Writing Style – Prepositions: essential

Recently, we discussed the overuse of prepositions, and how they did not help if you wanted to write concisely. (Some common prepositions are in, of, at, on, for, with, to, between and by.) On the other hand, you must not omit essential prepositions.

Words such as “type” and “couple” always require the preposition of.

Examples (Poor)

What type binding do you require?
I need a couple minutes.

Examples (Revised)

What type of binding do you require?
I need a couple of minutes.

Note: It is not wrong to end a sentence with a preposition today. It all depends on the emphasis and effect you want to achieve.

Example (correct)

He wanted to know which project I was involved with.

If I was working on a report and wanted to achieve a formal tone, I would write:
“It is essential to understand to which decision he was referring.”

To write with a more informal tone— in a letter or email — I would write:
“It is essential to understand which decision he was referring to.”

We trust these couple of pointers will help you with your writing.

Grammar Tip – The slash (/) and when you use it

Slashes have several meanings: and, or, both, to, or per. Be careful when you use them. They can make your sentence difficult to interpret.

1. You can use a slash to indicate a time period that extends beyond a single year.


Fiscal year 2010/11

2. Use it to replace per in measurements: 40 km/h (40 kilometers per hour).

3. You can use it to replace and/or. However, many readers dislike this usage as it can be ambiguous.

Example (awkward)

You can attend the presentation and/or the dinner. (Is this easy to read? How many options is the writer offering?)

Example (better)

You can attend the presentation or the dinner or both.

4. Although I have seen it, I don’t recommend that people write he/she or s/he. This is awkward and distracting. It draws attention to political correctness at the expense of the message.

And if that’s not enough – it’s difficult to say/read aloud.

Grammar Tip – Punctuation Before Quoted Material

Remember in English, there is always an exception to every rule.

When a sentence starts with a he said/she said phrase and ends in quoted material, you should place a comma before the quote.


He said, “The proposal will be completed by Friday.”

However, if the introductory phrase forms a complete sentence, then place a colon before the quoted material.


He said something reassuring to the committee: “The proposal with be completed by Friday.”

In addition, if the quoted material contains more than one sentence, use a colon – not a comma.


He said: “The proposal will be completed by Friday. However, it will require the team to work overtime, and they will have to be paid for the extra hours.”

Note: Do not use a comma or a colon if the quoted material is preceded with the word that or if it flows into the sentence.


He said that “the proposal will be completed by Friday.”

In the minutes, it was noted that we “cannot complete the proposal before Friday.”

I have often said that “poor grammar is like bad breath. People will seldom tell you. But they sure notice it.”

Word Choice – People Versus Peoples

Arun’s question: “I have noticed that sometimes the word ‘peoples’ is used instead of ‘people.’  What is the difference?  I always thought that ‘people’ is plural.”

BizWritingTip response: As long as I am answering this question, we might as well start with the word “person.” A person is an individual human being. It comes from the Latin word persona meaning a character in a play. It can also be written as a plural word when you are referring to a specific, countable number of individuals.

Examples (correct)

Who was the first person to arrive?
There were six persons in the meeting.

However, most style books recommend using the term people when you have more than one person. It sounds more natural. The word people comes from the Latin word populum, referring to the general population. It always takes a plural verb.

Example (correct)

How many people have signed up for the conference?
The plural form “peoples” refers to multiple groups of people with each group sharing a common culture.

Example (correct)

Always capitalize the names of religions, races, languages, and peoples.
She wants to study the Aboriginal peoples of the Americas.

Word Choice – Into, in, or in to

BizWritingTip reader: “When do you use in versus into? I also have seen in to. Are they interchangeable?”

BizWritingTip response: These are tricky questions – often requiring some thought on the part of the writer. The preposition “into” is used to imply movement or change or contact.

Examples (correct)

Please have the brochure translated into French. (This statement implies a change.)

I went into the boardroom yesterday. (This statement implies movement.)

I ran into Brad Pitt/Angelina Jolie. (Contact – lots of contact)

“Into” can also refer to time.

Example (correct)

Surely, winter will not continue into April.

“In” implies a position or location.

Examples (correct)

The figures can be found in the annual report. ?The managers are in the gym.

“In to” are two separate words. The “in” part relates to the verb before and the “to” part relates to the upcoming word.

Examples (correct)

All reports should be sent in to your manager for approval. (“Sent in” is a verb phrase.)

Roger dropped in to see me yesterday. (“Dropped in” is also a verb phrase.)

Let’s go in to dinner. (You couldn’t go into dinner unless you were planning to climb into the oven.)

Here’s a trick: If you can drop the in without losing the meaning, the correct term will be in to. (Let’s go to dinner.)

Aren’t you glad we got in to this?

Writing Style – Hope

Hope is a lovely word. We should all have it. However, the only time I would use it in a business document is when I am referring to a social or personal situation.


hope the weather is good for your vacation.?I hope you and your family are fine.

In a business setting, hope implies the writer is not positive that what he or she has done or wants done is possible.


hope this information is satisfactory. (This statement implies that the writer is not sure the information provided is comprehensive. There is other information that was not sent, which might also be relevant.)?I hope to hear from you by Monday. (I’m hoping, but I’m not counting on it.)

Example (Revised)

I trust this information is satisfactory.?I am sure this information will answer your questions.?I look forward to hearing from you by Monday.

Remember when it comes to business – there is no hope.

Grammar Tip – Parentheses and Punctuation ( )

1. Parentheses ( ) are used to insert explanatory information within a sentence or paragraph. Use them when you want to provide additional information that really isn’t essential to the reader.


This was the best year we’ve had in a long time (in terms of sales).?Note: The period is outside the parentheses because in terms of sales is not a sentence.

I would like to attend his lecture. (I hear he’s a dynamic speaker.) However, there may not be enough time.

Note: Because the words in the parentheses form a complete sentence, the period is placed inside the parentheses. You must also place a period at the end of the preceding sentence.

2. Parentheses are also used to enclose references.


The study shows that most people prefer to eat lunch at their desks (see figure 3).

The study shows that most people prefer to eat lunch at their desks. (See figure 3 in the appendix for the complete study results.)

Note: If the reference forms a complete sentence, place the period inside the parentheses.

3. Parentheses are also used to explain abbreviations and acronyms.


Member of Legislative Assembly (MLA)

Executive Women’s Golf Association (EWGA)

Note: There is no need to include periods in uppercase abbreviations.

Will this information help you? (I would like to think so.)

Email Tip – E-mail Versus Email

Muhammed’s question: “I have read that The Associated Press has officially killed off ‘e-mail’ in favour of ‘email’ in their official style guide. What are your thoughts?”

BizWritingTip response: My first thought is that whatever I write will irritate someone. E-mail is the original spelling of the word. Normally, all English words that use a single letter to replace a word are connected to the next word with a hyphen.

A-bomb (atom bomb)
T-shirt (tee shirt)
X-ray (unknown ray)
U-boat (unterseeboot boat)
E-mail (electronic mail)

Note: The first letter in these words is always capitalized – except for e-mail, which is written with a lowercase “e” when the word does not start a sentence.

Examples (correct)
E-mails should start with an action request.
I will send you an e-mail tomorrow.
Did you have your X-ray?

Over the years, people involved in developing and managing the Internet shortened the word to email. (It involves one less keystroke.) People who pride themselves on their use of the English language have stuck with the more formal e-mail.

It’s interesting to note that the Associated Press has now decided to officially go withemail. But The Chicago Manual of Style and The Canadian Press Stylebook are still sticking with e-mail. Who knows what will happen next year. The language is constantly evolving.

Frankly, this word is so common now that there really can be no misunderstanding when you use it with or without the hyphen. I believe the final ruling on this one should be an organization’s decision and should be in their stylebook. If your company doesn’t have a style guide, then be consistent at least with your own spelling.