This sign includes several subtle errors. Can you find and correct them? Please share your brief corrections--no need to rewrite the content.
I will post my corrections on November 16. Enjoy the weekend!
This sign includes several subtle errors. Can you find and correct them? Please share your brief corrections--no need to rewrite the content.
I will post my corrections on November 16. Enjoy the weekend!
Do you know the difference between a dash and a hyphen? Do you recognize where to use en dashes and em dashes?
If you do, then pass this post on to someone else. Or read it to be sure of your knowledge.
In business writing classes, people regularly call hyphens “dashes.” They will ask, “Does follow up need a dash?” No, follow up never needs a dash. It needs a hyphen—sometimes (when it’s an adjective or a noun).
Below you will find the essentials of hyphens and dashes.
The hyphen is the baby; the en dash, the big brother or sister; and the em dash, the parent. The en dash is the size of a letter n. The em dash is the size of the letter m. Thus, their names.
How to Type It
Hyphen: Just type the hyphen key on your keyboard.
En dash: Insert the en dash as a symbol. In Microsoft Office, click Insert, then Symbol, then the en dash. Or use a shortcut: Click (and hold) CTRL and the minus sign in the numeric keypad.
Reader Paul Kelly noted another easy way to insert an en dash in Microsoft Office: Type a space, a hyphen, a space, and then another word. Your hyphen will change to an en dash (unless you have changed the default settings). If you do not want the spaces, you will need to delete them manually.
Em dash: Type two hyphens, and your software will likely convert them to an em dash. Otherwise, in Microsoft Office, click Insert, then Symbol, then the em dash. Or use a shortcut: Click (and hold) ALT, CTRL and the minus sign in the keypad.
Spacing with en dashes and em dashes: Do not space before or after hyphens and en dashes. Use a space before and after the em dash if you follow The Associated Press Stylebook. Garner's Modern American Usage recommends that you "consider putting a letter space before and after an em-dash."
How to Use It
Hyphen: Use it to connect.
Use a hyphen to connect two or more words to make a compound word. Examples:
decision-making skills (In this phrase you are not referring to decision skills or making skills. The hyphen tells readers to connect the two words. It helps them instantly understand your meaning.)
two-day programs (These are not two programs or day programs. The hyphen tells readers to connect the two words for a new idea.)
a scaled-down proposal (This isn't actually a scaled proposal or a down proposal. The hyphen connects the two words to make the meaning "scaled-down" clear.)
She is a know-it-all. (She isn't a know, an it, or an all. The words must be connected to make sense.)
Expressions such as decision-making and scaled-down do not need hyphens when they come after the word they describe. The hyphens are not necessary to make the meaning clear. "Your skills in decision making" and "The proposal has been scaled down" make perfect sense.
Expressions often evolve from hyphenated to closed (that is, one word) as readers become familiar with them. Micro-wave is now microwave. No one looks at microwave and thinks of a crow. Email has lost its hyphen in some style guides because we no longer need the hyphen to recognize the word immediately. Because of these gradual changes, it's essential to check a current style manual or dictionary to determine whether your expression needs a hyphen. (I used Merriam-Webster's when I reviewed this post, and I learned that the compound first-rate is always hyphenated.)
Also use hyphens to connect these kinds of expressions:
Insert a hyphen to tell readers to connect the end of one line with the beginning of the next line for word division, like this:
Punctuation for Professionals covers
commas, semicolons, colons, apostro-
phes, dashes, hyphens, quotation
marks, italics, and periods.
To make your text look appealing, avoid using a hyphen at the end of the first line of text and the last full line. Also, try not to end two consecutive lines with hyphens.
En dash: Use it to replace the word to (or through) in a range.
When you use the en dash for the word to, do not use the word from before the expression. For example, these phrases are incorrect: "from 9 a.m.-5" and "from $600-$725." If you want to use the word from, use to rather than the en dash.
Also use the en dash for the word to in expressions like these:
For informal communication, you will typically use a hyphen rather than an en dash because the hyphen is faster to type. However, in brochures, conference programs, annual reports, and other important pieces, take the time to get it right—use the en dash.
Note: The Associated Press Stylebook does not mention the en dash. It uses hyphens for the situations above.
Em dash: Use it for a strong break.
Use the em dash to create an emphatic break between the parts of your sentence. Examples:
David—not Dawn—wrote the press release.
The food is spicy—extremely spicy.
His daughter—she is all he lives for.
The pricing—especially the volume discounts—sold me on the proposal.
Use em dashes to set off a series in the middle of a sentence.
Van's order—the glasses, cups, and silverware—will be delivered today.
All our products—books, journals, and calendars—are on sale this week.
Also use em dashes—sparingly—to break a compound sentence in an energetic way. This use replaces a comma and a conjunction, a period, or a semicolon. Examples:
I'm excited about my new job—it's everything I wanted!
Atul is the strongest person on the team—and you know it.
Prepare now—winter storms will soon hit our region.
I used these sources for the information above: The Chicago Manual of Style, The Associated Press Stylebook, The Gregg Reference Manual, and Garner's Modern American Usage. (Mr. Garner hyphenates em dash and en dash, but the other guides do not.)
Do you have rules or examples to add? Please do!
Passive voice verbs sneak into everyone's writing--at least in first drafts. When your grammar and spelling checker flags a passive verb, how quickly can you rewrite the sentence?
My Microsoft grammar and spelling checker underlined 10 of the 11 passive verbs below. Its only miss was were completed.
See how fast you can revise these sentences to eliminate the underlined passive verbs:
As you worked through the list, you may have wanted to keep some sentences as they were. For example, what's wrong with "All visitors must be escorted"? Nothing.
Sometimes passive verbs do work as well as or better than active verbs:
Use a passive verb only when you have a reason for it. Otherwise, as Strunk and White advised, "Use the active voice." It's typically clearer, more direct, and more concise. The revisions below reduce word count by 25 percent.
Here are my active verb versions of the 10 sentences:
Can you revise passive verbs quickly? If not, what gets in the way?
Here are other helpful blog posts on passive verbs:
When strangers write to me asking for help with their writing, the most common problem I see is long, complicated sentences.
Example: Lynn, please help me with my writing because I need to improve so I can advance to a supervisor position, which I would like to do but my writing is not professional enough yet and it is holding me back.
Long sentences are like labyrinths for readers. They challenge readers to use their wits to find their way to the end.
Yes, when reading essays, books, and novels, many people enjoy traveling through long, complex sentences with twists and turns that lead to a satisfying end. But in business writing, readers want a short, clear path to understanding.
Follow the tips below to break up long sentences so your readers do not get lost--and you don't lose them. Then test your editing skills on four complicated sentences at the end of this post.
1. Include just one idea per sentence.
When sentences have several ideas, readers need to figure out the relationship between the ideas. They need to suspend their understanding until they get to the period (full stop). In contrast, readers can quickly grasp each one-idea sentence and move on to the next.
Although the punctuation makes it easy to recognize the three ideas, this sentence packs in too much:
I hope you will be able to attend, and if you need more information, please call or email me, and I will be glad to help you.
This revision shows that each idea can be a crisp sentence:
I hope you will be able to attend. If you need more information, please call or email me. I will be glad to help you.
2. Begin with the subject, not the windup.
In baseball, the windup is the pitcher's actions before releasing the ball. Although important to the pitcher, the windup can distract the batter. The same is true of readers: If you begin a sentence with a fancy windup, you may lose your readers before releasing your main idea. Instead, start with your subject.
This sentence has a dizzying windup, which makes it too long and complicated:
With over a decade of experience with programming, network security, reverse engineering, cryptography design and cryptanalysis, and attacking protocols, and significant expertise in information security, Lance James provides consultation to businesses ranging from small startups to governments, Fortune 500s, and top financial institutions.
If the sentence began with the subject, Lance James, rather than the long windup, it would be two clearer sentences:
Lance James has over a decade of experience with programming, network security, reverse engineering, cryptography design and cryptanalysis, and attacking protocols, and significant expertise in information security. He provides consultation to businesses ranging from small startups to governments, Fortune 500s, and top financial institutions.
3. When a sentence is long or has more than one idea, try replacing the word and with a period (full stop).
Sometimes your sentences will ramble on because you have forgotten to take a breath and give your reader one. Replacing and with a period may help, as it would in this sentence:
Thanks for your cooperation on this project and we look forward to meeting with you to discuss the items above.
This revision communicates in two powerful sentences:
Thanks for your cooperation. We look forward to meeting with you to discuss the items above.
Sometimes replacing and with a period requires the addition of a word. In the sentence below, which word would you use to replace and?
The navigation panel on the left side of the screen is the same for all contractors and helps them navigate through the site to find what they need quickly.
Your revision might look like mine:
The navigation panel on the left side of the screen is the same for all contractors. It helps them navigate through the site to find what they need quickly.
4. Do not let a long list transform your sentence into a solid wall of text.
Often you need to include a list in your writing. But a sentence burdened with a long list can become a blur to your reader. If that happens, your reader will not see any of the important information in your list. The solution is to break up the long, heavy sentence into bullet points or short sentences that keep your reader's attention.
How would you revise this list-heavy sentence?
Your daily work will include counseling managers on issues ranging from major incidents to employee communications and community relations, representing the company with various groups, supporting the needs of individual plants, managing strategic media opportunities and crisis communications, placing community advertising, and publicizing company efforts in environmental stewardship.
This revision helps each point stand out for the reader:
Your daily work will include:
Follow the tips above to revise each of these complicated sentences. My answers appear at the end. No peeking until you try!
How long is too long? Sometimes long sentences are not difficult to understand. But a document filled with long, complex sentences will slow down readers and could lose them. Strive for an average of no more than 20 words per sentence--15 is better. Also, do not allow yourself to include sentences of more than 35 words in your final draft. If a sentence gets that long, break it in two (or three) or cut words.
Our credit department has requested that you provide a copy of your exempt sales tax document. Also, please fill out the top and signature portion of the credit application. This step is just for assurance that we have the pertinent contact information correct.
You should have the greatest opportunity for success as a new supervisor if you do these two things: Keep the three critical success factors in mind. Talk with your unit manager or your peer coach whenever you find yourself struggling with an employee issue.
Recently there have been several calls and emails from individuals who are using an MS Excel version dated earlier than 2007. They are not able to save their changes based on the instructions provided in the guidelines.
Please immediately advise Marie Smith or your insurance agent if any of these occurs:
Are you lost in a long sentence? Please share it in the comments, and we can try to untangle it together.
If you feel lost as a writer, take one of the five upcoming public classes I will teach online and in person from now through June.
The article above appeared in slightly different form in this month's Better Writing at Work. Subscribe to my free e-newsletter.
A reader named Michelle sent me an excellent capitalization challenge. She received a brief article (indented below) to publish in a magazine, and she wants to follow standard capitalization rules.
Which categories of capitalization would you change in Michelle's example? Would you change job titles, divisions, or anything else? (I have fictionalized the details.)
Decide on changes before you read the rules below.
Detective John Harris began his Law Enforcement career as a Reserve at the Clover Ridge Police Department in 1997. He moved to Greenville and became a Reserve for the Harrison Police Department in 1999. After testing, John became a full-time Police Officer for the Harrison PD in 2000.
John joined the Marion County Sheriff’s Office in 2002 as a Sheriff’s Deputy and was promoted to Detective in 2012. He has worked in Property Crimes, Financial Crimes, and Auto Theft before arriving in Family Violence. We are delighted to add John to our unit, but we are heavy hearted about saying goodbye to Detective Dale Estes.
These rules can help you capitalize correctly in challenging writing samples like Michelle's:
1. Avoid unnecessary capitalization. Only capitalize something when you have a good reason to do so. Liking the way a word looks does not pass as a good reason.
2. Capitalize proper nouns. Proper nouns are the unique names of specific people, places, and things. For instance, if "Clover Ridge Police Department" is the proper name of the police department, it deserves capitalization.
3. Don't capitalize common nouns. A common noun is a label but not a specific, unique name. "Law Enforcement" is not a specific name in Michelle's piece--it is a career. That's why it should be lower case rather than capitalized. The same goes for "Reserve" and "Detective" when they do not come before an individual's name. They are generic rather than proper names.
4. Capitalize a title when it comes directly before a person's name, not separated from the name even by punctuation. "Detective Dale Estes" is correctly capitalized. In contrast, "our retiring detective, Dale Estes" would have a lower case title.
Those rules resolve most of the challenges in Michelle's piece. One that remains involves Property Crimes, Financial Crimes, Auto Theft, and Family Violence. What would you want to know about those terms before you capitalized them?
I will post my revision tomorrow. In the meantime, feel free to comment or post yours.
Do you see rampant capitalization in the pieces you read or edit?
March 20 update: Below is my revision. It assumes that the names of the police departments, sheriff's office, and work units are official.
Detective John Harris began his law enforcement career as a reserve at the Clover Ridge Police Department in 1997. He moved to Greenville and became a reserve for the Harrison Police Department in 1999. After testing, John became a full-time police officer for the Harrison PD in 2000.
John joined the Marion County Sheriff’s Office in 2002 as a sheriff’s deputy and was promoted to detective in 2012. He has worked in Property Crimes, Financial Crimes, and Auto Theft before arriving in Family Violence. We are delighted to add John to our unit, but we are heavy hearted about saying goodbye to Detective Dale Estes.
When I pay for my groceries at the supermarket, the cash register spits out coupons based on what I have bought. Recently I received one with this offer:
Buy any large [brand name] pizza between 2/23/15 and 3/22/15 and SAVE up to $3.00 on a future order with coupon.
Because I occasionally buy frozen pizza, I put the coupon in my pocket, then read it later. Here is the "fine print":
Buy 2, get $1 OR
Buy 3, get $2 OR
But 4 or more, get $3 coupon for your next shopping order.
I am annoyed. Can you determine why?
"Buy any large pizza" was misleading. Any means "one," yet there was no savings if I bought just one.
False or misleading promises erode readers' trust in us as writers. This problem exists even beyond coupons and offers trying to sell products. Whenever we write, we must be sure our messages do not damage our readers' trust and confidence in us.
Consider these situations, imagining you are the reader:
All five situations erode trust. And writers can avoid all five if they do one simple thing: ask themselves the question "Is this completely true?" and make changes when the answer is no.
And the store coupon I received might have said "Buy large pizzas" rather than "Buy any large pizza."
Ask yourself "Is this completely true?" before you click Send, Publish, or Post. That simple question can help you maintain your readers' trust and confidence. ("Is this true?" may be sufficient, but I add the word completely to push to the heart of the content.)
How have business writers diminished your trust in them?
Get my guide Clarity, Conciseness, Zing, and More for 27 articles of tips and strategies for writing well on the job.
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My husband, Michael, is planning to participate in an event on Saturday. Below is the entire content of the reminder email he received today. Can you identify what's missing?
Subject: Three More Days Until the Run!
We hope you are getting excited about participating in Saturday's group run/walk! A few things to remember:
If you were sending this reminder to people who had registered for the event, what essential information would you also include?
Proofreading is not just identifying errors. Sometimes it involves recognizing what isn't there. If you would like to increase your proofreading skills and confidence, take our Proofreading Like a Pro class online. Learn about our upcoming public classes.
In response to client requests, I have designed a new online class, Punctuation for Professionals. It's a lively, interactive review of the essential rules of punctuation.
Would you benefit from a punctuation class? See whether you can identify punctuation errors in 8 of the 16 sentences below.
Which word, if or whether, is correct in each of these sentences?
We may not agree on the answers. That might be because we interpret a sentence differently. Or we may follow a looser or stricter style when it comes to if/whether choices. I cover style manual differences below these answers:
A few style manuals on my bookshelf offer these opinions:
The Canadian Press Stylebook says if and whether "are interchangeable when they make sense and are not ambiguous." In other words, The Canadian Press Stylebook supports using either word in sentences 1 and 4.
Garner's Modern American Usage distinguishes between the two words, always using whether for alternatives. Garner would use whether in 1 and 4 and would choose carefully between if and whether in number 2.
The Chicago Manual of Style agrees essentially with Garner. Chicago adds, "Avoid substituting if for whether unless your tone is intentionally informal or you are quoting someone." Chicago also emphasizes that "determine whether" and "decide whether" are preferable to the colloquial (informal) "determine if" and "decide if," unless you want a colloquial style.
The Gregg Reference Manual generally agrees with Chicago. Also, it recommends using whether rather than if in these expressions: "see whether," "learn whether," "know whether," and "doubt whether."
Microsoft Manual of Style uses the traditional approach of Garner and Chicago. Microsoft also advises against using when for if in sentences like this one: "The printer might insert stray characters if [not when] the wrong font is selected."
The Associated Press Stylebook does not cover the use of if and whether.
Do you use the careful or the colloquial approach? Occasionally I use the informal if when readers expect me to use whether. I need to consider my audience and make choices that will help them focus on my message, not on my choice between two words.
Learn about our upcoming public classes, including Proofreading Like a Pro.
How confident are you in your use of commas and semicolons? The article below contains 10 intentional errors that involve commas and semicolons. Note: I use the serial comma. If you don't use it, your error count will be different.
A corrected version and a list of rules follow the test. No peeking until you are finished!
Nurturing Your Professional Network
Your network is just like your garden. It must be nurtured, coaxed, and fed to continue to thrive and bear fruit for you. If you’ve been at a loss for ways to nurture your professional network consider these tips.
Tend your network with many thanks. Write a note of thanks promptly when a professional contact helps you, then follow up when you make progress because of that help. For example if your contact recommends a professional organization, report back on the positive experience you have had after you attend a meeting of the group.
Keep your network in the know. Whether they live in New York, New York or Walla Walla, Washington, people like to feel in the know. When new things come to light in your job search or profession, share them with your network. My friend Sarah began a job search on September 1, 2012, and ended it three months later; nevertheless, she still networks. She emailed me last week and wrote, “Kate, I made some new decisions recently, and I want to tell you about them.” I was delighted to hear from her and your contacts are likely to feel the same about you.
Cross-fertilize your network. Share information with your contacts who are in career transition, but don’t forgot those who are not. Recently I read an article I knew would interest a colleague and sent a copy to him with a brief note. I haven’t heard back from him, however, I am certain he was pleased to receive the information.
If you are in a job search be patient. The Greek philosopher Epictetus said: “No great thing is created suddenly any more than a bunch of grapes or a fig. If you desire a fig, let it first blossom, then bear fruit, then ripen.” Plant the seeds tend your garden and new growth will gradually take place.
Nurturing Your Professional Network
Your network is just like your garden. It must be nurtured, coaxed, and fed to continue to thrive and bear fruit for you. If you’ve been at a loss for ways to nurture your professional network, consider these tips.
Tend your network with many thanks. Write a note of thanks promptly when a professional contact helps you; then follow up when you make progress because of that help. For example, if your contact recommends a professional organization, report back on the positive experience you have had after you attend a meeting of the group.
Keep your network in the know. Whether they live in New York, New York, or Walla Walla, Washington, people like to feel in the know. When new things come to light in your job search or profession, share them with your network. My friend Sarah began a job search on September 1, 2012, and ended it three months later; nevertheless, she still networks. She emailed me last week and wrote, “Kate, I made some new decisions recently, and I want to tell you about them.” I was delighted to hear from her, and your contacts are likely to feel the same about you.
Cross-fertilize your network. Share information with your contacts who are in career transition, but don’t forgot those who are not. Recently I read an article I knew would interest a colleague and sent a copy to him with a brief note. I haven’t heard back from him; however, I am certain he was pleased to receive the information.
If you are in a job search, be patient. The Greek philosopher Epictetus said: “No great thing is created suddenly, any more than a bunch of grapes or a fig. If you desire a fig, let it first blossom, then bear fruit, then ripen.” Plant the seeds, tend your garden, and new growth will gradually take place.
Which comma rules challenge you?
For more practice finding errors, get my "Error Quests" as a printed booklet or a desktop tool. It has 50 short proofreading challenges, each with just one error.
To make correct punctuation choices, take our online classes Punctuation for Professionals and Proofreading Like a Pro. Learn about upcoming public classes here.