Word Choice – Oversight Versus Oversee

BizWritingTip reader: “Can you please clarify the correct use of the word ‘oversight’ versus ‘overseeing.’ I’ve been seeing the word ‘oversight’ used in the context of ‘X department is responsible for the oversight of Y project.’ Please clarify the correct usage of the word ‘oversight’ versus ‘to oversee.’ ”

BizWritingTip response: “To oversee” is a verb and means “to supervise.” The past tense is “oversaw.”

“Oversight” is a noun and has three meanings:

1) failure to notice something,
2) an inadvertent mistake, and
3) supervision.

Let’s look at the sentence again.

X department is responsible for the oversight of Y project.
X department is responsible for overseeing Y project.

Technically, both sentences are correct. Personally, I would avoid the word oversight. It can imply the opposite of what is intended. Oversight of Y project can mean something that was botched by X department. With the verb oversee, you don’t have that problem.

Words are interesting. I once read an annual report that stated: “The board overlooks the activities of the CEO.” I often wonder what the CEO was getting up to. The correct verb in this case should have been “oversees.”

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