5 Rules for Using Logic to Order Lists

At least five factors dictate how items in an in-line list — a series of items within a paragraph, as opposed to a vertical list — are organized. (See an earlier post about in-line lists.) It’s all about the context: alphabetization, chronology, complexity, interrelationship, or sequence. (Guess which context I chose for the preceding sentence.) … Read more

7 Advisories About Abbreviations

Abbreviations are useful, but they can be wickedly tricky little widgets. Keep these points in mind when you truncate words and phrases: 1. a/an This entry refers not to a or an as abbreviations but to which of the two indefinite articles should precede a given abbreviation. The choice depends not on the first letter … Read more

Beware of Buzzword Bingo

Far back in the mists of Internet time (that would be the 1990s), a couple of wags at a computer company called Silicon Graphics created a subversive game that filled a need. You’ve been there, perhaps: a company meeting at which executives or tech geeks unironically launch volleys of absurd marketing catchphrases or tech jargon. … Read more

Here’s How to Treat Attribution, He Said

Attribution is the convention in composition of identifying a speaker or writer when you include direct quotes (which should be enclosed in quotation marks) or paraphrases. An entire system of usage — a choreography, if you will — has developed around how to arrange quotations and paraphrases and their attributions. Here are the dance steps: … Read more

5 Rules for Run-In Lists

When brief lists appear within a sentence — technically, these are called in-line lists — they’re often complicated by excessive punctuation. Here are some errors in construction of in-line lists, and their corrections, to illustrate a few simple rules: 1. “Sugarcane has been able to flourish in the Everglades thanks to the flood-control project; tariff … Read more

How to Refer to Time

It’s time to talk about time: specifically, how to write references to units of temporal measurement. This post will note style for increments from seconds to centuries. Time of Day Imprecise times of day are generally spelled out: “six-o’clock news,” “half past one,” “a quarter to three,” and “eight thirty,” as well as “noon” and … Read more

Where to Place the Possessive Apostrophe in a Surname

You see them all the time during rural drives and suburban errands alike, those olde-fashioned wooden shingles mounted on mailboxes or dangling from porches or fastened to walls: “The Smith’s” and the like—stark reminders that possessives still throw many people for a loop. Rules about possessives can be complicated, but this error is straightforward enough: … Read more

How to Style Titles of Compositions

Navigating the formatting rules about titles of compositions — books and chapters, movies and TV shows, albums and songs, and the like — can seem like negotiating a minefield. Here’s a handy map to help you maneuver through the terrain: In print, two primary formats exist for identifying a creative work. Titles of entire bodies … Read more

Find the Right Word for the Job

One of the most effective ways to achieve a rich, expressive writing style is to strive to find the ideal words to express yourself. For example, whether you’re writing a report or a novel, always review your writing to make certain you are using vivid descriptions. Nouns Let’s say you want to describe a box. … Read more

Avoid Capital Offenses When Using Job Titles

When it comes to mechanical aspects of writing, few details seem to trip writers up as much as capitalization: when to use uppercase letters, and when to use lowercase letters. Specific job titles preceding a person’s name are capitalized, but descriptions are not. For example, “Marketing Director John Doe” is correct, but “Marketing Chief John … Read more

Initialisms and Acronyms

Most people know what an acronym is. But few are as familiar with term initialism, or of an important distinction between the two. An acronym is an initial abbreviation that can be pronounced as a word, such as NASA or WASP. This term is also used to refer to a series of initials pronounced individually, … Read more

Rules for Capitalization in Titles

I used to think there were only two ways to use capitalization in a title: (1) Capitalize only the first word in the title (except for proper nouns), which I learned working for a local newspaper; and (2) Capitalize the principal and longer words and lowercase the minor, shorter words, which I learned was wrong. … Read more