3 More Rules for Producing Consistent Content

By Mark Nichol

Here are a handful of tips that will help you produce clean, clear writing regardless of topic, intent, and audience.

1. Insert or Omit Hyphens as Needed

Adjectival phrases that precede a noun, such as “free range” before chicken, generally take hyphens, though if the phrase is a standing phrase documented in dictionaries (as is “high school”), leave the hyphen out when using the phrase to modify a noun (“high school student”). Adverbial phrases such as “newly discovered” never take hyphens, but those with flat adverbs (those lacking the -ly ending), such as “well earned,” always do before (but not after) a noun.

Most prefixes are attached directly to the root word (antiwar, cosponsor, deactivate, neoconservative, preapproved, reorganize, and so on), though there are exceptions (for example, when the root word is a proper name or when the first letter of the prefix is an i and the first letter of the root word is, too). When in doubt, look it up. When not in doubt, look it up anyway.

A few compounds remain hyphenated. (Light-year and mind-set are two of the most common.) Learn these exceptions to the rule that compound nouns are either open or closed.

2. Minimize Jargon

On a related note, when using specialized language, make sure that all content producers in your organization are in line with the definition and application of the terminology (and, again, publicize within the organization and document it) and that external consumers of your content understand it, too. But take care not to burden the reader with a heavy concentration of jargon; carefully manage a balance of authoritative language with clarity.

Also, avoid using acronyms and initialisms unless readers are familiar with them or they are introduced in every document, on every web page, or in every email message—spelled out on first reference, followed by the parenthesized abbreviation.

If feasible, provide a glossary of terms and abbreviations.

3. Avoid Adjective Stacks

On a related note, avoid strings of adjectives that modify nouns; for example, reword “information technology risk management mitigation efforts” to “efforts to mitigate risks in managing information technology.”

Find related tips in this post.

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1 Response to “3 More Rules for Producing Consistent Content”

  • Penn

    Glad to see you are not advocating on behalf of the relatively new NYT style policy–or perhaps I should say Nyt–to represent acronyms with the first letter in uppercase only, instead of the complete word. NAFTA becomes Nafta, NAACP becomes Naacp, etc. I believe they make exceptions when the acronym would look like a common word, like SCORE.

    I find it jarring and think the letters representing key words in the acronym should be in caps.

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