital letter M in whatever font you are using.1 Em dashes have four primary functions: Emphasize important or essential information Enclose additional information Connect lists with sentences Create pauses or disruptions in dialogue Visit the following tutorials for information on how to insert, … [Read more...] about How to Use Em Dashes
Last week, we talked about the five primary uses for colons. Today, we'll look at how to use semicolons to connect related sentences and separate run-in list items. 1. Connect Closely Related Sentences Strengthen or highlight the relationship between two closely related sentences by connecting them with a semicolon rather than dividing them with a period:1 The kitten and the … [Read more...] about How to Use Semicolons
Regular visitors to my blog may have noticed that I love colons, semicolons, and dashes. I sneak them in wherever and whenever possible. And no, I'm not ready to attend Punctuators Anonymous meetings. Instead, I am going to celebrate my adoration with a brief how-to series. We'll kick things off with an explanation of how to use colons in six ways: (1) introduce run-in lists, … [Read more...] about How to Use Colons
Lately I've noticed a questionable trend in articles and blog posts: authors describing our daily challenges as First World problems. The intention behind this description is to acknowledge that so-called Second- and Third World countries are dealing with different problems than those found in highly industrialized nations. Many countries certainly do face struggles that … [Read more...] about Avoid the Trendy Term “First World Problems”
Public libraries really are gifts that keep on giving. Not only do they house more books than any one person could possibly read in a lifetime (except maybe the character Henry Bemis from the Twilight Zone episode "Time Enough at Last"), many also provide cardholders with access to free dictionary subscriptions. What Is a Dictionary Subscription? Dictionary subscriptions are … [Read more...] about Do You Need a Free Dictionary Subscription? Check Out Your Public Library!
Here is a list of ten example topics you may want to include in your organization’s house style guide. If you’re new to house style guides, be sure to check out my related post “What Are the Benefits of a House Style Guide?” That post defines house style guides and shares three things to do before creating your own. And of course, it discusses the benefits of using … [Read more...] about What Should Be in a House Style Guide?
Are you overwhelmed by the demands of writing new content for your small business? If so, a house style guide can simplify the entire process. Today’s post explains three benefits of house style guides as well as three things to do before creating your guide. My related post “What Should Be in a House Style Guide” explores specific topics you may want to include in your … [Read more...] about What Are the Benefits of a House Style Guide?
A trip through almost any home decor store proves that the ampersand (&) is one of the most beloved symbols in the English language. After all, not too many people decorate their living rooms with wooden semicolons. Although ampersands make excellent art, they are also still useful in writing. This post shares six guidelines for how to use ampersands in business, academic, … [Read more...] about How to Use Ampersands
Move over, Webster. Watch your back, American Heritage. Catch you later, Oxford. There's a new sheriff in town---Google. Like most people, I use Google every day for business and personal searches. I also use it as a spell checker by typing in the word to see if the search engine redlines my attempt. If I am wrong, Google nearly always suggests a correct alternative based on … [Read more...] about Is Google the New Definitive Dictionary?
Think of a typical writer: slightly introverted, non-athletic, and of course, bespectacled. There are certainly many exceptions to this stereotype, but most of us fit the image to varying degrees. One characteristic that is rarely ever assigned to writers is that of fighter. Sure, we may wield the poison pen from time-to-time, but rarely do we become full-fledged … [Read more...] about Jumping into the Ring with the Serial Comma
Comparing copywriting and technical writing is like comparing kiwis and potatoes, right? One is fuzzy, tropical, and sweet---and the other is an underground tuber associated with European famine. But, is the difference between copywriting and technical writing really this drastic? As both a copywriter and a technical writer, I don't think so. Copywriting traditionally … [Read more...] about Copywriting versus Technical Writing–Or, the Not-So Bitter Battle Between Kiwis and Potatoes
Do you remember those dreaded five-page essays in high school English? If you were anything like me, you'd widen your page margins and switch from the default Times New Roman font to Arial because Arial is just a little bit bigger. Or, if typing wasn't required, your handwriting would suddenly go from tiny scratches to giant bubble letters. Anything to fill those five pages as … [Read more...] about Word Count versus Efficiency: Graduating from Academic Bloat to Business Brevity
Today’s post explores compound possessives with pronouns. For example, is Windy the cairn terrier Doug and my dog, Doug's and my dog, or Doug and I's dog? Before we answer this intriguing question of canine custody, we’ll define compound possessives and then look at how to write them in a sentence with pronouns. What Are Compound Possessives? Compound possessives, also … [Read more...] about How to Write Compound Possessives with Pronouns
A reader challenged me to tackle the conflict between first-person pronouns within compound subject and object strings such as you and I versus you and me. Because I hate to see strife between perfectly decent pronouns, I gladly accept this challenge! You and I versus You and Me Technically, correct usage is determined by the pronoun's position as a subject (I) or object (me) … [Read more...] about You and I versus You and Me: Can’t We All Just Get Along?
The way we use words in everyday communication often fails within business writing. A prime example is the undefined it (technically called an unprecursed it). But, what is an undefined it, you ask? Before we delve into the details, please see the excerpts below from the fictitious assembly manual for the Generic Chair (proudly manufactured and sold by the Generic … [Read more...] about Keep It Clean–Avoid the Undefined “It” Pronoun
Do we go through a drive-thru or drive-through? That question is confusing enough to make anyone want to relax with a cheeseburger and some fries. According to our primary American-English dictionaries (Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary, Webster's New World College Dictionary, and The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language), drive-through is the preferred … [Read more...] about Do We Go through a Drive-Thru or Drive-Through?
As a technical communicator, I spend a lot of time studying proper document construction. There are rules and suggestions for just about everything from paragraph formation to punctuation choices. However, most writers and editors will admit that there is also an intangible art to crafting business-related content. And part of that art includes knowing when to use humor—and … [Read more...] about That’s funny! Humor in Business Writing
Writer’s block doesn't just strike those intrepid souls writing the next Twilight or Harry Potter. It can strike those of us writing nonfiction, also. In response, many people suggest doing something unusual to cure writer’s block, such as sitting at a different Starbucks than the one you normally haunt or writing at a different time of day. If those tips work for you, … [Read more...] about Quick Tip for Writer’s Block—Be Boring
My last post showed how to create effective bullet points using parallel construction. But, when should you actually use bullet points in business writing? Bullet points frequently appear in resumes, brochures, and on websites. These are all good locations; however, bullets tend to be underutilized in longer documents, such as case studies, white papers, and proposals. I … [Read more...] about When to Use Bullet Points in Business Writing
Bullet points can be beautiful. Well, maybe that is a stretch, but some are definitely better looking than others! Now, I’m not talking about the actual bullet symbol—that is a topic for another blog post (but here is a quick hint: smiley face bullets should generally be avoided). I am referring to the text itself. What Is the Purpose of Bullet Points? The purpose of bullet … [Read more...] about Parallel Structure—The Secret to Beautiful Bullet Points