Word Choice – So

If you are starting an independent clause (a group of words containing a subject, verb and expressing a complete thought) with the word so, you have two options:

1. If the clause in front is short and easily fits with the new thought, then place a comma before so.

Correct

The photocopier is constantly breaking down, so we will buy a new one this month.

2. If the preceding clause is lengthy and you need a break in the thought process, then place a semicolon or period before the so.

Correct

Despite repeated attempts to remove the mould from the building, we are still not confident that we have completely fixed the problem. So I would like you to consider relocating your office.

Remember so as a conjunction means therefore. So that means in order that.

Correct

The RFP must be completed on time, so you will have to work overtime.

The RFP must be completed on time. Therefore, you will have to work overtime.

You will have to work overtime so that the RFP is completed on time.
You will have to work overtime in order that the RFP is completed on time.

So …

Word Choice – Organize or Organise

Gail’s question: “It is becoming more difficult to remember the correct Canadian spelling of words, especially since Microsoft software only references American grammar and spelling.  For example, I would spell “organisation” with an ‘s.’ Is this correct?”

BizWritingTip response: My favourite reference books for Canadian spelling are The Canadian Press Caps and Spelling and the Canadian Oxford Dictionary. Both books claim that organize is spelled with a “z.”  This is also the American spelling.

Organise and organize are both accepted in British spelling.  However, a 2004 UK survey stated that 60% of the respondents favoured the –ise ending.

If you want more information on the differences between Canadian, British and American spelling, check out the earlier BizWritingTip Blog: How should I spell it?

By the way, you might want to ask your IT department how to set up a Canadian English dictionary in your version of Word.

Word Choice – Affect Versus Effect

Affect and effect are two words that are often confused. A good rule to remember is to use affect for a verb and effect for a noun. However, if you are someone who struggles with determining nouns and verbs, here is an easier way to choose the right word.

If you can substitute the words influence or change in the sentence, then use affect.

Correct Example

The restructuring does not affect his pay. (You could say, “The restructuring does not change his pay.” Therefore, affect is correct.)

If you can use the word result in the sentence, then use effect.

Correct Example

What effect will the change have? (You could say, “What result will the change have?” Therefore, effect is the right word.)

If you can use the phrase bring about, then use effect.

Correct Example

The manager wants to effect a change in the schedule. (You could say, “The manager wants to bring about a change in the schedule.” Therefore, effect is the right word.)

To summarize, remember:

Affect = to change or to influence (verb)

Effect = result (noun – often there will be an article before it, i.e., an, a or the)

Effect = to bring about (verb)

Remember, poor word choice may have an effect on your career path.

Test your knowledge

  1. What will be the effect/affect on the vacation schedule?
  2. The rising temperature will affect/effect the test results.
  3. The engineer checked the effect/affect of the heavier weight on the conveyer belt.
  4. The CEO’s directive effected/affected a change in the hiring policy.
  5. The winter months affected/effected profits in the building trade.

Answers: 1. effect, 2. affect, 3. effect, 4. effected, 5. affected

Word Choice – Disinterested Versus Uninterested

Rick’s question: “Is there a difference between ‘disinterested’ and ‘uninterested’?  Or are they interchangeable?”

BizWritingTip response:  Thank you for pointing out this common error. Yes, many people do interchange these words. But they have different meanings.

“Disinterested” means unbiased or impartial. In other words, a disinterested person cannot be influenced to his or her own advantage.

Examples

We need to find a disinterested person to select the winner.

G.M. Trevelyan said, “Disinterested intellectual curiosity is the life blood of real civilization.”

“Uninterested” means not interested or unconcerned.

Examples

I am uninterested in raising funds for an event that is not for charity.

Gilbert K. Chesterton said, “There is no such thing on earth as an uninteresting subject; the only thing that can exist is an uninterested person.”

Trust you found this interesting.

RIP Sheet:

OTN Tombstone

I have just posted my popular RIP Tip Sheet on this website. Whenever I deliver a session on business writing, I provide the RIP tip sheet to the participants. But I thought my BizWritingTip readers might like a copy.  The RIP tip sheet lists words and phrases that are clichés in today’s business world and provides alternatives.

Happy reading!


Word Choice – Amongst and Whilst

Several BizWritingTip readers have questioned the use of amongst and whilst.

According to the Oxford Canadian Dictionaryamongst is interchangeable with among, meaning between. Normally, among is used when referring to two or more things.

Correct

Let’s divide the work equally among us.

Let’s divide the work equally amongst us.

Note: Although amongst is considered acceptable, I do not see many people using it. Personally, I stick to the more frequently-used word among.

Whilst meaning while is used chiefly in British English (and often in Australian and New Zealand English). It is not common in North America. Therefore, I recommend staying away from it.

Remember, while means “during the time that.” Be careful not to use it when you really mean although.

Incorrect

While he missed the meeting, he completed the response to the RFP on time.

Correct

Although he missed the meeting, he completed the response to the RFP on time.

Correct

While I was waiting for the phone call, I managed to work on the report. (While is being used as during the time that.)

Word Choice – First Versus Firstly

Dominique’s question: “Which sentence is correct: ‘Firstly, I would like to let you know that …’ or ‘First of all, I would like to let you know …’ I wrote to a colleague in the States who claims she has never heard of the word ‘firstly.’ ”

Bizwritingtip response: This is a writing style issue rather than a grammar one. First of all, firstly and first are all acceptable words. However, I don’t like to use words just “to pad” my sentences. Therefore, I would never use first of all. I don’t see the need for “of all.”

For the past 150 years, people have hotly debated the use of “first” versus “firstly.” Which word is the more appropriate?”  First appeared in the English language around 1200, and firstly showed up in the early 16th century.

Modern dictionaries accept both words as interchangeable. Just remember, if you start with “first,” you must continue with “second” and “third.”  If you begin with “firstly,” continue with “secondly,” and “thirdly.” (The same holds true with the words “last” and “lastly.”)

Personally, I prefer the shorter version, first. E.B. White said it well in the chapter he added to Strunk’s book The Elements of Style: “Do not dress words up by adding ‘ly’ to them, as though putting a hat on a horse.”

(The Elements of Style was first written by William Strunk, Jr. in 1918 and updated in 1935. E. B. White, a pupil of Strunk, revised the book in 1959 after Strunk’s death. This book serves as the basis for business writing today, focusing on clearly written English prose.)

Word Choice – Until Versus Till

A BizWtitingTip reader wants to know when you use until versus till. Until is a preposition and means “up to or as late as,” “up to the time of,” “up to the time when,” and “so long that.”

Examples

We waited until 6 p.m.

The project was on time until the project manager left.

I worked on the computer until my eyes hurt.

Although till is not used as often, it is regarded as an accepted variant for until. However, you should not start a sentence with it.

Incorrect

Till we get the new figures, we can’t complete the estimates.

Correct

Until we get the new figures, we can’t complete the estimates.

To paraphrase an old cowboy singing duo, good writing, “until we meet again.”

Writing Style – Than Versus Then (plus appropriate pronouns)

A BizWritingTip reader wants to know the difference between than and then. ?Than is a conjunction and is normally used with comparisons. ?Then is an adverb meaning soon afterward.

Example

He believes a consultant could prepare a better report than we.* (A comparison is indicated.)

Example

After hearing his news, we then began to question the estimated costs for the project. (A time frame is indicated.)

Incorrect

Can we meet sooner then Saturday?

Correct

Can we meet sooner than Saturday?

Note: Then is often the cause of many run-on sentences.

Incorrect

The presentation went on for over an hour then the speaker asked for questions.

Correct

The presentation went on for over an hour. Then the speaker asked for questions.

* Some readers may be shocked by the use of the word we in this example. However, whenever a pronoun follows than or as, you must mentally supply the missing word.

Incorrect

He believes a consultant could prepare a better report than us.

Correct

He believes a consultant could prepare a better report than we (can).

Incorrect

He is not as experienced as him.

Correct

He is not as experienced as he. (The word is mentally follows the word is.)

Word Choice – Might and May

A BizWritingTip reader asked, “Can you explain the difference between might and may?”

Yes, I can. Both might and may imply permission or possibility. And might is the past tense of may.

Examples

The figures may be accurate. (possibility)

You may include the cleaning bill in your expense account. (permission)

I might have been able to attend, but I had forgotten about the meeting. (past possibility)

Incorrect

I might be able to attend the meeting next week.

Correct

I may be able to attend the meeting next week.

Word Choice – Talked To Versus Spoke To

A BizWritingTip reader asked me to explain the difference between talked to and spoke to.

Both words are the past tenses of words with similar meanings.

Spoke to means “held a conversation with.” Talked to means “communicated ideas, information, or feelings in spoken words.”

However, talked to is deemed a little more forceful as it implies more of a one-sided conversation. Spoke to conveys the impression of a dialogue.

Examples

I talked to him about the poor quality of his work. (conveyed information)

I spoke to them regarding the department’s reorganization and how it would affect them. (sought information)