Friday, November 16, 2012

Our language updated: 'He' doesn't mean 'she'--and other narrow-minded terms

Well, election 2012 is finally behind us. And with it, I wish, conservative politicians and their supporters have learned lessons about their narrow-minded, arrogant attitudes toward women.

One thing we've seen all too much this past election year is the disturbing language used to describe issues of importance to women (and men, too!). So, on that note, here are excerpts from Garbl's Editorial Style Manual on sex, sexism, and related topics, including sexual orientation.

sex, sexism Base communication on relevant qualities of men and women, not on their sex or sexual orientation. See below: gay, lesbian; gender.

Avoid the outdated use of words that restrict meaning to males. Include all people in general references by substituting unbiased, asexual words and phrases: informal agreement for gentlemen's agreementhomemaker for housewifeemployees and their spouses for employees and their wives.

Here are other examples: hours worked, staff hours or working hours for man-hours; people, men and women, human beings, the human race, civilization or humanity for mankind; physical strength, resources, human effort, staff, workers or work force for manpower; artificial, synthetic, manufactured or handmade for manmade; and large, big, generous or formidable for man-sized. Also, think about using sewer access, pipeline opening, utility maintenance hole or utility access hole for manhole. See man below.

Avoid using man or woman as a suffix or prefix in job titles: Substitute business executive, business leader or businessperson for businessman; worker, laborer or employee for workman; camera operator, videographer or cinematographer for cameraman; firefighter for fireman; letter carrier, mail carrier or postal worker for mailman; and sales representative, agent or clerk for salesman. Use generic titles or descriptions for both men and women. 

Avoid writing about woman managers, male secretaries, men's work, women's interests such as recipe swapping, sewing and fashion. See chairman, chairperson, chairwoman below.

Reword sentences to drop unnecessary gender pronouns, especially the outdated generic he and his but also she and her. Here are some alternatives:

  • Try dropping use of any pronoun.
  • Substitute the articles a or the for the pronoun where suitable.
  • Use the plural pronouns they and their with plural nouns: Workers ... they. Not The worker ... he. Using plural pronouns with singular nouns is not, yet, widely accepted: The worker ... they. See their, them, their below.
  • Use he or she and his or hers--but don't overdo it. Alternate between using those phrases and other alternatives. See below: he or she, he/shehis, his/her.
  • Repeat the original noun or use synonyms for second references to nouns like the worker or workers. But don't overdo that either. Make sure it's clear to readers the synonyms refer to the same person or people.
  • Alternate male and female expressions and examples. 

Refer to women and men equally and consistently: Middle school teachers Larry Carson and Emily Johnson won the awards. Not: Middle school teachers Larry Carson and Mrs. Gus Johnson won the awards. See Miss, Mr., Mrs., Ms. below.

Use parallel language when mentioning people by gender: Substitute husband and wife for man and wife, ladies and gentlemen for ladies and men (or gentlemen and ladies, for variety). Neither men nor women over the age of 18 are boys or girls. Usually, use woman and man as the noun and female and male as the adjective. See female, male below.

Give equal respect to women and men. Do not describe men by mental qualities or professional position and, simultaneously, describe women by physical features. Only refer to appearance, charm, intuition or physical strength when relevant.

chair, chairman, chairperson, chairwoman Use chair as the title for the heads of councils and committees, unless the person in the position prefers chairman, chairwoman or chairperson. Capitalize as a formal title before a name. Do not capitalize as a casual, temporary position.
female, male Best used as adjectives, if necessary to refer to the sex of a person or occupational title. For nouns, use woman, man, girl and boy instead. Female and male are OK as nouns when writing about animals, when it's not known if a person is an adult or a child, and when writing about a group that includes both adults and children.
gay, lesbian Identify a person's sexual orientation only when it is relevant. Do not refer to "sexual preference" or to a gay, homosexual or alternative "lifestyle." Use gay (n. and adj.) to describe men and women attracted to the same sex, though lesbian is the more common term for women. Avoid using homosexual except in clinical contexts or references to sexual activity. 

Instead of referring to lesbians and gays, consider using gay women and men or lesbians and gay men. Lowercase gay and lesbian except in names of organizations. Don't refer to gays with disparaging, offensive terms. Use gay and queer carefully in other contexts. Do not use gay as offensive, incorrect adolescent slang meaning "stupid." 
gender Gender has become an acceptable term for writing about differences between males and females, especially their social, psychological and cultural traits--or who we are. Sex is more often used when writing about physical and biological traits--or what we do. Stay tuned. 

gentleman A man is a man. When there's more than one man, they are men. Save gentleman and gentlemen for noting a man or men who are especially polite or gracious. See lady below.

he or she, he/she In avoiding the outdated use of the generic hehe or she is much preferred over he/she, as are his or hers over his/hers and him or her over him/her. Of course, the pronoun order can be reversed: she or he, hers or his, her or him. To avoid overuse of he or she and its other forms, use a plural construction: All participants must supply their own tools instead of Each participant must supply his or her own tools. See his, his/her below.

her Do not use this pronoun to refer to nations or ships, except in quotations. Use it instead. 
his, her, his/her Avoid using the singular pronouns his or her in generic references. Also avoid the awkward construction his/her. Instead, rewrite the sentence. Changing singular pronouns to plural pronouns often works well. Change: A chef should taste his/her creations before serving them. To: Chefs should taste their creations before serving them.
lady Don't use this word as a synonym for woman or when it would sound outdated or patronizing. Reserve for writing about nobility. 
man, manned, manning Do not use man as a verb. Use staff instead or forms of use, operate, worked or run. Change: Three employees man the office. To: Three employees staff the officeThree employees run the office. See staff below.
manpower Outdated word. Use workers, labor, staff, staffing, physical strength, human effort or work force instead. 
Miss, Mr., Mrs., Ms. In texts, do not use the courtesy titles Miss, Mr., Mrs. or Ms. Instead, use the first and last names of the person. On second reference, use only the last name. Courtesy titles may be used in business correspondence. Plural forms of these titles: Misses, Messrs., Mmes., Mses. 
staff Collective noun, it takes singular verbs: The staff is working on the project. Staff members may be used, if needed: Staff members are working on the project. 

their, them, they The day may come--and should--when these plural pronouns are accepted as singular pronouns that don't note a person's sex. Some respected writing authorities now suggest this change in language as we eliminate the outdated use of he, him and his as references to both men and women. This updated usage would be similar to use of the pronouns you and your for both one person and more than person, taking a plural verb even when mentioning one person.

Still, for now, consider the potential reaction of your audience--and the reaction you would prefer as the writer or editor--before applying this use. Meanwhile, try other acceptable uses, especially using the plural pronouns to refer to plural nouns. 

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Editing for Creativity: How to Enhance the Writer’s Voice | Isla McKetta, Portent

As an editor, I strive for the goal expressed in the following key sentence from this article. And as a writer, I appreciate editors who strive for this goal:
A good editor can help emphasize the unique aspects of a copywriter’s voice in a way that communicates well to a reader and pleases the client.
McKetta describes three reasonable steps in the editing process:
  • Do an initial read-through ...
  • Edit for grammar, spelling and punctuation ...
  • Perform a thorough edit ....
But then she gets to what I consider the heart of her article--three places where it's easy to accidentally edit out creative solutions: 
Word choice ... Ask yourself what the effect of the word choice is on the sentence. ...
Sentence structure ... Ideally, the writer is using a variety of sentence types to achieve the desired effect. Are they?
Rhetorical devices ... In the hands of a skilled copywriter, they are powerful influencers of tone. Pay attention to areas where your writer is under or overusing any of these elements. ...
Referring to "a matter of trust" between a writer and an editor, McKetta concludes:
You are your copywriter’s partner in creativity. Nothing makes a writer feel more frustrated or lose confidence more quickly than to be arbitrarily rewritten. It’s like falling in love with someone for who they are and then trying to change them. ...
_____
McKetta's article is featured today, Nov. 15, in my daily online paper, Garbl's Creativity Connections--available at the Creativity tab above and by free email subscription.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Use plain English for nonnative speakers, accurate translations

I frequently encourage use of plain-language methods and principles to make sure documents are clear, concise, easy to read, and understandable.

But using plain language also helps readers with limited English proficiency and people who translate English documents. As the United States becomes more diverse, and as we communicate even more with people in other cultures, using plain language will be essential. 


To ensure accuracy and quality in all translations, you or your organization should thoroughly review English materials, before translation, to assess whether the information is well written, clear, and accurate. Is it using simple language that is easily translatable?

However, an important reference book on writing to meet the needs of nonnative speakers and translators provides this Cardinal Rule of Global English

Don't make any change that will sound unnatural to native speakers of English.
So, either improve the sentence in a different way or leave it alone.

My Plain English Writing Guide provides advice for writing and designing documents to meet the needs of all your readers. But here I'll highlight things to consider to meet the needs of translators and nonnative speakers.



Focusing on your reader and purpose

Will your readers include many members of specific cultural groups? Is English their second language? Will some or many of your readers have limited English proficiency and usually speak, read and write in Spanish, Japanese or another language? Is it likely that your document will need to be translated into one or more other languages?

Are you trying to change people's behavior? Make sure you mention how even small changes can bring benefits that are important to your reader. Will there be skepticism? You'll need to provide more evidence to support your conclusions and recommendations than you normally would.

Is the document a "how-to" text? Be sure it includes any background information needed to understand your instructions.

Organizing your ideas

Choose information to include and to leave out. Cut points and information not clearly relevant to your program or project. Cutting nonessential information will also save time for you, your reviewers and editors, your readers, and people or vendors translating your document into another language. Ask yourself, "Do I really need to say this?"

Usually, make your main point easy to find--at the beginning of your document. Tell your readers early: what your conclusion is, what you want them to do, or whatever your main purpose is for your document. 

Organize the rest of your document into sections of related information. Try to start each section with its main point. Help your readers move from section to section with headings and subheadings about the content in each section or block of related information.


Writing clear, effective paragraphs

Limit each paragraph to one topic unless you are linking related points. Complicated information, or a discussion of several topics, usually needs to be broken into separate paragraphs to be easily understood. 

You can also break up complicated text or make parallel points clear and easy to remember by using indented, vertical lists. Put a bullet or number before each item in the list.

Writing clear, simple sentences

The simple, declarative sentence is the easiest to understand: Someone (or something) does (or is) something. Sentences that differ from that simple structure may cause readability problems.

Be logical, literal and precise in your use of language. Especially for readers who may have limited English proficiency, pay close attention to the literal meaning of each sentence you write and the words in them. 

Short, simple sentences are less likely than long, compound and complex sentences to include ambiguities that hinder translation and reduce readability. Make the average sentence length in your document 20 words.

Try to limit most sentences to one idea. Break long sentences with more than one idea into two or more sentences.

Use active voice verbs--unless there's a strong reason to use passive. Putting the "doer"--the person or thing doing the action in a sentence--in front of its verb will usually ensure the verb is in the active voice. 

Especially for readers with limited English proficiency, try repeating nouns instead of referring to them with pronouns like she, they, this or these. Also, avoid using the pronouns this, that, these and those alone; instead, use them as adjectives before a noun: What do you think of this model? Not: What do you think of this?

Inserting optional commas after introductory phrases and before conjunctions (and, but, or) in a series of things can help, especially to language translators and readers with limited English proficiency.

Also, hyphens are not needed after most prefixes, but they can reduce confusion when used in similar or unfamiliar words: She recovered her health. She re-covered the torn seat. Avoid using hyphens to divide a word at the end of a line in unjustified text. Use of hyphens in compound words can aid reader understanding: He is a small-business man. He is a foreign-car dealer.

Using appropriate words


Choose common English words with clear meanings: explain a problem instead of address a problem; invisible, open or obvious instead of transparent. 

Especially if your document may have many readers with limited English proficiency or be translated for them, choose words with just one or a few clear meanings. Also avoid puns and words with double meanings: voters instead of grassroots; available instead of free (if that's what you mean).

Avoid using wordy phrases and multiple words with similar meanings or unhelpful redundancies. For example, try protrude, not protrude out; either if or when, not if and when; result, not end result; square, not square in shape; experience, not past experience; demolished, not totally demolished; visible, not visible to the eye; complete or finished, not completely finished; four hours, not four hours of time; 5 feet high, not 5 feet in height.

Using unfamiliar jargon can cause problems because your reader may not understand it. Jargon also can distract your reader from your real message. Write boots, not leather personnel carriers; telephone, not telephonic communications instrument; advocate for the homeless, not homeless advocate; next to or near, not adjacent to; make easy or help or lead, not facilitate.

Also, avoid terms that could be misunderstood by readers who use English as a second language or by people translating a document from English into another language. Such terms include military and sports vocabularylevel playing field, end runs, targets, game plans, sticky wickets, tackle; and regionalisms and slangthat dog don’t hunt; jury-rig or jerry-built. They also include literary and cultural allusionsheart on his sleeve, move mountains, an offer he can’t refuse; and metaphorsa steep learning curve, a piece of cake, pave the way for.

Avoid or explain technical words or difficult terms. Whenever possible, avoid words that your readers do not know. If you must use a technical term, define it--either by giving a definition, explaining the term or by giving an example.

Also, use verbs instead of abstract nounsconsider instead of consideration, adjust instead of adjustment, recommend instead of recommendationimprove instead of improvement.

Remember that not everyone may know what the acronyms and abbreviations stand for. Avoid nonessential abbreviations, Latin abbreviations, uncommon contractions and obscure acronyms, especially in documents that may be translated for or used by readers with limited English proficiency. Also, avoid informal nonstandard spellings and shortened words.

Here are some examples:


Instead of ...
Try using ...
aka
also known as
ASAP
as soon as possible, soon [or be specific about time]
could've, should've, would've
could have, should have, would have
e.g.
for example, such as
etc.
and so on, and the rest
i.e.
that is
hi, lo
high, low
lb., oz.
pound, ounce
lite
light
mightn't, mustn't
might not, must not
n.a., N/A
not applicable, not available, none
rep
repetition, representative
specs
specifications
stats
statistics
that'll
that will
thru
through
vet
veteran, veterinarian

Use capital letters sparingly, consistently. Capital letters are an important cue to readers and translators that a term is a proper noun, not a common noun. 

Random, excessive capitalization for other purposes hinders reading and may confuse readers. Do not capitalize the first letter of a word or words in a phrase simply to highlight them or to express their importance. Translators typically translate common nouns and leave proper nouns in English.

Testing for clarity

Before completing and distributing a significant document, make sure you test what you write. Have others read and comment on the document? Have you tested it with your targeted readers? Is it clear to them? Does it make sense? Do they get your point? Do you get the response you were seeking?

Garbl's Creativity Connections | Check the headlines, Nov. 14, 2012

How to Commit to Your Creativity
That's just one of the headlines for articles featured today, Nov. 14, in my daily online "paper" Creativity Connections. "As creative people," the article notes, "many of us struggle with commitment."

But besides that article, today's issue features a more-than-usual selection of helpful, even inspiring articles. Check out these headlines:
How Empathy Paves The Way For Innovation:
Sometimes, the best weapon to have in your business arsenal is a little empathy. Learn how you can help yourself by thinking about others.
How to Incorporate Creativity Into Your Business Practice

Reclaim Your Creativity!
Building a Culture of Creativity: What Companies Can Learn from Ferrari, Art, and Jazz
Best Rest Practices for Optimal Productivity & Creativity:
We know taking breaks optimizes work-and-create flow. But what are the best practices? And does your creativity benefit from a full nap or not?
7 Creativity Tips From a Top Mathematician
______
Creativity Connections is available at the Creativity tab above and by free email subscription.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Just Say No to These Three Enemies of Clear and Direct Writing | Jesse Hines, Copyblogger

What does it matter if they love the words you use but don’t act on the message those words are intended to convey?
That's a key question asked by blogger Hines at this beginning of this article.

Unless you're writing fiction, perhaps, I agree!

If people can't, don't or won't read your brochure, newsletter, report, letter or website, why publish it? And if people read it but don't do anything as a result, what was the point of publishing it?

Hines emphasizes that you, as a writer, want (or should want) your message to be as clear and persuasive as possible. Hines continues:
Anything that hinders your goal should be eliminated. Thus, you should just say no to the following three enemies of clear and direct writing.
The rest of the article describe how to eliminate these enemies of clear and direct communication:
Metadiscourse: don’t describe what you’re going to say; just say it.
Redundancy: don’t use two or more words to describe something when one word will do.
Pretentious words: use simple, clear words instead of expensive, little-known ones.
For more advice on clear, concise writing, visit Garbl's Plain English Writing Guide and Garbl's Concise Writing Guide.

_________
The Hines article is featured today, Nov. 13, in my daily online paper, Garbl's Plain English Paragraphs--available at the Plain Language tab above and by free email subscription.

Monday, November 12, 2012

No apostrophe in Veterans Day

As we again honor the men and women who have survived U.S. wars, here are a couple of relevant entries from Garbl's Editorial Style Manual:
Veterans Day No apostrophe according to the U.S. statute establishing the legal holiday. The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, formerly the Veterans Administration, also takes no apostrophe.
war "War is hell," said Civil War General William T. Sherman, no matter what it's called. Avoid euphemisms like armed conflict, armed intervention, a military solution, police action, uprising, use of force. Capitalize the word when part of the name for a specific war: World War I, World War II, the Cold War, the Korean War, the failed Vietnam War, the 11-year-old Afghanistan War. Also, if one country invades or attacks another country, there's no war until the other country starts defending itself.
Also, avoid diluting the meaning and realities of war by using that word in terms like war on drugs, war on women, and war on religion. Instead, reserve war for referring to battles of one country's military against another country or countries--and against its own people. 
On its website, the Veterans Affairs department says:
Veterans Day does not include an apostrophe but does include an "s" at the end of "veterans" because it is not a day that "belongs" to veterans, it is a day for honoring all veterans.
Speaking of holidays, here are other preferred styles from my style manual:
holidays and holy days Capitalize all holidays and holy days: Chinese [or Lunar] New Year, Christmas, Columbus Day, Easter, Groundhog Day, Halloween, Hanukkah, Independence Day, Labor Day, Memorial Day, Thanksgiving, Year of the [Rat], etc. Punctuate these holidays as shown: New Year's Day, New Year's Eve, Martin Luther King Jr. Day (no comma before Jr.), St. Patrick's Day, Washington's Birthday, Presidents Day (no apostrophe), Valentine's Day, Veterans Day (no apostrophe).
Because various religions use differing rituals in December and January (and throughout the year), it's often useful to refer to the holiday seasona holiday party or a similar phrase. Christmas, for example, is a Christian celebration not recognized by all religious beliefs. Government agencies cannot promote religious practice. 

My Pet Peeves: From the S Entry in Garbl's Editorial Style Manual

Here's the 16th in my alphabetical series of pet peeves--from entries in the S section of Garbl's Editorial Style Manual. My style manual covers editorial issues like abbreviations, addresses, capitalization, English grammar, Internet terminology, numbers, plurals, possessives, punctuation, spelling and word usage. It focuses on U.S. standards for spelling, punctuation, definitions, usage, style and grammar.

Earlier blogs:

A peeves | B peeves | C peeves | D peeves | E peeves | F peeves | G peeves | H peeves | I peeves | J peeves | K and L peeves | M peeves | N peeves | O peeves | P peeves | Q and R peeves

sacrilegious Commonly misspelled. Not sacreligious or sacriligious. Remember by thinking of the noun sacrilege, not the adjective religious.

safe-deposit box Not safety-deposit box. Include the hyphen.

scan Scan used to mean "examining something carefully to find a particular person or thing." But it now commonly means just the opposite: "reading something quickly to get its main meaning or find a particular detail."

scenario Overused cliche. Avoid, unless writing about the outline of a plot, play or film. For other uses, delete or try chain of events, plan or situation.

scheme Do not use as a synonym for a plan or a project.

second of all Wordy. Simplify. Drop of all. Same with first of all

seeing that, seeing as, seeing as how Awkward and wordy. Try using simpler becausesincegiven or in that instead.

semiannual Means "twice a year." To avoid reader confusion, use twice a year instead of semiannual

semicolon (;) The semicolon has three main uses, although the first use below is the most common. The semicolon shows a greater separation of thought and information than a comma but less separation than a period.

First, use semicolons to separate parts of a series when at least one item in the series also has a comma. A semicolon also goes before the final and in such a series: Attending were Tina Lopez, 223 Main St.; Ron Larson, 1414 Broadway; and Robert Zimmerman, 1976 E. Pine St.

The following two uses can add variety, eliminate a word or two, and closely link contrasting or related ideas. But breaking a long sentence with a semicolon into two or more shorter sentences can aid readability and clarity.

Second, use a semicolon to link two (or more) closely related statements that could stand alone as independent sentences (or clauses): The train arrived on time; the passengers were overjoyed. If a coordinating conjunction such as andbut or or separates the two independent clauses, a comma would replace the semicolon: The train arrived on time, and the passengers were overjoyed.

Third, use a semicolon between two independent clauses when the second clause begins with transition words such as thereforehoweverthus and for exampleThe department had planned to drop the service; however, overwhelming customer demand persuaded officials to keep it.

Place semicolons outside quotation marks. Put only one space after a semicolon.

semimonthly Means twice a month. To prevent reader confusion, use twice a month instead. 

semiweekly Means twice a week. To prevent reader confusion, use twice a week instead. 

sensual, sensuous Sometimes confused. Use sensual to describe enjoying physical pleasure, especially sexual gratification. Think "sexy": sensual desires. Use sensuous to describe something pleasing to the senses; it applies to aesthetic pleasures such as art, music and food and doesn't involve sexual stimulation: sensuous music. And if one leads to the other, wonderful!

sentence length Varying sentence length makes writing more interesting and easier to read. Include only one idea in a sentence, with an average length of 20 to 25 words. Shorter sentences, 10-15 words or less, are good for emphatic, memorable statements. Try including a short sentence every three or four sentences. Longer sentences, no more than about 30 words, are good for detailed explanation and support.

serve, service Sometimes misused, especially serviceServe has the broader use, especially for providing goods and services that people want or need. Use it when writing about fulfilling a duty or working for, helping or obeying someone. Use service to describe installation and maintenance of things: Mechanics service trucks. Also, try using simpler repair instead of service.

service mark A brand, design, phrase, symbol or word used by a service supplier and protected by law to prevent inappropriate use by a competitor. If you must use a service mark, capitalize it. Unless use of a service mark is essential, replace it with a generic term (lowercased): real estate agent, not Realtor. You don't have to use the service mark symbol--SM

set, sit Sometimes confused. Use set when you're putting something down. An object usually follows setHe set the book onto the table. She set the child into the crib. Use sit when you're putting yourself into a chair or others are putting themselves into a chair. An object doesn't have to follow sitHe will sit there all day if we let him. Other verb forms of setset, setting. Other verb forms of sitsat, sitting, seat, seated, seating. Use sat, not sitted.

set the stage Wordy cliche. Simplify. Try prepare, arrange, plan orready.

sex, sexism Base communication on relevant qualities of men and women, not on their sex or sexual orientation. 

Avoid the outdated use of words that restrict meaning to males. 

[My style manual includes other advice on this important topic, but it deserves its own blog post. Stay tuned.]

shall Avoid this formal, ambiguous, pretentious word: 
  • Use is when something is fact: The senior editor is [not shall beresponsible for reviewing all documents for clarity and consistency. 
  • Use may instead to give permission: Members may borrow up to three CDs a month
  • Use must instead to express legal obligation: Tenants must pay rent by the 15th of each month
  • Use have to, must, need to or required instead to express other requirements: Each student is required to take the exam
  • Use should when recommending a course of action: We should move ahead with the project by Friday
  • Use will instead to express what someone plans to do or expects: I will be there. We will meet. You will like it. She will not be pleased. 
See should, would below.

share, sharing Sharing is wonderful, but don't use it redundantly: sharing together, sharing the same office or sharing the same birthday. Drop together from the first example, and reword the others:using the same office, sharing an office, having the same birthday, sharing a birthday. Also redundant:both share and share in common. Use they share instead, and drop in common.

Sheetrock A trademark for a brand of gypsum wallboard. Use plasterboard instead.

she Do not use this pronoun to refer to ships or nations. Use it instead.

sherbet Sometimes misspelled. Only one r. Not sherbert.

should, would Use should to express an obligation (meaning "ought to"), a condition (an "if" statement) or an expectation: We should help the needy. If I win the lottery, I should give at least 10 percent to charity. They should be back in 15 minutes. Use would to express a usual action, a hypothetical situation or a preference: In the summer we would spend hours by the seashore. She would do it if she could. I would like to see you.

sic This Latin word means "thus" or "so." Usually bracketed and in italics, it's used after quoted material to show that an error, odd usage or misspelling is in the original document. But avoid using unless you must keep the error for historical or technical accuracy--or want to appear snide. Think about paraphrasing the mistaken word, phrase or statement instead.

sightseeing, sightseer No hyphen.

sight, site Sometimes confused. Sight is about seeing, from "the ability to see" to "things you see, can't see or should see." We go sightseeing. And we set our sights on something we look forward to doing. Site is about a place, "a place where something happened," "a place where something could be built" or "a place on the World Wide Web." Site is also a verb for "putting something in a particular place." Don't confuse with cite

simple, simplistic Too often confused. Simplicity is a virtue, especially in communications. Simple means "not complex or complicated, easy (as in easy to understand), unembellished, not ostentatious." Simplistic, best used when referring to complex problems and usually used in a negative way, means "unrealistically simple or oversimplified." See Garbl's Concise Writing Guide.

simple, simply Simple is unnecessary and wordy in phrases like simple reason, simple truth, simple purposeSimply is often redundant and wordy when used to mean "absolutely" or "extremely": The Rolling Stones concert was simply thrilling. Simplify. Drop simple and simply.

sink down Redundant. Drop one of the words.

situation Trite. Delete, or find a more concrete, descriptive word: a crisis situation. Drop situation.

-size Something may be small, medium-size or large. Size is inherent in the meaning of small and large. See small-sized below.

slow, slowly Slowly is the more common adverb to modify a verb, adjective or other adverb, but slow is also acceptable as an adverb (as well as an adjective to modify nouns and pronouns). Let your ear be your guide: He complained that his computer runs slowly. Her car is really slow, but her children say she drives slow.

small-sized Wordy and redundant. Change to small.

so Like the conjunctions and, but and yetso is a useful, correct transition word at the beginning of sentences--instead of as a result, consequently and therefore. For emphasis, so may be followed by a comma. 

some of the Wordy. Simplify. Replace with some.

some time, sometime, sometimes Sometimes confused. Use some time (two words) to refer to "an unspecified period or time": He had hoped to meet her for some time. They met some time ago. Use sometime to mean "at an unstated time or an indefinite time in the future": She'll meet you sometime after work. Let's get together sometime. It also means "former": The sometime colleagues hadn't seen each other for years. Use sometimes to mean "occasionally": They now write each other sometimes.

something, somewhat Sometimes confused. Avoid using the weak word somewhat. But if you must use it, use it only as an adverb to describe a verb, adjective or other adverb. Somewhat means "a little, slightly": somewhat scary, somewhat boring. Don't use somewhat as a noun; use something instead: David may be somewhat hungry, but he can't be somewhat of pest about eating. He can be something of a pest about eating, however.

spacing Put only one space after all punctuation marks--unless no space is needed, such as between adjacent punctuation marks and before and after a dash and a hyphen. This guideline applies to the colon, period and other punctuation marks at the end of a sentence: exclamation point, question mark.

To prevent a person's initials from splitting between two lines of type, don't put a space between them: T.S. Eliot. Also, don't put spaces before or after hyphens, dashes or virgules. But treat an ellipsis like a word, with a space before and after it.

Either put one space between paragraphs or indent paragraphs; doing both is usually redundant.

spelling Frequently misspelled words are listed alphabetically throughout my online style manual. Also listed are preferred spellings for words with more than one possible spelling. Based in the United States, my manual and this blog prefer American spellings to British spellings, except for names of British publications and organizations. 

For spelling and definitions not covered in your style manual, check a dictionary, such as the New Oxford American Dictionary. The Associated Press prefers Webster's New World College Dictionary. If two (or more) spellings are listed, use the first one unless your style manual lists a specific exception. If your dictionary provides different spellings in separate entries (gray and grey, for example) use the spelling followed by a full definition (gray). If a dictionary entry is listed as usually or often, use that entry.

Use computerized spelling checkers carefully; they don't catch mistyped words that are spelled correctly--not instead of now--or words that sound alike but are spelled differently--too, two, to.

spell out Hackneyed. Use explainspecifyshowdescribe or detail instead. And don't spell out in detail.

split infinitives Avoid awkward sentence constructions that split the infinitive forms of a verb, such as to leave or to help, as in this sentence: Try to not awkwardly or incorrectly split infinitives. But splitting infinitives is grammatically correct--and even useful if it helps strengthen the meaning of a sentence by placing the modifier before the word it's modifying: He wanted to really impress the council. Unfortunately, split infinitives can distract some readers who think they're incorrect. See Garbl's Myths and Superstitions of Writing.

spousal unit Ridiculous euphemism. Simplify. Swap in wife or husbandspouse, or partner.

springtime One word, no hyphen. But unless you're being poetic, spring is simpler.

staff Collective noun, it takes singular verbs: The staff is working on the project. Staff members may be used, if needed: Staff members are working on the project.

stalactite, stalagmite Sometimes confused or misspelled. A stalactite hangs from the ceiling of a cave. A stalagmite rises from the floor. Memory aide: A stalactite is stuck tight to the ceiling.


state names, states Spell out the names of the 50 U.S. states when they stand alone in texts: He moved to Washington after living 20 years in New York. State names may be abbreviated in charts and tables.

Except in business correspondence, abbreviate most state names when used with the names of U.S. cities, counties, towns or villages. Spell out the names of the two states that are not part of the continental United States and the six continental states that have five or fewer letters: Alaska, Hawaii, Idaho, Iowa, Maine, Ohio, Texas and Utah. These states may be abbreviated in charts and tables. If documents or websites have large audiences outside the United States, consider spelling out all state names. Always spell out the state name in business correspondence.

For punctuation, place one comma between the city and the state name and another comma after the state name, unless ending a sentence: She moved to Portland, Ore., from Portland, Maine. 

Use state of Washington or Washington state--with lowercase state--when necessary to distinguish the state from the District of Columbia.

Lowercase state when used as an adjective: a state mapthe state governmentThey visited the state of Washington. Capitalize state when writing about the state government: He worked for the State of Washington.

Do not capitalize state when used simply as an adjective to specify a level of jurisdiction: state Rep. Ellen Berger, state Department of Social Services, state funds, state Department of Ecology. But capitalize the full name of state governmental units: Washington State Department of Ecology. 

state-of-the-art Cliche. Try modern, up-to-date, newest or innovative instead--or explain why it's so "state-of-the-art."

stationary, stationery To stand still is to be stationary. Writing paper is stationery. Memory tip: Both stationery and paper contain er.

storm event Wordy. Redundant. Simplify. Drop event.

subsequently Overstated and formal. Four syllables and 12 letters. Simplify. Try laterafter, next or then.

subsequent, subsequent to Pompous. Try after, next, later, following or resulting.

substitute People substitute one thing for another. Don't use substitute by or substitute with.

successfully Often unnecessary: She finished the assignment successfully means the same as She finished the assignment.

suffice Formal. Simplify. Think about replacing with be enough, do, satisfy, meet or answerA few hours of your time will be enough [or will do].

sufficient number of Overstated and wordy. Simplify. Consider replacing with enough or plenty

suffixes Usually, do not hyphenate words formed with the suffixes wide, down, less. If in doubt, follow your preferred dictionary. If it does not list a word combination, use two words for the verb form and hyphenate any noun or adjective forms. 

Here are some general rules:
  • The suffix -able is more common than -ible, and it is used mostly with complete root words:workable, dependable, changeable, noticeable. The final e is dropped in some root words:desirable, excusable, indispensable, usable.
  • Only -able follows g, i and the hard c ("k" sound): navigable, amiable, irrevocable.
  • The suffix -ible is commonly used after double consonants (like 11), s, st, some d sounds and the soft c ("s" sound): infallible, divisible, credible, forcible.
  • The -ance/ant and -ence/ent suffixes don't follow any firm rules, so use your memory:attendance, maintenance, relevant, resistant; existence, independence, persistent, superintendent.
summertime Janis Joplin and others sing a powerful "Summertime." But summer is simpler.

summon Overstated and formal. Simplify. Try send for, call, order, call up or call on.

sum total Wordy and redundant. Simplify. Drop sum or total.

supplement Simplify. Try add to or go with instead of supplement. Also, think about using simpler extra, more, added, another or spare for supplementary and supplemental.

support Vague verb with multiple meanings. Be more precise if possible: consider hold up or carryhelp or encourageuphold or agree withmaintain or provide forprove or confirmendure or tolerate,keep up or sustain.

supposably, supposedly, supposingly Sometimes confused. Supposedly is usually the correct choice. Use it to mention something that might be true or real though you may not believe it. If you must use supposably, first find a dictionary and then try to figure out what it means. You'll find supposingly in a dictionary of words that don't exist.

suppose to, supposed to Commonly misused. Meaning "expected to," the correct phrase is supposed to, not suppose to

surrounded Completely surrounded is redundant. Simplify. Drop completely.

syndrome Jargon. Avoid this term unless the meaning is medical. Try pattern, conditions or characteristics instead.

synergy "I don't know what it means, and I don't have time to look it up." If your readers might respond like that, don't use synergy--or at least explain it.

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