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Saturday, March 23, 2013

A Bizspeak Blacklist | Bryan A. Garner

Renowned writing authority Bryan A. Garner continues his blog series on business writing. The series draws on advice in Garner's new HBR Guide to Better Business Writing. Featured in this blog post for the Harvard Business Review: "a roster of words and phrases that under no circumstances (except perhaps in a damning quote) [should] find their way into print."

He adds:
Of course, it's just a starting point — add to it as you come across other examples of bizspeak that hinder communication by substituting clich├ęs for actual thought.
For examples of the bizspeak Garner dismisses, check this chart from his post and book:


Garner writes:
Bizspeak may seem like a convenient shorthand, but it suggests to readers that you're on autopilot, thoughtlessly using boilerplate phrases that they've heard over and over. Brief, readable documents, by contrast, show care and thought — and earn people's attention.
Of course, Garner's advice also applies to writing for nonprofit, public, and academic organizations and agencies. Garner's blog post ends with links to his earlier posts of excerpts from the HBR book.

Besides Garner's book on business writing--and the excellent Garner's Modern American Usage--my websites on plain language and concise writing offer advice to help you meet the needs of your readers.

Garner's post is featured in the March 23 edition of my daily online paper, Garbl's Plain English Paragraphs, available at the Plain Language tab above and by free email subscription.

Take a tour of the online Chicago Manual of Style Online

If the Chicago Manual of Style is the preferred writing guide for you, your publication or your organization, its website could be a handy tool. Both the 15th and the 16th editions of the renowned manual are available by a single paid subscription, now $35 a year for an individual.

You can learn more about the online manual in this tour. Also, here's the public home page for the Chicago Manual of Style. Available there is the free Chicago Style Q&A that I highlight monthly in my blog:

The Chicago Manual of Style Online includes the popular Chicago Style Q&A, a resource that thousands have found entertaining and informative. The Q&A content is fully searchable along with the content of The Chicago Manual of Style. Your queries will return results—clearly distinguishable—from both the Manual and the Chicago Style Q&A. The Chicago Style Q&A also features monthly polls and interviews of interest to anyone who works with words.
I subscribed to Chicago's online manual for a while and found it easy to use. The less-comprehensive Associated Press Stylebook is usually my first-choice writing guide (from my training and experience in journalism). It also provides an online version by subscription. 

BTW, I'm not compensated by either company for providing this information. You're also welcome to visit my free online guide, Garbl's Editorial Style and Usage Manual.

The Chicago website is featured today in the March 23 edition of my free online daily paper, Garbl's Style: Write Choices, available at the Editorial Style tab above and by free email subscription.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Why the Rich Don't Give to Charity

The study described in this article by Ken Stern in The Atlantic provides some eye-opening insights about the differences in altruism among wealthy people,  the poor, and the middle class in the United States. As the article's subhead says:
The wealthiest Americans donate 1.3 percent of their income; the poorest, 3.2 percent. What's up with that?
I think one finding in particular is especially significant to people who communicate about the social needs in our country and ways to deal with them.

The article highlights that finding:
Last year, not one of the top 50 individual charitable gifts went to a social-service organization or to a charity that principally serves the poor and the dispossessed.
Referring to researcher Paul Piff, a psychologist at UC Berkeley, Stern writes:
Notably, though, when both groups were exposed to a sympathy-eliciting video on child poverty, the compassion of the wealthier group began to rise, and the groups’ willingness to help others became almost identical.
If Piff’s research suggests that exposure to need drives generous behavior, could it be that the isolation of wealthy Americans from those in need is a cause of their relative stinginess?
Patrick Rooney, the associate dean at the Indiana University School of Philanthropy, told me that greater exposure to and identification with the challenges of meeting basic needs may create “higher empathy” among lower-income donors.
Stern continues by describing the a recent study by The Chronicle of Philanthropy. Researchers analyzed the giving habits across U.S. ZIP codes:
Consistent with previous studies, they found that less affluent ZIP codes gave relatively more. ... But the researchers also found something else: differences in behavior among wealthy households, depending on the type of neighborhood they lived in. Wealthy people who lived in homogeneously affluent areas—areas where more than 40 percent of households earned at least $200,000 a year—were less generous than comparably wealthy people who lived in more socioeconomically diverse surroundings.
Either Stern or the study summarized that finding in this way:
It seems that insulation from people in need may dampen the charitable impulse.
Ken Stern’s book, With Charity for All: Why Charities Are Failing and a Better Way to Give, was published in February.

Ten Common Spelling Mistakes That Could Hurt Your Career

I don't doubt that misspelling the words listed in this column by Allison Vannest at could have a negative effect on a person's career. But more significant than that consequence--because it could affect more people--is the possible consequence on customers and clients of the writer's employer. 

Poorly spelled documents can reduce the credibility of the employer to its targeted readers. And even worse is the possibility, however slight, that misspelled words could somehow confuse or mislead readers. Loss of a reader disenchanted by the mistakes of an employer and his or her boss is a bad thing. Harming a reader through incompetent writing and editing is unacceptable.

Vannest doesn't describe any particular research that specifies her 10 words or identifies their frequency in hurting careers. Still, it's wise for everyone--not just people who write for a living--to spell these words (and others) correctly at work and in job-hunting. 

Here's my advice on spelling in Garbl's Editorial Style and Usage Manual, followed by my style manual advice on the 10 spelling and word-choice mistakes:

spelling Frequently misspelled words are listed alphabetically throughout this style manual. Also listed are preferred spellings for words with more than one possible spelling. Based in the United States, this manual prefers American spellings to British spellings, except for names of British publications and organizations. ...
For spelling and definitions not covered in this manual, check another manual or your 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.
their, there, they're Commonly confused, misspelled or mistyped. And computer spellcheckers won't catch the mistaken substitution of one of these homonyms for the other--nor for there's and the plural possessive theirsTheir is the possessive form of the pronoun they, meaning "belonging to them." Don't misspell it as thierThey're is a contraction of they are. (And there's is a contraction of there is.) There (like here) refers to place. But see below for more on there.
loose, lose Sometimes confused or misspelled. Use loose (pronounced "looss") to describe things that aren't attached firmly (loose buttons), that aren't tied tightly (loose shoelaces), that are too big (loose clothes), that are out of control (loose prisoners). Use lose (pronounced "looz") to say someone no longer has something (lose a job), can't find something (lose car keys), doesn't win something (lose a game), has less of something (lose weight) or wastes something (lose time). Some common, correct phrases:loose translation, loose ends, loose cannon, on the loose, loose-leaf, loosen up, have nothing to lose, lose touch, lose it, lose your head.
definite, definitive, definitely Commonly misspelled or misused. Definite means "certain, clear, exact, precise." Definitive means "conclusive, final." Definitely is overused and often redundant. Try dropping it or even using yes, if that's what you mean.
affect, effect [Using one of these words instead of the other is likely a word-choice error. But spelling the chosen word correctly is essential.] 
Often misused, confused or overused. Usually used as a verb, affect means "to influence, to have an effect on, to change": The pesticide will affect the stream. The new feature should affect sales. Better yet, use a verb that's describes the effect more precisely, like pollute the stream or stimulate sales
Avoid using affect as a noun that sometimes means "emotion" to psychologists. Effect is usually a noun, meaning "result," "reaction" or "consequence": The effect of the project was disappointing.Avoid using effect formally as a verb, meaning "to cause, to bring about, to produce": She will effect many changes in the group.Instead, use simpler, less formal bring about or cause. ...
a lot Commonly misspelled as alot. The phrase a lot of takes a plural verb with countable items--A lot of people are waiting to buy concert tickets--and a singular verb with uncountable concepts--A lot of work has gone into the projectA lot may be too casual or too imprecise for some writing. If so, try replacing with many for countable items or much for uncountable concepts--or be more specific about the amount or number. Also, try replacing a lot of (the) time with simpler often. ...
who's, whose [Whether it's a spelling error, a punctuation error or a word-choice error, using that apostrophe in correctly chosen word is essential.] 
Who's is a contraction for who is or who has, not a possessive: Who's using the cellular phone? Who's been eating my radishes? For the possessive, use whoseI do not know whose galoshes these are. Whose may refer to things as well as people: The shopping mall, whose customers come from miles around, began charging for parking.
weather/whether [My style manual doesn't identify misspelling or confusing these words, though it's a valid concern. Here's my other advice on these words.] weather conditions It'll be pleasant, hot, stormy or pouring buckets whether called weather or weather conditions. Simplify. Drop conditions or try climatewhether or not The words or not are not always necessary--because they're suggested in whether. When writing about a choice between doing something and not doing something, drop or not--or use ifShe does not know whether the candidate will support the proposal. She does not know if the candidate will support the proposal. To stress the alternative, however, adding or not can be useful: The City Council will consider the offer whether or not it is cost effective. Usually, it's best to keep whether or not together, especially if or not would be separated from whether by a long description of the alternative: The City Council will consider the offer whether it is cost effective or not.
weird Commonly misspelled. An exception to the "i before e" rule.
quiet, quite Often mistyped or possibly misspelled. Use quiet as an adjective to describe something that's calm, silent, motionless or subdued. Quite is an adverb meaning "completely, really or very." quite [Also, think twice about the need to use this word ... or not.] Quite may be redundant, imprecise and unnecessary to mean "entirely, completely or very." Where emphasis is needed, use stronger, more descriptive words or be more precise: He performed all his hits with energy, instead of His performance was quite good
misspelling Commonly misspelled. [A certain example of ironic embarrassment!]
Vannest's article is featured today, March 21, in my daily online paper, Garbl's Style: Write Choices, available at the Editorial Style tab above and by free email subscription.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

‘Negative growth’ cuts economic exposure; oxymoron boosts confusion

Perhaps we need psychiatrists to help us deal with the economy. Through the past decades, we've suffered panics and depression. And now we're suffering negative growth

Besides sounding like a terrible condition to suffer, that negative growth also must be a symptom of oxymoronica. Oh how terrible those unfortunate morons must feel about their contradiction in terms. 

But I hear that not just morons but also many people--especially people suffering from overt euphemismism--are facing negative growth by moving forward but looking backward. 

And the danger of that is that they may trip and fall in their confusion. And then they might need to call a physical therapist, if not also a government stimulator. 

And perhaps they'll need a gobbledygook regulator who can treat the extreme verbosity these folks are suffering  I hear that special techniques of plain language are quite effective in curing or preventing the ills of misunderstanding and misleading. 

For more details on this plaque, see this article published in the United Kingdom.

For more information on clear, concise writing, see Garbl's Plain English Writing Guide. And for more information on clarity in communication, see Garbl's Concise Writing Guide

The UK article is featured today, March 20, in my daily online paper, Garbl's Plain English Paragraphs, available at the Plain Language tab above and by free email subscription.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Should Writers Begin Sentences With "And" (or "But")?

Here's another question that seems to come up often. (See headline.)

But, it seems, the only people who say "no" to that question are neither professional writers and editors nor published authorities on correct style and usage in writing.

In other words, the correct answer to that question is "yes" ... or "yes, but ...."

The author of this recent article, by Allison VanNest at Grammarly, agr
ees and adds some good advice:
Feel free to start your sentences with “and,” the three-letter powerhouse of a conjunction – there’s nothing wrong about it. Just remember that the word “and” is grammar’s version of cayenne pepper; too much use can ruin the whole effect.
I offer similar advice at Garbl's Editorial Style and Usage Manual:
and, but Some teachers wisely taught us not to begin every sentence or fragment of a sentence with and (or but). And others taught us mistakenly not to begin any sentence with those conjunctions. Whatever the lesson, the result has been a common misunderstanding that it's incorrect to begin sentences with conjunctions. Ignore that myth!
And and but are simple, clear and correct transition words between related (and) and contrasting (but) sentences. Go ahead and use 'em--And instead of Additionally, Furthermore, In addition or Moreover, and But instead of However.
But don't overdo it. They'll lose their punch. ...

VanNest's article is featured today, March 19, in my daily online paper, Garbl's Style: Write Choices, available at the Editorial Style tab above and by free email subscription.

The Oxford (or Serial) Comma: Decried, Defended, and Debated

I commented recently about the continuing debate on use of the serial (or Oxford) comma. Well, I think it's worth reviewing the infographic below by because it covers the topic in a clear, concise way.

As I've noted before, I've been in the Associated Press camp for decades (as a former journalist) and think it's OK to drop the comma in a simple series: She wore tan shoes, pink shoelaces and a polka-dot shirt. But as another example from the infographic shows, a simple series might not be so simple: "I'd like to thank my parents, Bill Clinton and Oprah Winfrey." Using familiar names makes that a silly example, so consider this: "I'd like to thank my parents, Bill Winfrey and Helen Clinton."

Some would say a comma after Bill Winfrey's name (or Bill Clinton's name) would tell readers that neither Bill nor Helen is a parent of the speaker. 

The graphic, unfortunately, sets up a faulty choice based on its analysis of various style guides. It advises people to be consistent, either never use the serial comma or use it all the time. That choice is faulty because (as far as I know) none of the style guides that consider the comma optional advise writers and editors to never use it. 

Still, I do appreciate the graphic's advice about being consistent. And the only consistent acceptable use is to always use the comma. Doing that is never grammatically wrong. But ...

The infographic offers some information and advice that I haven't seen before: 
  • Most U.S. style guides prefer the comma, so use it if you're writing for U.S. organizations and publications--unless you're writing for a news outlet that favors AP style. 
  • If you're writing for organizations and publications in the United Kingdom, Canada or Australia, it's probably OK to drop the comma (apparently because The Economist and the Oxford University PR department omit it). 

The Oxford Comma
Courtesy of: Online Schools

An article featuring the infogram about the Oxford comma is featured today, March 19, in my daily online paper, Garbl's Plain English Paragraphs, available at the Plain Language tab above and by free email subscription.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Outrage at the end of the road for the misunderstood apostrophe

Come on, people. Knowing when to use apostrophes correctly is no more difficult than knowing which shoe goes on the right foot and which shoe goes on the left foot.

We surely don't need to eliminate the apostrophe, as planned for street names in an English locale and discussed in this article and this article.

With one simple exception, the apostrophe has only two uses, to show possession and to show omission. Here's how I put it in Garbl's Editorial Style and Usage Manual:

First, it often shows possession: Dan Lindler's appointment. And second, it often marks the omission of letters in contractions and other words or numbers in years and decades: he'll, won't, finger lickin' good, the class of '68, the '90s.
Do not use apostrophes to make a word plural, with one exception:
Apostrophes never make a word plural, but they may be used to mark the plural of single letters and abbreviations with internal punctuation: Dot your i's. She got straights A's on her report card, M.A.'s Ph.D.'s. Don't use it in forming plurals of decades: the '70s, the 1980s, not '70's, the 1980's.
I refuse to be objective on this matter. Anyone proposing to do away with the apostrophe because it's hard to use is wrong. 

Update, March 19: I just read that the Devon council is not going to implement the planned change in punctuation. Said Peter Hare-Scott, leader of the Mid Devon Council:
The convention not to use apostrophes when naming new streets has been in place since long before this administration took over. Personally, I'm not happy about using English that's incorrect and don't find this acceptable.
Perhaps the folks quoted below in the original articles convinced him it was a bad idea.

Steve Jenner, spokesman for the Plain English Campaign:
It is as if the council is saying it simply doesn’t fancy apostrophes now. What if they don’t like commas or full stops or capital letters?
There is no need to murder the apostrophe, it is very much needed in the English language.
Mary de Vere Taylor, a proofreader from Ashburton:
It’s almost as though somebody with a great big eraser is trying to erase punctuation from our consciousness.
Language has to evolve and change but this is a backwards step rather than a forwards step. It is as if something intrinsic to English education is being wiped out because it’s not needed or people assume they don’t need it. It does grate very, very deeply.
There’s something terribly reassuring about well-written and well-punctuated writing.
Some may say I should get a life and get out more, but if I got out more and saw place names with no apostrophes where there should be, I shudder to think how I’d react.
Again, Steve Jenner, spokesperson for The Plain English Campaign and radio presenter:
It's nonsense. Where's it going to stop. Are we going to declare war on commas, outlaw full stops?
If it's to try to make things clearer, it's not going to work. The whole purpose of punctuation is to make language easier to understand. Is it because someone at the council doesn't understand how it works?
Sian Harris, lecturer in English literature at Exeter University:
Usually the best way to teach about punctuation is to show practical examples of it – removing [apostrophes] from everyday life would be a terrible shame and make that understanding increasingly difficult. English is a complicated language as it is — removing apostrophes is not going to help with that at all.
Ben Bradshaw, the former culture secretary and Labour MP for Exeter:
Tory Mid Devon Council bans the apostrophe to 'avoid confusion' … Whole point of proper grammar is to avoid confusion!

The articles linked above are featured today, March 18, in Garbl's Style: Write Choices, available at the Editorial Style tab above and by free email subscription.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Where Does Creativity Begin?

I needed some inspiration today, and I found it in this blog post by Spencer Richard. The irony of that statement is that it subtly reveals the point Richard is making. He writes:
The problem with many creative people today is that they literally believe all they produce is to their credit. There are no more room for the Muses, no more room for the Guardian Angel, no more room for the Fairy. To them there is simply no magic anymore; God is dead and there is only the flesh and the fleshy brains underneath that create things, and whatever is created spouts from these brains like vomit. This, in my humble opinion, is nonsense.
Instead, he contends, our ability to wonder is truly what inspires creative thought and action--at least as we see it in creative people we admire. He writes:
There is something about this existence we all share that begs us to wonder, that yearns for each of us to muse on its delicacy, that invites us all to taste its wines and revel in their mysterious glow. The universe asks, “Did you create the rhythm of the sea, or the pounding of an eagles wings as they beat the air to take flight? No? Then maybe you should pull your head out of the dirt and start wondering about it.”
Achieving creativity, he says, begins with wondering about the object of our interest and how it inspires us--before we try to use it, build on it or change it. He writes:
When we create things, what we’re really doing is collecting things and arranging them in a way that might not have been seen before. We do not create the beauty of reality, we can only point to it through clever words and clever brush strokes. So when you sleep tonight and dream about being a great creative success, maybe instead tune your mind to the things in this universe that draw you. ...
For me, this statement attributed to Robert F. Kennedy, also paraphrasing playwright George Bernard Shaw, has long promoted a sense of wonder:
Some men see things as they are and say why. I dream things that never were and say why not.
Richard's article is featured today, March 17, in my daily online paper, Garbl's Creativity Connections, available at the Creativity tab above and by free email subscription. Today's issue also features several other especially helpful articles. 

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