How do you spell it? “Out-performance” vs. “outperformance”

The browser’s spellchecker keeps tagging “outperformance” as a typo. I feel very annoyed when this happens because I The prefix out- should be united with whatever follows, just as bride and groom should be united.believe it’s wrong. This spurred me to do research on the correctness of my assumption.

The case for “outperformance”

Here’s the evidence in favor of marrying “out” and “performance” so they’re one word:

  1. “Generally do not hyphenate when using a prefix with a word that starts with a consonant,” said The Associated Press Stylebook, when I originally researched this question some years ago. More recently, the online AP Stylebook says, “Follow Webster’s New World College Dictionary.” The dictionary includes “outperform” without a hyphen.
  2. Words into Type says, “The modern tendency is to eliminate the hyphen between a prefix and a root unless the root is a proper noun or adjective, such as un-American.”
  3. I asked, “What would The Wall Street Journal do?” as suggested in my financial jargon killer blog post. At a quick glance, the newspaper appears to favor “outperform.”

The case for “out-performance” with a hyphen

I mustered one piece of  evidence in favor of hyphenating “out-performance” when I originally researched this post. Google yielded more than 931 million search results for “out-performance” vs. only 1.01 million for “outperformance.” It’s strange that the first four results use the spelling “outperformance,” as you see in the screen shot on the left.

I found a similar discrepancy between the number of search results for “outperformance” versus “out-performance” and the spelling in the actual search results when I repeated my search in March 2024. However, the gap between the number of search results shrank to 5.6 million for the hyphenated word versus 5 million for the unhyphenated word.

Results of my spelling poll

When I polled my newsletter and blog readers about the proper spelling, “outperformance” won in a landslide, with 92% of the vote. Here are the results:

  • Outperformance: 92%
  • Out-performance: 0
  • Out performance: 8%



Note: This post was updated again on March 22, 2024. I updated this piece on December 1, 2013, to share the results of my poll, instead of directing readers to a poll that’s no longer active. This post originated as a request for readers to respond to a poll.

My five favorite reference books for writers

A printed book is sometimes the best place to find a solution to your question about writing style, punctuation, or grammar.

Here are my five favorite reference books. I have updated this list because my favorites have changed over time, most notably with the elevation of Garner’s Modern American Usage from the “honorable mention” list.

  1. Edit Yourself: A manual for everyone who works with words by Bruce Ross-Larson. Everyone should own this small, inexpensive, easy-to-use book. I use Part II, the back of the book, the most. It lists troublesome words in alphabetical order. It’ll help you cut pretentious words and resolve problems such as deciding between “which” and “that.” Part I describes and offers solutions to problems common in everyday writing. Buy it today!
  2. Garner’s Modern American Usage by Bryan Garner. This book runs over 900 pages in length, so it covers just about any question you may ask. When I first published this list of favorite books, I wrote: “But it’s so darned technical I only turn to it as a last resort.” How times have changed! Now it’s the first book I turn to when tackling problems such as “Treasurys vs. Treasuries — Which is the right spelling?” I rank it behind Ross-Larson’s book only because I think Edit Yourself will be much more useful for most of my readers.
  3. The Copyeditor’s Handbook: A Guide for Book Publishing and Corporate Communications by Amy Einsohn. I didn’t own this book when I first compiled my list of favorite books. Like Garner’s book, this delves more into the nuances of different grammar issues than book readers who aren’t grammar nerds.
  4. The Associated Press Stylebook. If you’ve ever heard an editor say, “We follow AP style,” they’re talking about the print or online edition of this style book. I rarely check my print edition because I prefer the constantly updated online edition, which I complement with a subscription to the online Webster’s New World College Dictionary. There’s also subscription software, Styleguard, for checking adherence with this guide. (I stopped using the software for reasons described in my blog post about Styleguard.) You can follow AP style on Twitter at @APStylebook or on Facebook.
  5. The Grammar Bible by Michael Strumpf and Auriel Douglas. This book gives plain English explanations of vexing issues of grammar and more.

Honorable mention

  • The Chicago Manual of Style (CMOS) was my favorite reference book for many years. If you’re writing a book or Ph.D. dissertation (as I was doing when I bought this book), rather than blog posts, articles, or other marketing pieces, this is an essential reference. It’s also useful for topics such as tables and other exhibits, which aren’t addressed by AP style. You can also subscribe online to the manual, get it integrated into PerfectIt proofreading software (which I’ve blogged about in “My three main software tools for proofreading,” and follow it on Facebook or Twitter.
  • Words into Type, based on studies by Marjorie E. Skillin, Robert M. Gay, and other authorities. Like CMOS, this book is aimed at individuals preparing manuscripts for publication. This fat classic from 1974 used to be my second “go to” reference book when flummoxed by a question of style, punctuation, or grammar. The importance of this book fell for me when I became a convert to AP style.
  • The Elements of Style by William Strunk and E.B. White. If you care about good writing, you should read this classic at least once. An early edition is online at

Your favorites?

If you’re passionate about good writing, you’ve probably got a favorite reference that I’ve overlooked. Please tell me about it by answering this poll question.


Disclosure: If you click on an Amazon link in this post and then buy something, I will receive a small commission. I provide links to books only when I believe they have value for my readers.

Updated: November and December 2021

Resource for your global communications

More investment and wealth managers have clients and other important relationships outside the borders of the U.S. The online Microsoft Writing Style Guide from Microsoft includes a section on global communications that may help you communicate more effectively with your prospects, clients, colleagues, referral sources, and vendors.

For example, its:

  • Time and place page offers tips on dates, time, seasons, and places—for example, “Don’t refer to seasons if you can avoid it. Talk about months or calendar quarters instead. If you must mention a specific season, establish the hemisphere, too. (Summer in the northern hemisphere is winter in the southern hemisphere.)”
  • Currency page provides advice on the capitalization of currencies and how to refer to specific amounts of money
  • Names and contact information page advises you on how information collection forms should differ from those for a U.S. audience and tells you that in some countries it’s not appropriate to address a customer by name

Click around on the site! You may learn something that’ll help you to connect better with your readers.

Non-U.S. style guidelines from other organizations

After drafting this blog post, I came across some more online resources for non-U.S. style guidelines. Here are three style guides for the U.K.:

Please contact me if you know of other style guides I should add to this list. I’m always happy to learn from you.

Use calendar invitations to keep your experts on schedule

Do you ever struggle to get your authors and subject-matter experts to return their edits and comments on time? I’ve learned a new way to nudge them.

This year a new person took over coordinating an editing project that I’d worked on before. I was surprised that the project ran more or less on schedule, in contrast to my earlier experience.

Luckily for you, my contact told me her secret. Every time I gave an author a deadline, the coordinator sent a Microsoft Outlook calendar invitation for that deadline to the author.

That’s brilliant!

An electronic calendar invitation acts as a gentle reminder of a deadline, especially if the recipient monitors their calendar and sets reminders about items on the calendar.

Try this to see if it works for you!

How to influence, not argue, with people

Political divisions in America have me thinking about how to speak with people with whom I disagree. This is personal. I have an aunt with whom I can’t talk politics. As a result, I was intrigued by the chapter called “Don’t Argue” in Trish Hall’s Writing to Persuade.

Arguments don’t get good results

Hall makes a case against arguing with people with whom you disagree. She says, “Intriguing studies suggest that when faced with aggression, people don’t change their minds. They hold even more fiercely to what they believe.” I believe she’s referring to heated arguments, rather than logical exchanges about low-stakes issues.

This Article Won’t Change Your Mind,” an article in The Atlantic, says that people try to avoid cognitive dissonance—the discomfort of holding two thoughts that conflict. “There are facts, and there are beliefs, and there are things you want so badly to believe that they become as facts to you,” writes author Julie Beck. This is especially true about a “belief that’s deeply tied to your identity or worldview” so it leads to “motivated reasoning,” according to Beck, who writes:

Motivated reasoning is how people convince themselves or remain convinced of what they want to believe—they seek out agreeable information and learn it more easily; and they avoid, ignore, devalue, forget, or argue against information that contradicts their beliefs.

Hall says that arguing is sometimes “performing,” in which the actors don’t expect to change minds.

Don’t do this

Hall says that if you want your listeners or readers to be open to changing their minds, do not do any of the following to your audience:

  • Make fun of them.
  • Attack them personally.
  • Generalize about people—Hall says, “I stop reading if an article assumes something about me based on my gender, geographic location, or income.”
  • Batter them “with facts that would appear to demolish their world view”—She says, “People like people who don’t try to crush them all the time with their superior knowledge.” And helping people to like you is part of how you open their minds to your ideas.

Do this instead of arguing

“Always concede the good points of the other side. What you want is to be heard, not to win every outing,” says Hall. She also recommends that you:

  • Mention areas where you agree with your audience.
  • Suggest that you may not have all the right answers.
  • Offer choices.
  • Use charts and graphs because “People tend to trust scientists, so using the tools of their trade…can make you seem more trustworthy,” as Hall says.

Hall’s chapter includes an example of how she used her suggestions to navigate a touchy political topic with her mother. I’m not convinced that she changed her mother’s mind. However, it appears that at least they were able to talk without raising their voices and getting angry at each other. That allows for an ongoing relationship. And, perhaps, opinions will change over time.

Will you argue less?

As I write this blog post, I’m mulling over how I might try Hall’s advice on my aunt.

If you try these techniques, I’m curious to learn if you get good results.


Disclosure: If you click on an Amazon link in this post and then buy something, I will receive a small commission. I provide links to books only when I believe they have value for my readers.

Don’t finish sentences

Are you horrified that I’m suggesting that you shouldn’t finish sentences? Contrary to what you may think, I’m not suggesting that you use sentence fragments in your writing. Instead, I’m suggesting that you stop finishing other people’s sentences when you speak with them. You’ll learn a lot more.

Trish Hall reminded me of this advice in her book, Writing to Persuade. To persuade, you must know your audience. To know your audience, you must listen.

Hall says,

Don’t cut people off in the middle of a sentence. Press your top teeth onto your tongue if that’s the only way to keep words from escaping.

As Hall says, “You need to listen so you know how to meet objections, and to determine what argument will be most persuasive.”

Moreover, your listening can make people like you better. Hall says:

People who asked more questions were better liked by the people they were talking with, especially if they asked follow-up questions that showed they were listening… [Moreover,] in one-on-one situations, when two people listen to each other, they become more open to the other’s politics and point of view.

By the way, do as I say, not as I do. My husband often catches me finishing his sentences. It makes him mad. However, when I studied Japanese in Tokyo, I learned that there it’s considered good to finish other people’s sentences. At least in Japan, it’s seen as a sign of how closely attuned you are to the other person. I must remember that I’m living in the United States now.

Disclosure: If you click on an Amazon link in this post and then buy something, I will receive a small commission. I provide links to books only when I believe they have value for my readers.

Bad images hurt credibility

Words aren’t the only thing that matter in using publications to build your credibility as a financial expert. Visuals matter, too.

If your publication’s images aren’t consistent with its text, they’ll sap your credibility.

Examples of credibility sappers

At the simplest level, the mistake could be an article that talks about a four-step process, but an image that shows five steps.

However, the four versus five issue is an example of a mistake that any proofreader could catch. Not every mistake is that simple.

I’ve seen an article about long-term care insurance that was illustrated by paper-doll-style cutouts of an umbrella held over two parents and two little kids. The illustration was attractive, but more appropriate for an article about life insurance than one about long-term care insurance, where most claims are on behalf of older adults. To me, that inappropriate illustration shouted, “I don’t understand long-term care insurance.”

Evidence of credibility boosting

According to the Neuromarketing blog’s post on “Persuade with Pictures”:

A new study shows that text is more credible when accompanied by photos, even when the photos don’t support the point of the text!

That statement disturbs me. However, the same article says that the images must be relevant:

Don’t use random stock photos only vaguely related to the message you are trying to convey. The persuasive photos in the study were specific, even though they didn’t actually have any value as proof of the statement.

Nielsen Norman Group, a highly credible source on website usability says in “Photos as Web Content” that its eye-tracking research has found that:

  • Some types of pictures are completely ignored. This is typically the case for big feel-good images that are purely decorative.
  • Other types of pictures are treated as important content and scrutinized. Photos of products and real people (as opposed to stock photos of models) often fall into this category.

Nielsen Norman’s bottom line: “users pay attention to information-carrying images that show content that’s relevant to the task at hand.” Those images also build credibility.

Forget stock photos

By the way, stock photos (as noted in Nielsen Norman’s second bullet) generally don’t get positive reviews. If you say that’s all you can afford, believe me, I sympathize. I often use stock photos for that very reason, although, fortunately, I have a virtual assistant who customizes some images for me.



Top posts from 2017’s third quarter

Check out my top posts from the third quarter!

They’re a mix of practical tips on email (#1), writing (#2, 3, 4, & 6), blogging (#5), marketing (#7, 8, & 9), and presentations (#10).

Here’s my list of posts that attracted the most views during the third quarter:

    1. Out-of-office auto-reply: vacation necessity?
    2. Editing tool: the Writer’s Diet
    3. Don’t give up on being different
    4. Writers, do you know when something’s wrong?
    5. Blog your passions or your audience’s interests?
    6. Powerful financial article abstracts
    7. Have you ever…?
    8. Dare to be different in your financial marketing
    9. How I named my website—and the lessons for you
    10. Webinar lessons from my annual webinars

Top posts from 2017’s second quarter

Top posts on InvestmentWriting.comCheck out my top posts from the second quarter!

They’re a mix of practical tips on marketing (#1, 6, 7), writing (#4, 5, 9, 10), blogging (#3, 10), newsletters (#2), compliance (#3), and investment commentary (#8).

Here’s my list of posts that attracted the most views during the second quarter.

  1. Be specific about your advantages, or lose prospects—This post received many social media shares.
  2. Catch e-newsletter non-openers with this technique—I’ve boosted my newsletter’s open rate with this technique.
  3. Fixing compliance issues with comments on your LinkedIn Pulse posts
  4. Quotation websites for your writing
  5. Underline your way to less financial jargon
  6. Use Trello to manage your VA’s marketing help
  7. Financial call transcripts: are they good for marketing?
  8. What are your top challenges in writing investment commentary?
  9. Writing lessons from a famous painter’s journey
  10. AP StyleGuard: the answer to your proofreading prayers?

Changing your instructions is risky

My long-suffering husband has a communications lesson for you. Recognize that your first message is most easily absorbed by your listeners. If you change your message midstream, your listeners may not hear you. To make sure your message gets across, ask them to confirm their understanding of the new message.

“Park your car outside the garage tomorrow, so I can get my tires,” said my husband on a Thursday morning. Okay, I said. We spoke a bit more. I guess my attention strayed because I ran into trouble the next day.

On Friday, I parked where my husband had indicated. However, when my husband arrived home, he asked “Why did you park there?”

Me: “Because you asked me to.”

Husband: “No, I told you that you didn’t have to park there after all.”

Me: “You did?” Apparently my husband’s changed instructions hadn’t registered in my head. Perhaps I was trying to make up for my poor performance that I described in “Instructions for a bad wife.” I should have confirmed my understanding at the end of our conversation. I’ll do that next time. At least, I’ll try. I seem to have a blind spot for my husband’s parking instructions.

What’s the lesson for you?

If you change your mind after giving initial instructions, don’t count on your listeners absorbing the new information. This might apply, for example, if you start by suggesting selling one fund, but then switch to another recommendation.

What can you do to reinforce your change?

  1. Repeat your new instructions.
  2. Explain why you changed your mind.
  3. Ask your listeners, “Do you understand my new instructions?”
  4. Consider putting your instructions in writing.

This may be overkill, if your listeners are more attentive than me with my husband. However, if the new instructions are important, you’ll be glad you took extra steps to ensure your listeners’ comprehension.