Writing Style – Metric or Imperial

When should I use metric as opposed to imperial measurements?

Although the Canadian style is to use metric for most measurements, there are a few exceptions, such as personal weights and heights, two-by-fours, quarter-inch screws, some sports, etc.


A three-kilogram packet costs $4.

She is 5 feet 8 inches tall. (Always use numbers rather than words for dimensions, sizes and temperature readings.)

Normally, when you are using measurements, spell out terms such as foot, hundredweight, kilogram, and metre.

Some common terms — mm, m.p.h., c.c., km/h — may be used when mentioning them a second time. The only exception is C (for Celsius), which can be used on first reference.


The temperature was 40 C.

Use this style for imperial abbreviations, both singular and plural:

In .   ft.     yd.    mi.    oz.    lb.


Her golf drives are normally 250 yd. long.

There are no abbreviations in metric, only symbols. Therefore, use this style for metric measurements, both singular and plural:

mm    cm      m       l      kg      km

Notice: There are no periods in these symbols – only for the end of a sentence.??The boardroom is 6 m x 10 m. (Technical usage)

The boardroom is 6 x 10 m. (General usage)

Writing Style – Titles and Capital Letters

A BizWritingTip reader wrote: I often see titles written without capitals, for example, Joe Blow, pharmacy manager, … . I would normally use capitals on these words but maybe a rule has changed, and I missed it!

BizWritingTip response: The style today with regard to capitalizing words within sentences is called modified down. In other words, lowercase words are generally preferred.

Therefore, if a title follows a name and is separated from it by a comma, use the lowercase for the title.


Joe Blow, pharmacy manager, chaired the meeting.

Tony Clement, federal health minister, attended the conference.

If a formal title directly precedes the name, then it would be capitalized.


Prime Minister Stephen Harper

However, if the title stands alone or is plural, write it as a lowercase,


The mayor was re-elected.

Two premiers, Gordon Campbell and Gary Doer, met to discuss the issue.

Don’t forget that occupations are always lowercased: nurses, doctors, teachers, engineers, etc.

Writing Style – McLuhan and Emails

Emails have only been an official tool of the workplace since the mid 90s. However, the media philosopher Marshall McLuhan seemed to be referring to them in the 60s when he said, “We shape the tools and they in turn shape us.”

Emails were designed to make us more productive. We can send and receive information at the touch of a button. We can write joint reports with people in other offices – or even countries. If someone is “on the road,” no problem. We’ll just send him an email and expect a reply within a few hours. And we can ignore time zones. They are no longer a communications problem.

Moreover, if we think of an idea or a problem to address when office hours are over, we can pull out our laptops/Blackberries and handle it immediately.

But McLuhan was right. This productivity tool is also shaping us. There is more stress in the workplace today because of emails. People are overusing them — sending both relevant and irrelevant messages with little thought. The number one complaint people have with emails is that there are just too many. In fact, handling emails has added one hour to the workday. (If you did the math of this, you’ll be amazed at how much of a company’s corporate payroll goes toward the handling of emails.)

Part of the problem with emails is that business people have not been officially trained on how and when to use emails. They don’t know how to mange their inboxes. And they have not been taught that the rules for letters do not work for emails, nor do they understand that tone is much more important with emails than with other forms of writing.

Emails are a wonderful tool. But they are forcing us to think outside the standard writing/organizing boxes we have previously relied on for business communications.

Writing Style – The Most Detested Canadian Cliché

When I conduct a workshop on business writing, I often ask the participants which cliché they dislike the most. The most common answer is Thanking you in advance for your anticipated co-operation.

Why? There seem to be two reasons:

First, it is normally used after a question, such as “Would you please send me the following documents?” The question implies the reader has a choice. Then the writer finishes the request with the words “thanking you in advance for … ” Now the request has become a demand, and demands tend to irritate stressed business people.

Second, people have trouble with this phrase as it implies the writer is grateful at the moment of writing but will not care when the task is actually done.

Instead of “thanking people in advance,” why not write “I would appreciate your …” ?or “I look forward to …”

Writing Style – The Rules for Numbers

Are you puzzled about the rules for numbers? If you are, you are not alone. People, organizations, and grammar and style books all seem to have their own preferences.

British English recommends writing out all numbers under 100, but, according to The Canadian Press Stylebook, you should use words for numbers between one and nine. Use the figures for 10 and up.

If you are presenting a string of numbers above and below 10, keep to the rules.

Example (Canadian style)

There will be 20 people attending the board meeting: 11 official members, three staff members, and six ex officio members.

The Chicago Manual of Style disagrees and says not to mix numerals and written numbers when referencing similar things.

Example (American style)

There will be 20 people attending the board meeting: 11 official members, 3 staff members, and 6 ex officio members.

Fortunately, both style books agree there are occasions when you should ignore the over-and-under-10 rule.

Use figures when mentioning:

A. Scores, percentages, votes, odds, dates, years, addresses, and in money amounts 
preceded by a symbol ($5) and in times (8 o’clock, 11:45 a.m.)
B. Use figures in lists of instructions and when trying to save space in a headline.
C. Use words when starting a sentence and when using numbers loosely.


Fifty to 60 people attended the annual general meeting.
Thousands of people were left homeless after the earthquake and hundreds were injured.

In business writing, you would never present numbers both ways.
 Incorrect: He attended eight (8) meetings.

In North American emails, there is a trend to always use figures for numbers. Although it may be considered a substandard style by purists today, I believe it will become acceptable within the next few years.

Writing Style – let’s get rid of clichés

A cliché is a phrase or expression that has been overused to the point of losing its intended force or purpose. The word originates from the era of block printing, when lazy printers would cut out frequently-used pieces of type, store them in a drawer, and bring them out again when the phrase reappeared.Initially refreshing, these phrases are now considered by many readers to lack creativity, innovation or sincerity. For example, think about the phrase “If you have any further questions, please don’t hesitate to contact me.” How often have you seen or written this?

When you read it are you impressed with the writer’s manners? Or do you pretty much ignore the thought? When you write it, do you really believe the reader would be afraid to call you unless told otherwise? Do you think that readers today would hesitate to call or e-mail you if they were confused or wanted to complain?

I believe many writers still use clichés because they are lazy and writing in a robotic mode. If you want to look like an energetic professional, write in a warm, friendly fashion using words you would use in a face-to-face conversation.

Take a look at the following phrases. If you can immediately supply the next word, you know the phrase is overworked.

It has come to my ___________.

Please find __________.

________your request,

If you have any questions, please feel ____________________.


Writing Style – Why the Rules for Letters Don’t Apply to Emails

We are all familiar with letters. They are a traditional form of communications. However, emails are recently new to the business scene and require their own email-centric form of writing and organizing.

Why? Emails were never designed to be a formal method of communication.

When emails came into being in the early 90s, they were conceived to be a quick form of communication. You ask. I answer. They were not designed to replace formal letters but to provide a speedy response to a quick off-the-cuff question. They have since become an accepted way of communicating on all levels of the business world. But the writing style has never been elevated to a formal, pompous one.

Note, an informal style does not equate to sloppy. Sloppy emails will not get you anywhere. When I talk about an informal style, I mean short sentences, short paragraphs, bulleted lists, active voice sentences and personal pronouns. Abbreviations and acronyms – as long as the reader understands them – are permissible. Spelling and grammar errors are not.

The word “Dear” is traditional in a letter. Not to use it, would be considered discourteous. However, never use it in a North American email. It is considered outdated and overly formal – not reflective of the U.S. and Canadian business cultures.

But an email should start with a greeting – just as if you were meeting the person for the first time that day. You can be specific and start with the person’s name – first name only if you are friendly, both names if you want to be more formal – or be more generic and start with “hello,” “hi,” “good day,” or something similar.

Word Choice – Off or Off of

Andy’s question: “Is it proper grammar to use ‘Billy jumped off of the ladder’? I don’t think so. I think it should be ‘Billy jumped off the ladder.’”

BizWritingTip response: “Off” and “of” are both prepositions. A preposition is a word mainly used before a noun or pronoun to show its relationship with other words. Some examples of prepositions are with, by, to, in, to, into, between, on, off and of.

If you keep the placement rule in mind, it makes no sense to have a preposition (off) before another preposition (of). Therefore, grammar books agree off of is superfluous and should be avoided when writing.

Examples (correct when writing)

Billy jumped off the ladder.
The box fell off the shelf.

Interestingly, off of can be found in the works of early English writers going back to the 16th century, e.g., Shakespeare’s play Henry VI. But times change.

In speaking, off of is considered an Americanism. The Brits and Canadians more commonly use off by itself.

Note: Nowadays, a preposition can also be the last word in a sentence whether you are writing or speaking.

Examples (correct)

Is this the report you were referring to?
This is something we need to talk about.

Isn’t English fun?

Tip Sheet with

Sometimes it’s difficult to remember which preposition belongs with a word. If you use the wrong one, you could lose your intended meaning. Therefore, we’ve put together a Free Tip Sheet that lists many commonly used phrases with their necessary prepositions.

Writing Style – What Every Business Reader Wants to Know

Today’s busy readers are skimmers, drowning in paperwork and are impatient. Therefore, when they glance at one of your documents either in hard copy or on a screen, what do they want to know right away?

They want to know “What’s in it for me?” They mentally ask themselves “Why do I need to read this document?” “Why should I take time out of my busy day to read it?” “Can I get away with skimming it?” “Can I put it aside for later, ignore it entirely or delete it?”

Therefore, when you start any document begin with the main message. Don’t waste a reader’s time with fill words or background details in the first paragraph.

Don’t start a report with “The purpose of this report is to clarify/describe/explain…”?Get rid of the fluff: “This report clarifies/describes/explains…”

In an email, don’t start with background: “Three weeks ago, I met with you to discuss the new production line. You asked me to…” ?Get rid of the bedtime story: “Here are the answers to your questions regarding the new production line.”

In a letter, try to avoid starting with the word “I” : I want to take this opportunity to thank you for …” Put the focus on the reader, not the writer: “Thank you for …”

Writing Style – Ms. or Ms

Kirby’s question: “I know you have written about the abbreviations Mr., Mrs., and Ms. before. However, is it correct, as Ms. is not a true abbreviation, not to place a period after it? With each year, we are using Ms. more often than either Miss or Mrs.”

BizWritingTip response: Ms. can be written with or without the period. It is a style issue rather than a grammar concern. However, there is a growing trend in North America to use the period.

I prefer to use the period as it supports the purpose for which the word was re-added to the English language. It parallels Mr. or Mrs. The Canadian Press Stylebook, The Gregg Reference Manual and The Oxford Canadian Dictionary all support this.

Ms or Ms. is used when (1) a woman’s marital status is not relevant to the situation, (2) her marital status is not known, or (3) the woman prefers the title.

Interestingly, up until the 17th century, Ms. was used along with Miss and Mrs., as a short form for the formal Mistress. Like the title of Mister, Mistress did not refer to marital status. After that date, Miss and Mrs. became more accepted usage.

Ms. started to reappear in the early 1900s as a way to avoid embarrassment when addressing a woman and not being sure of whether she was married. But it didn’t really take off until the 1970s and the feminist movement. It really helped, of course, when Gloria Steinheim made it the title of her popular magazine Ms. in 1972.

Contrary to what some people believe — Ms. does not indicate a divorced woman.