Within industry at large and especially in IT, there are some who write very well and others who do not. Here are some tips to assist both the wordsmiths and the less capable.
l Action Plan Unless one also has inaction plans, omit action. (I will, though, grant an exception to architects who must distinguish between floor plans and action plans).
l Action Points Unless one also assigns inaction points, omit action.
l Administrate The verb is administer, not administrate.
l Among and Between One is between two whatever and among three or more.
l Apostrophe Apostrophes are used to indicate possession, not plurality. The plural of PABX is PABXs, not PABX's, whereas one could describe the Sydney PABX's indial route or note that all the PABXs' power supplies are DC. And none of this is changed if a word ends in an s. For example, although half of their staff don't realise it, a service of Optus is correctly referred to as Optus's service.
l Bullet Points Bullet points have their place, but when I see a document comprised largely of bullet points, it is difficult to escape the conclusion that the author has some difficulty putting meaningful sentences together. Where bullet points are used, if the bullet point is a full sentence, conclude it with a period. If the bullet points are simply words of phrases, conclude all but the last with a semicolon and the last with a period.
l Capitalisation A common occurrence in report writing is to capitalise words just because they will subsequently be abbreviated. For example, we abbreviate least cost routing as LCR, but the capitalisation of the words Least Cost Routing, unless part of a title, would not be correct. When in doubt, do not use capitals.
l Colon Never precede a colon with white space, and never follow one with a hyphen.
l Colour Who do so many people adhere to an imaginary rule that all text must be black? We don't live in a black and white world, well most of us don't, so put all the colour you want in your documents - and it's a simple matter to print them in black if required.
l Discrete and Discreet Discrete refers to separate whereas discreet implies discretion or secrecy.
l Dollar Sign A dollar sign must be adjacent to the number without any space in between. If a document contains a table of costs, place the dollar sign before only the top one in the list, and the total.
l Font Just because Microsoft Word defaults to Times New Roman does not mandate that you use it. Get into the styles in your Normal.dot and change them! My PC is a Times New Roman-free zone.
l Forward Planning Unless one also does backward planning, what other type of planning is there? Omit forward.
l Gender When referring to the gender of a person in an abstract context, write "he or she", not just "he".
l Hyphens in Adjective Phrases When a noun and an adjective precede the noun they are describing, they should be hyphenated, but if they are the subject of the sentence, they should not. For example, a cost-effective network is usually well designed whereas a well-designed network is not always cost effective.
l I, You and One When speaking about yourself, say "I". When speaking about the person or persons to whom you are speaking, say "you". When speaking about a person in an abstract context, say "one". Sportspersons are particularly prone to say "you" when referring to themselves! Try to do better.
l Indenting Avoid excessive indenting. Text is far easier to read if one is not distracted by trying to guess why different paragraphs are indented differently.
l Justification When word processors first became available, everyone wanted justified text - golly gee, look at this, my old typewriter couldn't do that! The trouble is, justifying text can create gaps between words a big as the Latin names for garden plants and such gaps are not easy on the eye.
l Less and fewer Less is used to refer to a something that cannot be counted and fewer to something that can. If a call centre is receiving less traffic, it needs fewer agents. And remember this when next at the supermarket express checkout.
l Method and Methodology Methodology is the study of methods.
l Mouse and Mice Whether they have two buttons, three buttons or eat cheese, the plural of mouse is mice.
l Numbered Lists As with bullet points, numbered lists have their place. However, they look better when the superfluous period after the number is omitted.
l Numbers Single-digit numbers are to be written by name. Numbers of two or more digits are to be written as numbers, eg. one, two, . nine, 10, 11, 12.
l Oriented and "Orientated" The past tense of orient is oriented.
l PC PC is an abbreviation for personal computer, no matter what operating system it uses. Macs are PCs, so a reference to Macs and PCs is meaningless.
l Percent and Percentage Points If a company increased its market share from 1% to 2%, although its increase would be one percentage point, the increase would not be 1%, it would be "100%".
l Period Leaving two spaces after a period, the preferences of word processing software notwithstanding, improves the readability of text.
l Plurality Corporations are singular. Thus Telstra has a service, not Telstra have a service.
l Point Size I will, of course, defer to professional medical opinion but I will be surprised if 9 point text does not become the RSI of the 00s or 10s. Use 12 point text as a minimum.
l Profit and Loss As no organisation can simultaneously make a profit and a loss, there is no such thing as a profit and loss statement, although there can be a profit or loss statement.
l Quotations A common error in report writing is to use quotations around phrases that are not quotes. Examples I've seen include "best in class", "balanced scorecard", "cost per call", an "in principle" approval, "Request for Tender", "Expression of Interest", "handed off" or "referred" all of which are perfectly valid text, without the quotes. Quotations should surround only words that are quoted from a person interviewed or another document quoted - no where else.
l Refer One refers to an appendix, for example, one does not refer an appendix any more than one goes a pub.
l This page was left blank intentionally When I see this, I keep expecting to see something like "this document was not spell checked intentionally". If a blank page somehow occurs, remove it.
l Times Less In recent years, advertising types, particularly those working in consumer goods, have come up with the convoluted expression that something or other is "four times less" or "five times less" than something else. Although not yet found in well-written business reports, there is always the danger that what advertising people write today, normal people will write tomorrow. Stick with such well-understood terms as one quarter or one fifth.
l Triple Although Telecom reportedly used to instruct its staff to not use this word when giving phone numbers, there is no reason why people should, today, be frightened of saying, or writing, the word triple.
l The University of X Perhaps it is stipulated by the journalists' code of ethics, but almost without exception, whether in print or broadcast, journalists insist on changing the names of universities in this format to X University. Use university names in the correct format.
l Use and Utilise One uses an object for the purpose for which it is intended and utilises an object for a purpose other than for which it is intended.
l Yous "Ewes" is a word and so is "use", but there is no such word as "yous" although it is widely uttered by some of the less educated. "You" is plural with the singlular form being "thou" although the latter hasn't been used in everyday speech for centuries and "you" is used for both the plural and singular.
© Occidental Communications, 2010