7 Reference Resources for Writers and Editors

What guides and handbooks does a careful writer (or editor) rely on? I’ve consulted many resources, but the ones on this list have pride of place and show the most wear and tear. 1. The Associated Press Stylebook Associated Press style and Chicago style (see below) differ in some respects, but many of the listings … Read more

5 Usage Errors

Careless or uninformed writers are at risk of using the wrong word for the job. Here are five examples of such mistakes by professional writers, with discussions and corrections: 1. “The idea that an economically struggling country of 24 million could submit a technically superior country that occupies 3.79 million square miles is preposterous.” This … Read more

How to Write a Proposal

Writing a proposal is similar to but not exactly the same as crafting a persuasive essay or producing a report. Here are suggestions for developing a proposal, including some pertinent to its specific purpose. 1. A proposal should define a problem and describe a solution that will persuade busy, thrifty, skeptical readers to support it. … Read more

7 Ethnic Names with Figurative Meanings

Names of ethnic groups have inspired nonliteral associations, many of them derogatory designations for the “other.” Here are seven such terms based on such names. 1. Bohemian: This word for one who adopts an unconventional lifestyle derives from the name of a historic region of Europe that now constitutes much of the present-day Czech Republic. … Read more

3 Problems of Parallel Syntax

Writers frequently err in producing in-line lists (those incorporated into a sentence, rather than presented vertically) whose items do not correspond grammatically. Here are three sample sentences, along with corrections. 1. “If a work is no longer set in Japan, no longer written by Japanese authors or penned by Japanese artists, and no longer reflects … Read more

30 Words for Small Amounts

Words that refer to small amounts or objects are frequently associated with specific idioms or a certain connotation. Here are many of those words included in sample phrasings that suggest the sense in which they are often used. 1. Bit: “a bit of a problem” 2. Crumb: “a crumb of self-respect” 3. Dab: “a dab … Read more

Book Review: “The Dictionary of Worthless Words”

Numerous usage handbooks provide general guidelines about how to carefully select the right word or phrase for the right job (or reject one unsuitable for its intended use), but The Dictionary of Worthless Words, by Dave Dowling, specializes in the words and phrases to avoid because they are flaccid, redundant, or verbose. The entries, listed … Read more

How to Write a Report

It is likely that, at some point in your career, you will be asked — or feel compelled — to write a report. Here are seven steps to producing a successful account or analysis. 1. Identify the report’s objective: Inform, or advise? If the former, predict, or review? If the latter, persuade, or dissuade? 2. … Read more

5 Cases of Confusion Between Things and Their Names

1. “Users can choose from any website that offers RSS feeds, short for ‘Really Simple Syndication.’ “RSS feeds” is not short for “Really Simple Syndication.” The sentence refers to RSS feeds and then explains what the initialism stands for, but the association of the spelled-out term with the initialism is confusing, so the additional information … Read more

4 Logical Fallacies

Anyone who tries to argue a point is obligated to support assertions with well-reasoned evidence in the form of facts, statistics, illustrations and to support that assertion with reasonableness and logic. There are, however, several very common pitfalls—generally labeled fallacies in reasoning or logical fallacies—waiting for the unwary: 1. Argumentum ad hominem: essentially, an argument … Read more

7 Vehicular Violations of Proper English

Advertising in the form of signage printed on vehicles is a road hazard when exasperating errors and extraneous elements in the mobile messaging distract motorists. Here are photographs of seven moving violations, with commentary. The motto painted on this truck not only commits a quintuple-overkill foul but also is flatly incorrect. The worst infraction, beyond … Read more

10 Words for Bodily Functions and Actions

No, this list isn’t just for those in the medical profession. Many readers find sesquipedalianism — use of overly complicated words when a simpler synonym is available — irritating, but ostentatious vocabulary has its place in invective, satire, and standard-issue humor, and can enhance general prose, whether through figurative or literal use. 1. Borborygmus: rumbling … Read more