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 Chicagoland, 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
Run-in lists are incorporated into sentences, as opposed to horizontal lists that stand apart from the surrounding sentences. Let’s look at four different ways to write run-in lists. Run-In Lists with Commas Commas can separate simple run-in list items.1 Three famous cartoon cats are Garfield, Sylvester, and Felix the Cat. The movie Homeward Bound featured three adventurous … [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
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’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? and (7) Is it e-book or ebook? We’ll find the answers by examining four popular … [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
My Very Occasional Book Review series is back with a review of the second edition of The Subversive Copy Editor: Advice from Chicago by Carol Fisher Saller. The Positives Carol Fisher Saller is the editor of the Chicago Manual of Style Online’s Q&A. She also writes a column called the Editor’s Corner for the CMOS Shop Talk blog. As a longtime reader of both of these … [Read more...] about Book Review: The Subversive Copy Editor by Carol Fisher Saller
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 rather rare occurrence; so, review the first three parts of this series if you need broader information about ellipses: How to Use Ellipses, Part 1: Ellipses within and … [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. This post was preceded by “How to Use Ellipses, Part 1: Ellipses within and between Quoted Sentences” and “How to Use Ellipses, Part 2: Ellipses between Quoted Paragraphs.” How to Use Ellipses at the Beginning of Quoted … [Read more...] about How to Use Ellipses, Part 3: Ellipses at the Beginning and End of Quoted Sentences
“How to Use Ellipses, Part 1” reviewed the purpose of ellipsis points and demonstrated how to use them within and between quoted sentences. Today’s post explains how to use ellipses between quoted paragraphs. Part 3 will cover ellipses at the beginning and at the end of a quoted sentence. Part 4 will outline ellipsis usage in brackets. And, Part 5 will close the series by … [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 most well-respected style and usage guides disagree on how ellipses should be formatted. Let’s unravel these conflicting recommendations point by … [Read more...] about How to Use Ellipses, Part 1: Ellipses within and between Quoted Sentences
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?
At the end of my last post, “Block Quotations, Part 3—Block Quotation Issues and Concerns,” I mentioned that my next post would outline valid reasons to (gasp!) ignore your style guide. However, I have decided to put that topic on hold until next week in order to offer a brief primer on the definition and purpose of style guides. What Is a Style Guide? Writing style guides … [Read more...] about What Is a Style Guide?
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: How much should they be indented? How should you handle quotations within block quotations? Does the format change for … [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 titled “How to Use Colons” explains how colons can be used to preface run-in and vertical lists, introduce 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 … [Read more...] about Should You Capitalize the First Word of a Sentence After a Colon?
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 upon the type of content you’re writing. Here is a quick look at how they differ and how to use them. Understanding the Difference between i.e. and e.g. The abbreviation i.e. stands for id est, … [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
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
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
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, I explored various guidelines for referring to an animal by the gendered pronouns he and she rather than the neutral pronoun it. But what about the relative pronoun who, which generally applies to people? Can you write “The cat who sits on the porch every morning has bright, green eyes”? Or do you need to write “The cat that sits on the porch every morning has … [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
Copyeditor or Copy editor? That is the million-dollar question! (Okay, maybe the thousand-dollar question.) I have been a proud member of the writing and editing community for over a decade. That’s long enough to have witnessed epic battles over the serial comma and near fisticuffs over hyphenation. (Believe me, no one wants to witness actual grammar-induced fisticuffs. That … [Read more...] about Am I a Copyeditor or a Copy Editor?
The individual cities, counties, and states within the United States have definite borders. We also have relatively 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 … [Read more...] about How to Abbreviate United States
I am owned by two feline brothers officially named Mr. Heckle and Mr. Jeckle. I have several additional monikers 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 know that I'm not alone: most animal lovers use gendered pronouns (e.g., he and she) when referring to pets. But are we just … [Read more...] about Gendered Pronouns for Animals
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
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?
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
Em dashes, which are commonly just called dashes, have four primary functions: emphasize important or essential information, enclose additional information, connect lists with sentences, and create pauses or disruptions in dialogue. Visit “How to Insert Special Characters in Microsoft Word” and “How to Find and Replace Special Characters in Microsoft Word” for information on … [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
My last post showed how to create effective bullet points using parallel construction. But, when should you actually use bullet points in business writing? Bullets are commonly found in resumes, brochures, and on websites. These are all good locations; however, the use of bullets is sometimes underutilized in longer documents, such as case studies, white papers, and … [Read more...] about When to Use Bullet Points in Business Writing