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.
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”?
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.
What 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
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.
Business Proposals — To know how to write a winning business proposal, ask your customer (i.e., the party requesting the proposal) what they need to know; learn what informs their decision making. The purpose of business proposal writing is to persuade the customer or prospect to select you. The best way to do this is Continue reading Writing a Winning Business Proposal
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.
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.
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.