MISTAKE MONDAY for September 26: Can YOU spot what’s wrong?

Can you spot what’s wrong in the image below? Please post your answer as a comment.

Mistake Monday sale in quotes vs. sale

I post these challenges to raise awareness of the importance of proofreading.

 

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 Bartleby.com.

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

Tax-exempt is exempt from this rule

Generally, one hyphenates compound modifiers that precede a noun, but not when the compound modifiers follow the noun. That means you’d write

  • Low-cost mutual fund
  • A mutual fund that’s low cost

Breaking the rule

That rule has been drummed into me, so I was surprised to read the following in Jan Venolia’s Write Right!: “Idiomatic usage retains the hyphen in certain compounds regardless of the order in which they appear in the sentence.” Venolia uses the following example:

Tax-exempt bonds can be purchased.

The bonds are tax-exempt.

One of my friends “corrected” me on social media when I posted asking examples of more words like “tax-exempt” that are hyphenated even when they follow a noun. I would have done the same thing before I read Venolia’s book.

Style guides and the dictionary

I searched APStylebook.com, which told me to follow the dictionary in hyphenating “tax-exempt.” AP style follows the Webster’s New World College Dictionary, which uses a hyphen.

Similarly, a Chicago Manual of Style (CMOS) blog says, “For matters of spelling, including hyphenation, Chicago usually defers to the first-listed entries in Merriam-Webster.” That blog post also says there are times that CMOS doesn’t follow the dictionary, as shown in the image below.

 

 

Are you confused?

Have these exceptions confused you? They sure as heck confuse me. That’s why I subscribe to the online AP Stylebook, and I’ve added on an online subscription to Webster’s New World College Dictionary.

If you find some hyphen questions arise repeatedly, add them to your firm’s style guidelines.

 

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.

“And/or” vs. “and / or”: which do you use?

Do you leave spaces around slashes in expressions such as “and/or” or do you open up spaces, using “and / or”? I’ve seen both styles.

The online AP Stylebook (paid subscription required) says “No space on either side of the slash.”

Here’s what Garner’s Modern American Usage says about “and/or”:

A legal and business expression dating from the mid-19th century, and/or has been vilified for most for most of its life—and rightly so. To avoid ambiguity, don’t use it…. Or alone usually suffices.

Notice that Garner doesn’t open up spaces around the slash. Also, he admits that there are times when this expression is useful.

I will continue to avoid putting spaces around my forward slashes.

 

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.

MISTAKE MONDAY for December 28: Can YOU spot what’s wrong?

Can you spot what’s wrong in the image below? Please post your answer as a comment.

MM President president

 

 

I post these challenges to raise awareness of the importance of proofreading.

Need a hint to help you find the mistake? Read Do you use “pride capitals”?

 

Go easy on screamers!

Exclamation points are called “screamers” in the newspaper world, as I learned in Theodore Bernstein’s The Careful Writer. And they have many other colorful names that you can learn about in “‘Screamer,’ ‘Slammer,’ ‘Bang’… and 15 Other Ways to Say ‘Exclamation Point’” in The Atlantic. However, the point of this post is to suggest that you use them in moderation in your serious business communications.

Limit use of exclamation points

Bernstein argues for restraint by saying, “the statements that require it—those containing a strong emotional charge—are themselves relatively rare—and because omitting the mark often produces a kind of understatement that is strong in itself.”

Bernstein scorns “Now!” and “New!” as “tricks of salesmanship” that “bear no relationship to general writing.”

Since Bernstein’s book was published in 1973, exclamation points have, if anything, become more popular. “Buy now!” buttons seem to be everywhere.

But people still argue against their abuse. “Minimize the use of exclamation points” is one of four rules for emails, as shared by Daniel Post of the Emily Post Institute in “Mind Those Manners: Kids Need Lessons in Email and Phone Etiquette,” a 2020 article in The Wall Street Journal.

The Copyeditor’s Handbook: A Guide for Book Publishing and Corporate Communications echoes Bernstein, saying “Only rarely are exclamation points needed in expository writing. (Novelists, letter writers, and playwrights, of course, are free to revel in them.)”

Exclamation marks online and in email

In her Atlantic article, Megan Garber calls the exclamation point “cockroach of the punctuation world.” She adds:

And that’s particularly so in the digital space, which so infamously encourages its proliferation (!!!!). The exclamation will, despite and because of all the things that make it terrible, survive us all.

My take on exclamation marks

Exclamation mark use undercuts the seriousness of your business writing. Also, when used to excess, exclamation marks lose their wallop.

This is especially when you use the mark outside of sales pieces and informal communications, such as emails and texts.

However, I’ve had to overcome my dislike of exclamation marks in emails and texts. That’s because I’ve read articles like “Is your texting punctuation sending the wrong message? Yes. Maybe! Think so …” That article says that to younger texters, “An exclamation point might feel like a tool indicating politeness.” However, the author also warns us that during the COVID-19 pandemic, the exclamation mark can seem “heartlessly chipper.”

Other articles have warned me that I might seem cold if I write “Thank you” instead of “Thank you!” in my emails. I was particularly struck by the message in favor of exclamation points presented in “The Tyranny of the Exclamation Point Is Causing Email and Text Anxiety” in The Wall Street Journal. That has changed my writing in emails, but not in the white papers, investment commentary, and financial articles that account for most of my work.

In texts and emails, take your cue from the people with whom you’re communicating. In your traditional business communications, stick to the traditional rules.

 

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.

MISTAKE MONDAY for September 28: Can YOU spot what’s wrong?

Can you spot what’s wrong in the image below? Please post your answer as a comment. You might not catch this mistake with a quick read. Try reading it again.

 

MM Makers makersI post these challenges to raise awareness of the importance of proofreading.

MISTAKE MONDAY for April 27: Can YOU spot what’s wrong?

Can you spot what’s wrong in the image below? Please post your answer as a comment. I had to read this a couple times before I spotted the reason why I selected this item for Mistake Monday.

MM double single quotea

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I post these challenges to raise awareness of the importance of proofreading.

MISTAKE MONDAY for May 27: Can YOU spot what’s wrong?

Can you spot what’s wrong in the image below? Please post your answer as a comment.

MM in-place in place

 

 

 

 

 

I post these challenges to raise awareness of the importance of proofreading.

MISTAKE MONDAY for April 29: Can YOU spot what’s wrong?

Can you spot what’s wrong in the image below? Please post your answer as a comment.

Sigh. I see this mistake too often.

MM icon's icons

I post these challenges to raise awareness of the importance of proofreading.