The Many Forms of Plurals

Plurals take many (sometimes curious or counterintuitive) forms. Here is an outline of how to form various types of plurals according to the word form or ending: For words ending in: nonsibilant, or voiceless, consonants: add -s (dogs). voiced, or sibilant, consonant blends: add -es (riches). vowels: add -s (knees). -f: delete -f and add … Read more

How to Punctuate References to Dates and Times

Where do the commas go in references to days, months, years, and time of day? Take some time to note these punctuation rules: No comma is needed between a month and a year: “The meeting was held in August 2011.” The same form is correct for referring to a holiday during a certain year: “I … Read more

5 Ways to Keep Parallel Lists on Track

For many types of diagnostic posts on this site, in which I present a list of sentences with the same kind of error and describe the problem, I try to find real-world examples I’ve come across in editing projects or in casual reading, though sometimes I have to resort to constructing examples. One type of … Read more

Physical Descriptions Put Readers in Your Place

Writers deliver their stories — fiction and nonfiction alike — to readers more effectively when they use appearances of people, places, and things to help drive the narrative and illuminate personalities. Consider these ideas: People Some writers omit or minimize description of physical characteristics, considering them peripheral details, but revealing details about a person’s appearance … Read more

Content Quality and Quantity Are the Cause of Wikipedia’s Woes

Recent coverage of Wikipedia has pointed out that the collaborative online encyclopedia is in trouble. What’s up? It’s all about production. When Wikipedia was launched in 2001, it attracted many people who found the idea of a user-generated Web resource akin to The Encyclopedia Britannica highly appealing. Since then, multitudes of people have contributed to … Read more

7 Rules for Identifying People by Place Names

George R. Stewart, if he is remembered today at all, is noted as the writer of Earth Abides, a seminal work in the science fiction subgenre of the postapocalyptic novel. But to some language geeks he is hailed as an onomastician, a scholar of place names. Stewart, in the 1930s, is perhaps best known in … Read more

7 Subjects of Academic Terminology

Go to the head of the class by observing these rules, recommendations, and conventions about scholastic terminology: 1. Courses Specific course names are capitalized but not enclosed in quotation marks: “Every section of Introduction to Psychology is closed.” A numbered course, even a conjectural one, is also capitalized: “The senator obviously failed Economics 101 [or … Read more

5 Brainstorming Strategies for Writers

Brainstorming is useful whether you have too few ideas, or too many. It can help you whether you don’t know how to organize your thoughts, or whether you don’t even have any thoughts. But before you start, remember the first rule of brainstorming: Enumerate, don’t evaluate. Just get the ideas down, and don’t judge them … Read more

How to Treat Names of Groups and Organizations

Proper names create challenges for writers and editors trying to identify an organizational entity in a way that is both accurate and graceful. For example, in general, if you would precede the name of an entity with the article the in speech, do so in writing, and if not, don’t. This rule applies to organizations: … Read more

How to Hire an Editor

You’ve written a novel, or a short-story collection, that you hope to publish yourself in print or online, or perhaps you plan to send it to an agent in the hopes that an editor at a publishing company will consider it. Or perhaps you have, or work for, a business that distributes printed communications, or … Read more

How to Reverse-Outline Your First Draft

You know that producing an outline is an effective strategy for helping you organize your writing. Whether the content is a novel, an interview, a review, or any other form of prose, preceding the actual writing with some sort of framework — a hierarchical vertical list, a bullet list, an interconnected web of words or … Read more

Build Your Own Style Guide

If you have your own blog, or you produce print or online content for a company or organization, you need a style guide. “But I use The Chicago Manual of Style, just like you recommend,” you might tell me. Or perhaps you’re an AP Stylebook type, or you prefer some other set of guidelines to … Read more