Writing Style – Anglophone/Francophone: To Cap or Not to Cap

Deane’s question: “Should terms such as francophone and anglophone be capitalized. I don’t think so as they do not refer to races of people per se. However, especially in the case of francophone, people in government and in the press often write Francophone.”

BizWritingTip response: My first inclination was to say “no.” Do not capitalize these words.

Languages, groups of people and geographical locations are always capitalized. However, anglophone (someone who speaks English) and francophone (someone who speaks French) are descriptors. They do not directly refer to a nationality or a location.

The Canadian Press Caps and Spelling and the Oxford Canadian Dictionary both agree: lowercase.

Note: They do capitalize these words when combined with a location, e.g., Anglo-Quebecer, Franco-Manitoban.

But the Merriam-Webster dictionary accepts both the lowercase and uppercase versions.

The Gregg Reference Manual says the words should be capitalized, and the standard dictionary in Microsoft Word calls for a capital for Anglophone but accepts the lowercase  francophone.

The only thing I can now say is to pick your preferred style and be consistent with it.

Writing Style – Letters and Salutations

A BizWritingTip reader wrote: I am curious as to what salutation should be used on letters when you don’t know the name or gender of the person you’re writing to. Is “gentlemen” passe?

BizWritingTip response: Yes, “gentlemen” by itself is considered passé. You could address the letter to “Ladies and Gentlemen.” (Don’t use the word Dear.”)

However, this terminology is considered very formal. And some women in my workshops have told me they don’t like to be referred to as “Ladies” in the business world.

With a routine or informal letter when you do not know who will be receiving it, I recommend you drop the salutation line altogether and just lead with the subject line. This would be ideal if you were writing a letter that is going into a file.


Re: Employment Reference for Tiger Woods

Another option would be to use a title, if you know it: Dear Human Resources Manager:

Naturally, the best way to get your documents read is to start with the person’s name.

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.)