November 2015

Word Smarts
(Ouch! Did I use that word the wrong way again?)

Hyphens can give writers trouble.
Which of the following are written incorrectly?

decision maker

Find answers at the bottom of this newsletter.

Grammar To Go
Takeout tips for better writing

A few months ago I wrote here about how commas and periods ALWAYS go inside quotation marks. (“It’s a rule you can count on,” I explained.)

What about question marks?

If the quote itself is a question, then put the question mark inside the quotes.

He asked, “Are you coming with me or not?”

If the sentence that contains the quote is a question, then put the mark at the end:

Do you agree the best policy is always “Mind over matter”?

And if both the quote and the sentence containing it are questions:

Was it wrong of me to ask, “Are you coming or not”?

One question mark is enough.

This isn’t the whole story about how to use quotation marks, but if you know how the period, comma and question mark stand with them you’ll be set for most punctuating moments.

Writing Tips

Keeping It Straight
—parallelism in lists

When it comes to writing for business, lists are common. You see them on websites, flyers and other promotional materials. Lists clearly and succinctly organize content in small, easily accessible thought bites.
Bulleted lists present their own stylistic issues, punctuation especially. As is most often the case, the soundest rule is to be consistent. If you begin one list item with a capital letter and end the line with a period, then do so for each item on the list. Consistency won’t draw unwanted attention to the form so readers can stay focused on the content. 

Even with consistent form though, a very common attention grabber—one you do NOT want to use—is listing items that are not parallel in form. Parallelism in lists means that similar grammatical parts go together. Keep verbs with verbs and nouns with nouns, and so on. Doing so creates symmetry that is naturally appealing to readers.
In Garner’s Modern American Usage, the author explains, “Parallelism—the matching of sentence parts for logical balance—helps satisfy every reader’s innate craving for order and rhythm.”
Take a look at these examples.

Being a successful businesswoman requires you show up, work hard and stay focused. 
(Similar sentence elements create symmetry.)
Being a successful businesswoman requires showing up, work hard and the determination to stay focused.
(These unlike sentence elements are jarring and clunky.)
Now you give it a go. Consider how you could improve the parallelism in this list:

Business success involves

  • setting your goals
  • mission statements
  • planning
  • know your target audience
  • implementation
  • measuring success

(See below for one way to rewrite this list for improved parallelism.)
When it comes to prose, writers don’t always use parallel construction. The resulting lack of symmetry can be powerful and effective. For your business writing, however, parallel structure is always good style.

Writing Tips—Better parallelism Answer

Business success involves

  • setting your goals
  • drafting your mission statement
  • planning your strategy
  • knowing your target audience
  • implementing your plan
  • measuring your success

Word Smarts Answers
Here is what you'll find in Merriam-Webster. Take a minute to memorize these correct forms. It will save your having to look them up later.

  • ongoing
  • longtime
  • e-book
  • overachiever
  • coworker or co-worker*
  • nonprofit
  • long-term
  • well-being
  • decision maker
  • email or e-mail*

*Correctly written with or without the hyphen.