Posts tagged ‘usage’

September 2, 2012

Don’t let grammar grouches harsh your buzz!

For centuries, sticklers the world over have donned the cloak of authority to control the way people use words. This book strikes back to defend the fascinating, real-life diversity of this most basic human faculty.

I’m ordering this book for some light “back-to-school” reading. Like the author, I follow the idea that communication is THE thing, not the rules, per se. I’ve written about this in earlier posts; often proper grammar usage and clear communication happily co-exist, but a powerful and effective message doesn’t always stick to the rules, nor should it, imho. (See what I did there?)

Text in context seems like a fair enough approach to me. For example, I have no problem with SMS abbreviations. They suit the medium just fine and are kinda fun as well. Don’t you agree? (I know many who don’t!)

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August 17, 2011

Edit the world …

… let them know what grammar is. (With apologies to Bob Geldof/Midge Ure.)

So, in my quest to eradicate incomprehensible writing everywhere, I’ve signed up as a volunteer editor on Kibin. People submit all manner of files that need a quick read and using a somewhat coarse interface, editors mark up the text and submit it back with some comments to the author. It’s not a money maker … though I suppose there is some potential to eventually underwrite a grande latte at Starbucks, but that’s certainly not why I do it.

I’ve edited what was probably a 12-year-old’s project on the events leading up to Bastille day, a cover letter to a prospective employer, and a marketing pitch for a videographer … all horrendously written (well, the cover letter wasn’t too bad) and I gotta say, it’s a great feeling to absolutely know without a shred of doubt that someone somewhere will encounter a written document that isn’t a complete assault on their sensibilities. Because an editor stepped in and wrestled that hot mess into coherency. And that editor was me. And it could be you. Give it a try if you’re so inclined. It’s a spare time, just for fun kind of thing to do while you help make the written world a better place! : )

August 3, 2011

The Elegant Basics

One of the phrases I see most often in research writing and like the least  is “that having been said”. Ugh. Right up there with “at the end of the day”. Cringe.

Usually, a simple “however” or “therefore”  will do — or neither — as in, a qualifier is not necessary at all.

Not to mention the misuse of a number of other common phrases … and that’s where our stalwart pals, Strunk & White come in.  Check this out for some stylish simplicity. See? That wasn’t so painful, was it?

And for a lively rant against the hallowed status of The Elements of Style, see this.

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August 2, 2011

House Style

John McIntyre, over at The Baltimore Sun, writes:

House style is often an arbitrary choice between two equally acceptable ways of writing something. Therefore—deep breath, fellow copy editors—it doesn’t matter except for maintaining internally consistent practice at a publication.

You Don’t Say

And this is why I love him. Any self-respecting editor knows that many of the decisions we make are arbitrary; we simply prefer one (correct) treatment over another and that’s it, a purely subjective choice.

Clear communication is what’s paramount, of course, so honestly, who cares about arcane rules of grammar if an analyst is successfully presenting a well-paced argument? But to appease the sticklers, sure, we will admit that as it turns out, to convey a convincing thesis, you just kinda naturally gotta use good grammar anyhoo!

Consistency is almost as important as clarity. It’s one of those invisible aspects of editing we wrote about earlier … you don’t notice when it works, but it can be jarring, even if subconsciously, when it doesn’t.

YES! Every research department should develop and use its own style guide! I don’t care if the acronym for barrels of oil equivalent is written in upper or lower case — it doesn’t matter — but make a choice and stick with it!

July 22, 2011


One of the greatest pleasures of working with research analysts is that they are so darn smart! Total experts in their respective fields, whether it be biotech, mining, oil & gas, or paper & forest, etc., and they’re also major brainiacs when it comes to financial analysis. Yet nobody’s perfect and financial analysts are not always the strongest writers in the world.

Engineers, geologists, oncologists, physicists, MBAs, CAs, CFAs, PhDs — generally wonderful people with excellent minds, but English grammar and usage might have escaped their full dedication while they were busy earning degrees! That’s why there are editors … like me! : )

One of the most difficult jobs I have when editing for these awesome professionals is trying to get them to minimize the use of clichés.

At the end of the day, on the back of, colour (when used as an equivalent of “detail” … ugh), well those are just a slim few examples that are oft repeated, not only across the department, but even several times in one short report.

And I get it. The core material is detailed, sometimes dry (quarterly earnings maintenance reports, for example), and it’s natural that an analyst might want to liven up their writing with a few “out of the ballpark” clichés. But don’t. Please.

Why? Because what is otherwise expert analysis becomes diluted by the use of these hackneyed phrases. What is presented as a professional document is rendered casual and chatty. Sure, there is a place for loose talk, the morning meeting for example. Use all the insidery, cliché-ridden language you want in conversation. It still makes me wince, but that’s my problem. Just don’t put it in print!

I stumbled across a cliché site and am posting  the link here for reference purposes. Not to provide a place to find a new cliché to use (!), but to help identify where clichés have been incorporated into a report and as a reminder to avoid them!

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