February 2016

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

I’ve caught myself writing the word continuous when what I really meant was continual. It’s a common goof. The words mean ALMOST the same thing—but not exactly.

Continual= recurring frequently or intermittently

Continuous = occurring without interruption; unceasing

Maybe the misuse comes from exaggerating a situation. “Mom’s continuous complaining is getting on my nerves.” Unless Mom truly gripes relentlessly, then the better word choice would be continual.

Which word would you use in the sentences below, with continually or continuously.

The couple has been quarreling ___________________ for years.

Commuter trains are _______________________ breaking down.

The distinction between the two words is fine but worth keeping in mind as you write. 


Grammar To Go
Takeout tips for better writing

We all know how the general rule for making a noun plural: add an –s (or –es). This rule applies to proper names, as well. There are four Ashleys in my son’s class. The Joneses are remodeling their home. Although you often see an apostrophe plus an -s to form the plural of someone’s name, that is never correct.

When used with proper names apostrophes show possession. Suzy’s portrait is almost complete. The Smith’s dog is lost.

The style rules get murky, however, when it comes to proper names that end in –s. Do you add an apostrophe and –s or just an apostrophe? Is it Gus’s problem or Gus problem? Style guides don’t agree. The Chicago Manual of Style recommends an –s after the apostrophe, whereas The AP Stylebook follows the apostrophe-only approach.

What to do? As always, consistency is key. Choose your style and stick with it within a document, website and all your business writing.

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If you’ve had enough already with the plurals and the possessives, read no further. But for those with a lingering question of how to form the possessive of a plural proper name (Joneses, e.g.), here you go: Use only the apostrophe. The Joneses’ garden is a gopher’s paradise. 


Writing Tips

The writing process—
a relationship with self-doubt

If you doubt your ability as a writer, curse your lack of skill or stress out when it’s time to write, you’re in good company. Self-doubt is part of the writing process that everyone suffers through when it’s time to write a blog, article, letter or even an important email. Don’t worry that means something is wrong with you. In fact, that snarky voice is important to being a strong writer.

Writing is a creative act. You’re making something out of nothing. You’re inventing something that didn’t exist before. Even the driest professional report is creative expression. Like giving birth, it can be painful in the moment but bring great satisfaction once you’re done.

As with all creative moments, nothing kills the muse faster than criticism. As you start exploring topics to write about, mull over ideas, imagine possibilities—at the start of the writing process—lock your critic in the other room. This is when you must let yourself go without judgment.

Most of us get bogged down in our writing in the beginning. We have trouble getting our ideas off the ground because of that pesky critic within. Before we even get a chance to consider what we want to say, she starts in with “What a dumb idea! Nobody wants to hear that! You don’t know what you’re talking about!”

It’s time to make friends with your inner vixen. Develop a good relationship with her. Know that self-doubt can support you and help improve your writing … but never at the beginning! If you trust this part of you has a valuable place later in the writing process, it’ll be easier to quiet it down at the start.

Once you’ve explored your ideas and written your rough draft (without your buttinsky in your ear), invite in your discerning self. This observer’s voice helps you take another perspective. It allows you to hear what you’re saying with your readers in mind. Have you made yourself clear in a way that others will understand? Are there parts of your writing that muddle your message? Developing the ability to step outside yourself is essential to effective writing.

The farther along you are in the process with a particular piece of writing, the more you need self-doubt. When it comes to polishing up your work—perfecting word choice, grammar and style—your inner critic is your friend. (See my Proofreading Tips HERE).

It’s a good idea to practice self-doubt before you press “publish.” Just don’t let it bog you down at the start of your writing process. Embrace your inner critic. Make friends with it, and use it to support your writing.