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

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

apostrophe

 

 

 

Want a clue to this week’s big mistake? Read my post on “Bloggers’ top two punctuation mistakes.” It doesn’t discuss this exact mistake, but it’ll point you in the right direction.

I post these challenges to raise awareness of the importance of proofreading. I make mistakes, too. Mistake Monday keeps me vigilant. After all, I don’t want to make any more mistakes worthy of posting here.

MISTAKE MONDAY for March 19: Can YOU spot what’s wrong?

Can you spot what’s wrong in the image below? There’s more than one problem this week. Please post your answer as a comment. dd-on's add-ons effect affect

 

 

 

 

Here’s a clue to one of the mistakes. Some words are commonly confused with other words that sound similar, but have different meanings.

If you can’t find the confusing word in this week’s Mistake Monday example, check out “Top 30 Commonly Confused Words in English.” If this word appears frequently in writing that you proofread, consider adding it to a checklist of words that you review more carefully than others.

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

MISTAKE MONDAY for March 12: Can YOU spot what’s wrong?

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

added added to

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Once again, here’s an error in a major newspaper. I suspect that text, such as headlines and captions, that isn’t written by the reporter may be particularly prone to becoming fodder for Mistake Monday. Do YOU have a theory explaining these errors?

I post these challenges to raise awareness of the importance of proofreading. I still struggle with proofreading my own work.

MISTAKE MONDAY for March 5: Can YOU spot what’s wrong?

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

absorb vs. absorbed

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

There’s more than one way to rewrite this week’s example. What’s your suggestion?

Writers, eat your greens!

Eat your greens! For many people, that means eating foods that they don’t enjoy, but which are good for them. In the writing world, I think a comparable challenge is proofreading your text and checking on fine points of grammar. Here are some steps I suggest to help you eat your metaphorical greens.

1. Finish your drafts early

When you finish writing something before its deadline, you can approach it with fresh eyes for a final review. With fresh eyes, you’re more likely to catch errors of reasoning, grammar, or other areas.

2. Use tools and people to help you proofread and copyedit

It’s not easy to proofread or copyedit your own work, as my husband reminds me when he proofreads my monthly newsletter.

Online tools that check your spelling, grammar, and wordiness can complement your work. My recent post on “The compelling white paper that wasn’t” includes links to tools.

However, online tools won’t catch every mistake. For example, it won’t catch the investment professional with the title “portfolio manger” instead of “portfolio manager” with the additional “a.” That’s why it’s good to get a colleague or professional proofreader to review your work. Also, consider using the tip I describe in “Why I love Adobe Acrobat Pro for proofreading” to catch errors that eyes tend to gloss over.

If organization—not grammar—is your stumbling block, use my first-sentence check.

3. Have reliable references handy

You can’t buy or find online one of the most powerful tools for catching your errors. That’s a customized checklist that lists your most common errors. For example, if you often make “Bloggers’ top two punctuation mistakes,” add them to your checklist.

My favorite online resources include:

If you have a budget, you can subscribe to online resources from AP Style or the Chicago Manual of Style. I have mixed feelings about AP Styleguard software.

You can’t find all of the answers online. That’s why my library includes “My five favorite reference books for writers.”

The result?

If you follow these three tips, you’ll produce cleaner, better organized writing. That’ll make your writing more compelling and effective.

Tip for bloggers

Bloggers sometimes ask me where I get my ideas for posts on this blog. Today’s post was inspired by the image that accompanies it. When the image appeared as a free download from Depositphotos, a website I use to source some of my photos, it made me think about how many people don’t like greens. My mind quickly bounced to the tasks that writers don’t like.

Images can be a great source of blog post ideas. For more ideas on how to find inspiration in images, read “Photo + Mind Map = Blog Inspiration.”

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Abbreviation: U.S. or US for United States?

A client used to abbreviate the United States as U.S. and the United Kingdom as UK. The inconsistency drove me batty. I couldn’t find a reason for that disparity. But it made me wonder, what are the rules for how one should abbreviate the United States?

What style guides say

The 2017 AP Stylebook uses periods most of the time. It says “The abbreviation U.S. is acceptable as a noun or adjective. Use US (no periods) in headlines.” AP style seems to allow for multiple space-saving adaptations for headlines—like using numerals in headlines, but spelling out numbers under 10 in the body of the text. By the way, AP style has a similar rule for abbreviating United Kingdom.

Garner’s Modern American Usage says of U.S. and U.SA.,

As the shortened forms for United States of America, these terms retain their periods, despite the modern trend to drop the periods in most initialisms… U.S. is best reserved for use as an adjective…, although to use it as a noun in headlines is common. In abbreviations incorporating U.S., the periods are typically dropped <USPS> <USO> <USNA>.

However, other style guides favor US. For example, the MLA Style Center says,

In its publications, the MLA uses the abbreviation US. (Practices among publishers vary, however, and it is not incorrect to use U.S. Whichever abbreviation you choose, be consistent.)

What you should do

Notice how the MLA Style Center mentions consistency? Consistency is key because it makes your publications easier to read. Your organization should pick one style and stick with it.

I am sticking with U.S., unless I write for a publication with a style guide that calls for US. What about you?

If you like this post, you may also like “How to capitalize financial acronyms.”  

U.S. vs. UK

I couldn’t find any rules suggesting why one should use U.S. for the United States along with UK for the United Kingdom. Do any of you have ideas about this? Please let me know. Curiosity is killing me.

One of my friends suggested that some publications mix the two styles of punctuation because UK is preferred in the United Kingdom.

Another suggested that it’s OK to drop the periods from UK but not U.S. because uk is not a real word, while us is a widely used pronoun.

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When do I need quotation marks?

When should you use quotation marks? You probably know that you should use them around quotations or around the titles of some artistic works. (Books are an exception to the artistic works rule, except in AP style.) But other cases are open to debate.

I find that non-professional writers sometimes use quotation marks for emphasis, instead of their intended purposes. I don’t like that. Nor do most professional writers.

Garner’s Modern American Usage lists three times, in addition to when you’re identifying quotations or titles of artistic works, when you should use quotation marks:

  • when you’re referring to a word as a word, <the word “that”>, unless you’re using italics for that purpose
  • when you mean so-called-but-not-really <if he’s a “champion,” he certainly doesn’t act like one>
  • when you’re creating a new word for something—and then only on its first appearance <I’d call him a “mirb,” by which I mean…>

Some sources disagree with Garner and me on avoiding the use of quotation marks for emphasis, but urge discretion. Here’s what Amy Einsohn says in The Copyeditor’s Handbook: A Guide for Book Publishing and Corporate Communications:

Quotation marks may be used for emphasis or irony, but copyeditors should curb authors who overuse this device.

I’m okay with using quotation marks for irony. I believe that’s what Garner aims at in his so-called-but-not-really case. But I prefer to avoid using them for emphasis. In fact, I almost deleted Einsohn’s quote from this post because I dislike them so much.

You can make your own rules on this issue, but I suggest that create a style sheet to help you apply your rules consistently.

What do YOU think about quotation marks?

If you have strong feelings about the usage of quotation marks, please share. If you suggest a different set of rules, it’d be great if you could cite a source for your recommendation.

Disclosure: If you click on the Amazon link in this post and then buy something, I will receive a small commission. I only link to books in which I find some value for my blog’s readers.

 

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 books 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.

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 2021

Colons and bullets: Keep ’em together or tear ’em apart?

I’m a big fan of bulleted lists. They’re reader-friendly because, when used properly, they’re easy to scan. But I’ve gone back and forth on how to punctuate the text introducing a list of bullets. I always used a colon before the list until a friend told me that was wrong. However, other friends chide me when I skip the colon.

To put an end to this argument, I’m reviewing some opinions on this topic.

Use a colon to introduce bullet points

“End your introduction with a colon, which serves as an anchor,” says Bryan Garner in the section about bullets Garner’s Modern American Usage.

Use a colon to introduce lists

Many texts don’t explicitly discuss the combination of colons with bullets, but they discuss colons preceding lists. “Use a colon to introduce a list that appears at the end of a sentence,” say Michael Strumpf and Auriel Douglas in The Grammar Bible (p. 426). My 2007 Associated Press Stylebook says, “The most common use of a colon is at the end of a sentence to introduce lists, tabulations, texts, etc. (p. 325).

“Following” or “as follows” demands a colon

Other texts don’t explicitly mention bullets, but give mixed opinions about colons preceding lists. For example, my 1982 copy of The Chicago Manual of Style (CMOS) says, “A colon is commonly used to introduce a list or a series” (p. 149).  It also specifies that “The terms as follows or the following require a colon is followed directly by the illustrating or enumerated items or if the introducing clause is incomplete without such items.” My 1974 copy of Words into Print agrees these “follow” phrases require a colon.

However, things get complicated after that.

Here are some of the situations when you should skip the colon after the introductory phrase, according to CMOS (all citations on the same page).

  1. “A colon should not be used to introduce a list or object of an element in the introductory statement.”–Words Into Print seems to agree, saying, “When the introduction is not a complete sentence and one or more of the items of the list are need to complete it, no colon or dash should be used” (p. 181).
  2. “If the list or series is introduced by expressions such as namely, for instance, for example, or that is, a colon should not be used unless the series consists of one or more grammatically complete clauses.”

Grammar Girl’s two-part rule

Mignon Fogarty, better known as Grammar Girl, suggests a simple two-part rule in “Formatting Vertical Lists.”

  1. “If your lead-in statement is a complete sentence, use a colon at the end to introduce your list.”
  2. “On the other hand, if your lead-in statement is a sentence fragment, I recommend that you don’t use a colon.”

I like rules that are easy to remember. They boost the likelihood that I’ll punctuate consistently.

What about you?

If you have strong feelings about colons and bullets, please express them below.

Image courtesy of Master isolated at freedigitalphotos.net.

Punctuation reminder: When an -ly adverb is part of a compound modifier

Should you hyphenate “socially responsible” in the following phrase?

“Socially responsible funds are…”

“Hyphens should never be used with compound modifiers that include an adverb ending in -ly,” as my colleague Hilda Brucker reminds me occasionally. Yes, I make punctuation mistakes, too. This is one of my weaknesses.