Em Dash, En Dash, or Hyphen (Dash)?

It’s clear that these three dash types don’t get the respect they deserve­­­—as indicated by the fact that many of you are wondering what the heck I’m talking about.


Yes, it’s true. Three different dashes, each with distinct uses:

–  Short (the hyphen or dash)
–  Medium (the en dash)
—  Long (the em dash)

Getting these dashes right is important, even though it seems a minor punctuation detail not worth bothering over (and most writers don’t). Proper use of the em dash, en dash, and hyphen distinguishes you as a competent writer and expands your expressive options. Unfortunately, many business people have little time to parse such detail, and frequently, in fact more often than not, don’t bother.

So, how is each of these distinct dash types used? Continue reading Em Dash, En Dash, or Hyphen (Dash)?

Ampersand Usage — “&” or “And”?

Ampersand Samples sm
Ampersand Usage Rules

Writers in business contexts often appear clueless when using ampersands, and they frequently get ampersand usage wrong.  I see it every day in my commercial copy editing work.

But &  and and have distinct functions, meanings, and uses. Worse, writers commonly and casually overuse & as a fully interchangeable equivalent of and. That’s why we assembled this easy list of ampersand usage rules. Continue reading Ampersand Usage — “&” or “And”?

Hyphenating Phrasal Adjectives

Phrasal Adjectives — aka Compound Adjectives or Compound Modifiers

Phrasal adjectives (also called compound adjectives) are hyphenated. For the most part. Are you among the zillions of writers who miss this signal detail? Don’t be. Just follow the fairly straightforward rules and exceptions explained here, and you’ll master this important writing tool.

get-hyphensWhat is a phrasal adjective? Phrases often function as adjectives. When a number of words together modify or describe a noun, the phrase is ordinarily hyphenated.

The general rule: if two or more consecutive words make sense only when understood together as an adjective modifying a noun, hyphenate those words. (But, grasping the rule’s exceptions is just as important.) Continue reading Hyphenating Phrasal Adjectives

Punctuation of Bullet Lists

Punctuating Bullet Lists is Widely Misunderstood

Everyone uses bullet lists (vertical lists in which the order of listed items doesn’t matter and items are preceded by the same mark, usually a “•”). They’ve become increasingly popular as data and content explode. Business writers rely heavily on lists to grab readers’ attention and convey information quickly. Despite their utility, writers often ignore or misunderstand proper punctuation of bullet lists. As an editor I’ve witnessed first-hand how this problem regularly embarrasses business writers. Incorrect punctuation of bullet lists is a distraction and bad for readability and your message.

Here are some simple rules to help you get it right. Continue reading Punctuation of Bullet Lists

A Strong Business Writing Culture is Good for Success

Few Business Leaders Pay Attention to Their Company’s Business Writing Culture

For years I’ve been telling everyone I can that quality business writing, and a supportive business writing culture, are essential to business success. Frankly, many don’t find the topic very engaging or exciting—it’s just not something that grabs their attention or interest. They nod approval and feign understanding, but usually don’t really know what I mean. Just a casual bit of courteous respect, I suppose.

Sad, but true, businesses for the most part pay lip service to the subject of quality business writing—it never tops their list of priorities. I have yet to hear a business owner or executive say, Continue reading A Strong Business Writing Culture is Good for Success

Business-Writing Process — Brilliance or Hard Slog?

Business-Writing Process is Not a Single Flash of Uninterrupted Brilliance — It’s a Hard Slog

Occasionally business writers get it all down in just the right way in a flurry of inspiration. But for most of us writing usually doesn’t happen like that. In fact, the process is commonly a regularly interrupted slog. Ideas come, are written down, rethought, organized, edited, more ideas, refinement, ah-hah moments; dead ends are deleted; we move on, rethink, edit, polish. Repeat several times and maybe you’ll have a great piece.

So don’t think for a minute that creating business prose, copy or documents will be a seamless one-time gig, or that your entire piece will fall out of your head onto the page in a single flash of clarity or brilliance. If you’re waiting for this to happen, you’ll probably get little writing done.

Crafting very good material occurs by not doing it all at once. Continue reading Business-Writing Process — Brilliance or Hard Slog?

Simple Process Pointers for Struggling Business Writers

It’s amazing that so many smart, experienced people don’t think they can write, struggle to write, or don’t write well when they try. When I’m asked for advice on how to get started on, and finish, a business-writing project I usually try to reduce it to a few understandable and easy-to-remember essentials.

I guess the big trick is recognizing that there’s really no magic involved—writing is thinking. Thinking requires focus, reflection, imagination, deliberation, concentration, and an orderly process. Continue reading Simple Process Pointers for Struggling Business Writers