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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.

Example

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.

Example

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.

Example

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.

Example

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.

Example

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.

Example

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.

Examples

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.

Examples

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.

Examples

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.

Examples
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.

Word Choice – Among Versus Between

BizWritingTip reader: “Please do a piece that explains when to use ‘between’ and ‘among.’ Increasingly, ‘between’ is used when ‘among’ should be used. I was taught that ‘between’ references two people and ‘among’ references three or more. In fact, even Sesame Street taught this.”

BizWritingTip response: Yes, Jean, you and Sesame Street are correct – for the most part. “Between” is used when referring to two persons or things. And “among” is used when referring to more than two.

Examples

Let’s divide the work between Joe and Susan.
The work should be divided among the three project managers.

However, as I keep saying, there seems to be an exception to every rule regarding English grammar.??In the previous example, the project managers are separate people. But, if you are referring to a group or to geographical locations, then don’t use “among.” You must use “between” even if there are more than two.

Example (correct)

Between the five of us, we obtained over 500 signatures. (The five of us are a united group.)
The purpose of the meeting was to encourage discussion between the participants. (The participants are a group.)
The train travelled between Oakville, Sarnia and Windsor. (These are geographical locations.)
Dividers were placed between the pages. (Again, pages are considered a group.)

Don’t you just love English grammar!

Writing Style – Are we reading faster?

A 2007 study conducted in 32 countries shows that people are walking 10 per cent faster than they did a decade ago. If we enter our offices after travelling in the fast lane, how does it impact the rest of our day?

And how does it affect our reading styles?

I believe we are turning into skimmers when it comes to business documents. We rush through documents looking for points of interest and for the bottom line. In fact, we prefer the bottom line to be at the beginning of the document so we don’t have to guess at the outcome or the action requested.

Effective business writing used to be about clarity and conciseness; now emphasis must also be given to layout — both in terms of organization and visual appeal.

Remember, today’s readers want:

  • The bottom line first (A reader wants to know in the opening paragraph why they must read the document – particularly in recommendation reports and emails.)
  • Short sentences (A sentence should never exceed two lines.)
  • Short paragraphs (Paragraphs in print documents should not exceed eight lines; paragraphs in screen documents should not exceed five lines.
  • Connecting words (Sentences starting with connecting words, such as in addition, however, first, increase readability.)
  • Visual appeal (Lists, white space and subheads tend to make ideas easier to absorb.)

The famous author C.S. Lewis once wrote: “I sometimes think that writing is like driving sheep down a road. If there is any gate to the left or right, the readers will most certainly go into it.”

For today’s skimmers, you need to keep your messages brief and visual. Never let a business reader interpret your message. Tell them what you are going to tell them and then tell them – in as few words as possible.

Happy writing!

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.