Tag Archives: writing

Hyphenate descriptive words

You need to hyphenate descriptive words. What does that mean? Let me explain:

I wish I had noise-canceling headphones to drown out all the sales guys at work.

A hyphen is used here (but is not absolutely necessary) because “noise” and “canceling” are acting as a compound modifier, modifying “headphones.” These examples are detailed fully on Grammar Girl.

Hyphens are a “look-it-up” punctuation mark. Though hyphens have several uses, we’re going to focus on how to use hyphens with compound adjectives. Compound adjectives are two or more words that together make an adjective. When they come directly before a noun, they’re known as compound modifiers and usually have a hyphen, like “noise-canceling headphones.” Here are a few more examples:

They had a long-term relationship.

The fire-proof vest proved to be a great life saver.

If the adjectives come after the noun, then they don’t need a hyphen. For example

Their relationship was long term.

Santa’s new vest is fire proof.

These terms need hyphenation in your brochures, web copy and emails because they are always used to describe something:

In-depth

Best-in-class

Buy-in

End-to-End supply chain

Up-to-date

On-site

Top-of-the-line

Hands-on

Step-by-step

Real-time

These terms are one word and not hyphenated:

Firsthand

Unpredictable

Beforehand

Unforeseen

Uninterrupted

Inconsistency

Derail

Capitalization in Headlines & Subject Lines

Fix yo grammar.
Fix yo grammar.

Lately I’ve seen some inconsistencies between who is capitalizing what in certain subject lines and titles.

So, stop. It’s grammar time!

Opinions are divided across stylebooks on what words should be capitalized, but throughout my career I’ve been able to develop a universally-accepted, three-rule guideline:

  1. Always capitalize the first and last word of the subject line/title (you all are perfect with this rule.)
  2. Capitalize any and all words that are four or more letters in length
  3. Do NOT capitalize conjunctions (and, or, but, nor, yet, so, for), articles (a, an, the) and short prepositions (in, to, of, at, by, up, for, off, on).

Here’s a quiz I pulled off the World Wide Web to test you on these rules. Which words do you think should be capitalized in these titles/subject lines?

  • made to stick: why some ideas survive and others die
  • the story factor: inspiration, influence, and persuasion through the art of storytelling
  • fierce conversations: achieving success at work and in life, one conversation at a time
  • a funny thing happened on the way to the boardroom: using humor in business speaking

Think on it …

Still thinking ….

Do you know which words to uppercase yet?

Ok, let’s test those skills:

Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die (to is a short preposition; and is a conjunction)

  • The Story Factor: Inspiration, Influence, and Persuasion Through the Art of Storytelling (through is a preposition, but is capitalized because it is greater than four letters)
  • Fierce Conversations: Achieving Success at Work and in Life, One Conversation at a Time (one is capitalized because it is an adjective)
  • A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Boardroom: Using Humor in Business Speaking

The most common errors I see are with short words that are not conjunctions, articles, or prepositions. Words such as one, it, its, it’s, him, and own should all be capitalized no matter where they appear in a title.

I hope this helps! Next week a note on prepositions? Email me to let me know what you have questions about.

BONUS: Did you know there’s a name for the the “dot, dot, dot” … you see in emails and other correspondence? It’s called an ellipses (eee-lip-seas), and is used most frequently in writing when summarizing quotations.

Ampersands — Use sparingly

Did you know this symbol has a name?

An ampersand is the informal symbol for "and."
An ampersand is the informal symbol for “and.”
It’s called an ampersand and it’s grossly over-used in business writing. Ampersands are pronounced as written: am-per-sand.

The ampersand is an over-used abbreviation for the word “and” – it really should be limited to a few situations in formal, business writing:

1.) In company names where it’s warranted (Smith & Jones Law Firm)

2.) When artistic considerations dictate; e.g., a logo

3.) In specific academic references (Grant & Smith Publishing,2001)

4.) Addressing a couple on an invitation or envelope (Mr. & Mrs. Smith)

5.) When items in a series are related, but this is bridging on unacceptable (John has experience in Marketing, Research & Design and Business Management)

In general, it is not proper grammar to simply abbreviate the word and replace it with an ampersand. Why? Because the ampersand symbol is considered more casual. If you’re working for a business-to-business or business-to-consumer company, you should not be using it. If you want to send it in a text message to your bae, however, that’s fine by me.

In conclusion, it’s not that I hate the ampersand, it’s just not correct in formal, business writing.

Everybody has a Story to Tell

The awkward silence. Far from foe, the awkward silence is your best friend.

Let me ask you something: What is your first reaction when you’re on the phone with someone and the natural flow of the conversation ends? If you’re like most people, it is to immediately fill the space with your words. Say something. Anything.

As a newspaper reporter and journalist, one of the best pieces of advice I ever received was to let the other person fill the awkward silence space. In journalism, this is a nifty technique that prompts the source to tell you information they might not have previously shared. In life, it’s a great technique for teaching you patience in conversation.

Most of us start out as selfish conversationalists. Raise your hand if you’ve ever experienced the following daftness: The man who drones on and on about his life and travels. The woman who cuts you off to share her opinion, story or antecdote, which she believes is far more relevant than what you have to say. We all hate these people. I was once these people — and it failed me miserably. Not only did I send people running for the hills with my self absorption, I was also failing to learn anything about anyone else.

If you don’t find someone interesting then your problem is you’re doing all the talking.

“What really knocks me out is a book that, when you're all done reading it, you wish the author that wrote it was a terrific friend of yours and you could call him up on the phone whenever you felt like it.” - J.D. Salinger, author of The Catcher in the Rye
“What really knocks me out is a book that, when you’re all done reading it, you wish the author that wrote it was a terrific friend of yours and you could call him up on the phone whenever you felt like it.”
– J.D. Salinger, author of The Catcher in the Rye

Since I made the long and painful process from becoming a “talker” to a “listener,” I have never met a boring person. Hear me out. People love to talk about themselves. This is a simple fact. If you start asking them questions about their life, work, family or hobbies you will find that they always come up with something interesting to say. What this means is that you also have something interesting to say.

A top excuse among aspiring writers is that they “don’t have anything to say.” We all have a story to tell. Simply write what we know. I’ve learned to ignore the snickering when I say that I write about my life. Oh, you don’t think my life as a twenty-something, middle-class white girl living in NYC isn’t interesting enough? You’re wrong. Someone, somewhere will be able to relate to me. And that’s the point of writing, isn’t it?

I don’t care if you’re a reformed drug dealer who was detained in Peru for six years on smuggling charges or if you’re a housewife in Oklahoma who has never left the United States. You and your story have value.

“What really knocks me out is a book that, when you’re all done reading it, you wish the author that wrote it was a terrific friend of yours and you could call him up on the phone whenever you felt like it.” – J.D. Salinger, author of The Catcher in the Rye.

When you write, write for yourself and write like you’re talking to a friend. I think you’ll find that by using this foundation

your readers will eventually become your friends.

What makes you a writer? If you write.

Writers write. It's as simple as that.
Writers write. It’s as simple as that.

 

“It’s none of their business if you have to learn to write. Let them think you were born that way.”

– Ernest Hemingway

 

Some people were born writers. I’m not one of those people. That still doesn’t stop me from responding, “I’m a writer,” when asked (the frankly rude, in my opinion) question, “What do you do?”

I’ve been writing professionally for seven  years, but still don’t feel I deserve the designation because I haven’t achieved my goal of writing for myself every day.

For the purpose of a self pep talk, I have come to accept that what makes me a writer isn’t necessarily that I’m paid to do it … it’s that I write. I don’t write every day — I should — but I write regularly. I write often. I write enough. I’ve put in so much writing time that now I’m published and getting published is getting easier.

Just like everything in life, you’ve got to take it one step at a time. The more  you work on something the more skilled you will become. Don’t give up, just put fingers to keyboard.

20 Common English Grammar Mistakes

I’m currently in learning mode. I’ve been working hard to sharpen my language skills and writing skills in order to stay on top of my game. In order order to do so, I’ve been scouring the web for insight and came across this post via Joanna Goodard’s blog. It goes into the top 20 common English grammar mistakes.

My favorites are the use of “who” and “whom” and “fewer or less”

Fewer and Less

“Less” is reserved for hypothetical quantities. “Few” and “fewer” are for things you can quantify. e.g., The firm has fewer than ten employees. e.g., The firm is less successful now that we have only ten employees.

Who and Whom

This one opens a big can of worms. “Who” is a subjective — or nominative — pronoun, along with “he,” “she,” “it,” “we,” and “they.” It’s used when the pronoun acts as the subject of a clause. “Whom” is an objective pronoun, along with “him,” “her,” “it”, “us,” and “them.” It’s used when the pronoun acts as the object of a clause. Using “who” or “whom” depends on whether you’re referring to the subject or object of a sentence. When in doubt, substitute “who” with the subjective pronouns “he” or “she,” e.g., Who loves you? cf., He loves me. Similarly, you can also substitute “whom” with the objective pronouns “him” or “her.” e.g., I consulted an attorney whom I met in New York. cf., I consulted him.

But, don’t you feel that if you used “whom” in a conversation you would come off a bit snobby?

How to write a press release

Chances are you want to get in front of the media if you’re a business owner. Not only do national and local news media boast a captive audience, but they also have the potential to send you along on their upward trajectory.

It’s frightening talking to a journalist. I know this because I am one and during my career I’ve had people literally flee from me after I introduce myself. But, I’m people, too. I’m not the boogie monster. Likewise, the media is not the enemy. Once you realize the next step in marketing yourself is to do so through the media you may become overwhelmed with anxiety at the thought of approaching the press.

As always, the key lies in your preparation.

The best way to contact a mediaperson remains via email. (I will elaborate on this in another post.) But first, let’s get you started on a rough draft of your first press release.

1. The Five W’s

Raise your hand if you remember the five W’s from English class? It seems obvious, but many business owners, and even public relations professionals, forget to include these equally important aspects in their press release. Who are you; What do you do/sell; Where are your headquarters (this is especially important to local media)/Where is your product or service distributed; When did you open/expand/relocate; and Why are you contacting me?

2. Define yourself clearly

The biggest mistake you can make in a press release is not clearly defining your business. Be careful not to use industry jargon. You should be able to state what your business does or provides in one sentence. This sentence should be contained in the first paragraph of the press release. You can further expand on your company’s background at the end of the press release in the “about us” paragraph.

3. What’s the benefit to the public?

This should be a part of your business plan, so if it’s stumping you, it is time to take a look at your business model.

4. Highlight the hook

Journalists are as attracted to large Fortune 500 companies as they are small businesses. This is in our blood. We write about corporations because they’re sexy and increase our SEO, and we report on small businesses because we want to beat our competitors to the next new thing. Mid-sized businesses tend to get lost in the fold because they don’t have the resources to market themselves but they also don’t need us as much. Journalists want to know how you’re different from everyone else. You know how you’re better and different, so outline the facts without selling yourself.

5. Include contact information

Always let the journalist know who they can contact if they’re interested in more information. It’s wishful thinking — but journalists prefer to speak directly to the C-suite executives over the public relations professional. No hard feelings, we just want to hear it from the horse’s mouth. Finally, always, always include your website URL.

Watch out for more on the nitty gritty of writing a press release in a later post.