Through the piercing screech of chalk on the blackboard, you discern a command: "Never start a sentence with 'and' or 'but,'" your school teacher stated. Forget this "rule." It's perfectly fine to begin a sentence with a conjunction, such as or, but, and or so. Most experts think the made-up rule stemmed from an oversimplification; … Continue reading Can I start a sentence with “but” or “and”?
Some people think hyphens are unnecessary; others overuse them. It's a divisive topic even among copy editors. But if you think hyphens don't matter, consider the following examples: People who believe in hate-free speech are quite different from those who hate free speech. You'd likely react differently to a man eating chicken than you would … Continue reading Why hyphens matter
A headline can make or break a story. Nowadays, it's not enough to get readers to click on an article or a review. We want them to read it, share it and, in many cases, go on to purchase a product. The elements of an effective headline have changed dramatically over the past few years, … Continue reading How to write an engaging headline
In past tips, I've highlighted the importance of avoiding wordiness. Clear, concise writing conveys your message quickly and directly, and helps us keep readers' attention. One way to do this is to avoid redundancy. We can eliminate adjectives and prepositions that some words' meanings already include. For example, the phrase "tall skyscraper" is redundant because … Continue reading Avoid redundancy
Rivaling the Oxford comma, the so-called singular they is one of the most debated grammar topics. What do I mean by "the singular they"? I'm referring to the use of they as a gender-neutral pronoun to mean he or she (and the use of them in place of him or her, and their instead of … Continue reading The singular “they” and guidance on gender
Ah, the Oxford comma. It's at the center of one of the most contentious copy-editing debates of all time. Today, I'll clear up a long-held misconception about this famous grammar dispute and provide guidance on when to use this infamous punctuation, to ensure your writing conveys the intended meaning. What is the Oxford comma? The … Continue reading When to use the Oxford comma (gasp!)
In my previous tip, I advised writing in the positive form and avoiding the use of "not" before an adjective. Double negatives are even worse because they make the reader think too hard about what you actually mean. Do two negatives make a positive? Sometimes. Maybe. Just avoid any confusion in the first place. Double … Continue reading Avoid double negatives
If I told you, "You will not get paid Friday," you'd probably be pretty upset. But that statement also leaves a lot in question. Does it mean that you'll miss a paycheck altogether, or that you'll be paid on a different day? Maybe you'll get your check early. You just don't know. Usually, unless you're … Continue reading Stay positive!
Using precise, vivid language strengthens and clarifies your writing. It helps readers visualize your ideas and prevents the confusion that can arise from vague descriptions. Consider the following examples: Vague: This pizza is gross. Specific: This pizza tastes like a year-old, microwaved waffle slathered in crusty ketchup and globs of Cheez Whiz. Vague: The kids … Continue reading Use precise, vivid language
You're going to fall over when you read this, but this email will change your life. I'm exaggerating, of course. Hyperbole weakens writing. To quote William Zinsser's "On Writing Well" (yes, again), "These verbal high jinks can get just so high … before the reader feels an overpowering drowsiness. It's like being trapped with a … Continue reading Life-changing advice: Avoid hyperbole