Grammar Tip – Due to

Due to is a phrase that many people misuse. We could tell you to use due to in front of adjective phrases. But let’s keep it simple. Use due to if you could also use caused by.

Example

The rising gas prices were caused by low inventories.
The rising gas prices were due to low inventories.

Due to does not mean the same as because of.

Examples

Incorrect

She declined the invitation due to her workload. ?(You wouldn’t say that she declined the invitation caused by her workload.)

Correct

She declined the invitation because of her workload.

Incorrect

Due to her workload, she declined the invitation.

Correct

Because of her workload, she declined the invitation.

Also watch out for due to the fact that. This is a wordy phrase. You can replace it with because or since.

Grammar Tip – Who versus That

Who Versus That

I have noticed lately that there seems to be an increasing use of the word that in news reporting rather than the word who.

Example
The soldiers that fought in the battle.

It is not incorrect. You can use that for both objects and people, but it is not frequently used for people. I would have said “the soldiers who.” Apparently, using that is supposed to give a reporter some emotional distance.

Be that as it may, for business writing let’s stick to the basics: ?use who when referring to people and that for non-human things.

Examples

Incorrect

The organization who hired 100 new employees.

Correct

The organization that hired 100 new employees.

Incorrect

The woman that will speak tonight is an expert in her field.

Correct

The woman who will speak tonight is an expert in her field.

Remember, that starts a restrictive clause (a clause essential to the meaning of the sentence). You do not place commas around it.

Grammar Tip – Plurals With Abbreviations

A BizWritingTip reader wrote: “A colleague and I are having an argument. If you have to make an abbreviated word plural, do you include an apostrophe? For example, should I write two CEOs or two CEO’s?

BizWritingTip response: If you want to make capital letters and abbreviations ending in a capital letter plural , it is best to just add a lowercase s*

Correct

Two CEOs
Five MPs
Two Ph.D.s
Three M.D.s
Three Bs

The only time I would use an apostrophe with an abbreviation is if possession was involved.

Example

The CEO’s salary (one CEO)
The MPs’ staff (the staff supporting more than one MP)

*A few reference books do accept the use of an apostrophe before the s (two CEO’s) to form a plural; however, the apostrophe is unnecessary in most instances.

Grammar Tip – Punctuation With Lists

What punctuation should I use with a bulleted or a numbered list? This is a commonly-asked question.

Although many writers like to use bulleted lists in their business documents, list writing is difficult. You must be consistent. Your lists must contain all sentence fragments or all complete sentences. Your lists should never be a mixture of ideas.

Correct (list of complete sentences)?Your speech should include the following points:

  • Our organization’s success is based on a proven record of relationship building.
  • We use established techniques for identifying potential partners.
  • We have seven branch offices across the country.

These points are complete sentences so they end with periods. Semicolons are considered dated.

Correct (list of sentence fragments)

At the meeting, we will discuss:

  • Budgeting
  • Recruiting
  • Marketing

As these points are sentence fragments, there is no punctuation. Whether you capitalize the first letter after the bullet or not is optional. When you insert a bulleted list, the first letter is automatically capitalized. You can overstrike each letter if you wish and lowercase it. However, it is not necessary. As long as the first letter in each point is consistent, you are fine. Personally, I like the capital letters.

The style of a few organizations is to place a period after the final point and to use lowercase first letters. It is not wrong. It’s just a little extra work.

Example

At the meeting, we will discuss:

  • budgeting
  • recruiting
  • marketing.

    Grammar Tip – Commas and “and”

    BizWritingTip reader: When is it ok to use a comma before “and”?

    BizWritingTip response: Many people tell me that they have been told never to put a comma before “and.” However, as we all know, never say “never.”

    When listing a series of ideas in a sentence, you separate the thoughts with commas. But when you come to the last point, should you add a comma as well as the word “and”? The answer is: “It depends.”

    If the reader needs the comma for clarity, then add it. If the message is clear without the comma, then don’t use it.

    Correct

    Our plane landed at Winnipeg, Toronto and Montreal. (The reader easily understands that these are three separate locations.)

    Correct

    We need to focus on retaining our existing members, recruiting new members, and updating our website. (The comma before the “and” emphasizes that there are three distinct areas.)

    Also Correct

    We need to focus on retaining our existing members, recruiting new members and updating our website. (Because there is no comma before the “and,” the emphasis on three distinct areas is now reduced. You may even find a busy reader pays little attention to the middle point. Is this your goal?)

    Note: Try to avoid writing sentences that require more than four pieces of punctuation. This means you can have three commas in a sentence. (The final period counts as the fourth piece.) If your sentence requires four commas, it means you are putting too many ideas in one sentence, and a busy reader will have trouble following your thoughts. You are probably better off with two sentences or a list.

    No. You cannot break the no-more-than-four rule by removing all commas. Readers need their information chunked into easily digestible bites. This is the purpose of commas.

    Grammar Tip – Commas With Greetings

    A BizWritingTip reader wrote, “When opening an email or letter with a brief greeting, such as Hello (and the person’s name), should there be a comma between the greeting word and the name? For example, which form is proper: Hello, Jane (comma) or Hello Jane (no comma)?

    “In school, I recall being told a person’s name would always be preceded with commas, e.g., Thank you, Joe, for your contribution to the annual fundraiser. Would you clarify this for me please?”

    BizWritingTip’s Response

    You are absolutely right. When placing a person’s name in the middle of a sentence, you put commas around the name indicating that the name is an interrupting thought within the sentence.

    Correct

    Your presentation, Mike, helped us win the account.

    However, if the name is being used as a greeting to start a letter or an email, then a comma is placed only after the name. Ideally, you would then leave a blank line and start your message. This gives you good visual appeal and makes your request stand out.

    Correct (email greeting)

    Hello Susan,

    Are you free for a meeting today at 3?

    Correct (letter greeting)

    Dear Susan,

    Note: In a letter, use a comma only after an informal salutation (first name only). If the greeting is formal, then use a colon.

    Correct (formal letter greeting)

    Dear Mr. Brown:

    Dear Roger Brown:

    Dear Human Resources Manager:

    If you do decide to run the name and the sentence on the same line in an email, make sure you put a period after the name. After all, there are two separate thoughts.

    Correct

    Hi John. Are you free to meet at 3?

    (Yes, I know Hi John is a sentence fragment. However, no matter what you do here, you will have a grammar error. At least this way the message is clear.)

    Grammar Tip – Commas With Introductory Thoughts

    Mary Ann’s question: “Should there be a comma in the following sentence: ‘If you’re driving tired you’re driving impaired’?”

    BizWritingTip response: Years ago, writers were told to place a comma wherever they would take a breath. But this could sometimes be confusing as people don’t always have the same breathing patterns. And people learning English often insert too many commas.

    There are now firm rules for the placement of commas. One rule is to always place a comma after an introductory thought in a sentence.

    Examples (correct)

    If you are driving tired, you’re driving impaired.
    In my opinion, too many writers forget this rule.
    As you requested, I eventually answered your question.
    Although you may have seen sentences without a comma after the introductory thought, the sentences were wrong.
    Therefore, don’t forget to add a comma.

    Note: If the sentence is inverted and the phrase is placed after the main thought, the comma is not needed.

    Examples (correct)

    Too many writers forget this rule in my opinion.
    I eventually answered your question as you requested.
    Sentences without a comma after the introductory thought are wrong although you may have seen some written this way.

    Grammar Tip – Numbers and Verbs

    The BizWritingTip I sent recently regarding “between you and me” caused some questions regarding the word “number.”

    I wrote “Between you and me, there are a number of people who don’t get it right.”

    Questions then rose around the word “number.” Does “number” take a singular or a plural verb. In other words, should it be “the number is” or “the number are.”

    This is an interesting grammar point. The way it works is that “the number” has a singular meaning and requires a singular verb.

    Examples

    The number of people who responded to the advertisement is higher than expected.

    However, “a number” has a plural meaning and requires a plural verb.

    Examples

    A number of your emails have spelling errors.

    Therefore, I still believe there are a number of people who do not understand that you must always use “between you and me.”

    Grammar Tip – Learned or Learnt

    Grace’s question: “Is the word ‘learned’ as past tense right or should it be ‘learnt’ instead?”

    BizWritingTip response:  “Learn” is an interesting verb. When using it in the past tense or as a past participle, you have two options.

    Examples (correct)

    learned about the meeting last week. (past tense)

    learnt about the meeting last week. (past tense)

    have learned about your decision. (past participle)

    have learnt about your decision. (past participle)

    Learnt is more common in British English, and “learned in American English. The Oxford Canadian Dictionary accepts both.

    There are a number of other verbs that also fall into this category:

    burned, burnt
    dreamed, dreamt
    kneeled, knelt
    leaned, leant
    leaped, leapt
    spelled, spelt
    spilled, spilt
    spoiled, spoilt

    Dictionaries usually show the principal parts of verbs with unusual endings. If you are in doubt about any form, check your dictionary.

    Note: I always recommend using the spelling style of the reader. That way you will not distract the reader from your message. Remember your goal is to communicate clearly not to try to educate a reader to your spelling preference.

    Grammar Tip – The Importance of Spelling

    Whenever I ask if spelling is important in business documents, most people immediately say that it is not so important any more. However, upon reflection they begin to change their minds and recall their pet spelling peeves. I find that while spelling may not matter to writers, it certainly impacts readers.

    The results of a 2006 survey by OfficeTeam support this. Two hundred and fifty executives in the United States were asked, “How many typos in a resume does it take for you to decide not to consider a job candidate for a position with your company?” The result: more than 80 per cent of the executives surveyed said they would lose interest in a candidate if they found two typos. Of this number, forty-seven per cent had a tolerance level of only one typo.

    With spell-check there is no excuse for blatant errors. However, spell-check cannot catch words that are spelled correctly but are not the right words for the sentence, e.g., typing “form” instead of “from.”

    To pick up your personal keyboarding “finger slips” in lengthy documents, I suggest you identify the words you frequently mistype and then use the computer’s search option to check for and to correct those particular “typos.”

    Spelling may differ from country to country. As discussed in an earlier BizWtitingTip, we have American, British and Canadian spelling. Use the spelling the reader is familiar with, and then you will not distract him or her from your message.??In addition to resumes, I am sure executives are equally disappointed when they find spelling errors in other business documents.