I sometimes post tips on LinkedIn about pitfalls to avoid in your writing, with the hashtag #WhatNotToWrite. And I sometimes gather the latest ones together into a blog post, like this one, which features numbers 16 to 20.
The tips are mainly geared towards business writing, and based on things I’ve noticed when editing business content, though some are also worth bearing in mind for other types of writing.
You can find the earlier compilations by following these links: 1–5, 6–10, 11–15.
1️⃣6️⃣ Don’t write ‘everyday’ as a single word if you’re saying that something happens every day
❌ We strive to get better everyday.
❌ The files are backed up everyday.
Instead, like at the end of my opening sentence, you need two words: ‘every day’.
It’s easy to make this mistake, as ‘everyday’ is an actual word – it just has a different role. It’s an adjective, with the same kind of meaning as ‘regular’ or ‘commonplace’. Also, it often doesn’t literally mean that something happens or exists every single day.
So you might mention ‘an everyday task’, ‘our everyday concerns’ or, if you’re Sly and the Family Stone, ‘everyday people’. By contrast, ‘every day’ is an adverbial phrase: it provides detail about actions rather than things.
If you’re ever unsure, imagine that you were saying something happens each week, month or year. Would you write ‘everyweek’, ‘everymonth’ or ‘everyyear’? Surely not, and the same ‘rule’ applies to ‘every day’ vs ‘everyday’. If you put your wording to this test, you can’t go wrong.
1️⃣7️⃣ Don’t put a semicolon or comma at the end of an item in a vertical list (unless you’re asked to)
This list consists of:
Why? Because these punctuation marks are pointless and just get in the way. The line breaks and bullets (or numbers, letters etc.) make it clear where each item ends and the next one begins – that’s what often makes a vertical list more useful than normal (‘run-on’) text.
Like any other pointless punctuation, these semicolons or commas would make your writing look fussy and cluttered, and your reader might find them just a bit annoying. So, why bother?
Just to complete the picture: it is usually best to have a full stop after the final item, to make it clear that this is the end of the overall sentence. Or, if each item in the list is a complete sentence, normally each one should end with a full stop.
1️⃣8️⃣ Don’t write (for example) ‘June 21’ as a shorter alternative to ‘June 2021’
Someone could easily think you mean the 21st day of June.
This format was fine from 1932 to 1999, when those last two digits couldn’t possibly have been mistaken for a day of the month. And it will become fine again in 2032, so please ignore this post if you somehow end up reading it then, or in the subsequent 67 years.
In the meantime, it would be good if you could always find the time and space to write four-figure years and avoid confusing anyone. Thanks!
1️⃣9️⃣ Don’t write ‘Ltd company’ (or even worse, ‘LTD Company’) when you’re just referring to the idea of a limited company, rather than naming a specific one
Abbreviations do have their place, but this isn’t it. They force the reader to do a bit of extra work, to translate them into complete words. They also make your writing look sloppy, and can make you look lazy.
It’s fine to use ‘Ltd’ (or ‘Ltd.’ in US English) as part of the name of a company, e.g. ‘Acme Widgets Ltd’ (although it’s usually best to leave it out, unless you need to be formal and make sure the complete name is stated). This notation is so familiar, it’s unlikely to trip up the reader or give a bad impression.
So, for example:
❌ The provider must be a Ltd company
✔ The provider must be a limited company
✔ This service is provided by Great Services Ltd of Providertown
2️⃣0️⃣ Don’t write ‘a so-and-so exists’ when you mean ‘there is a so-and-so’ or ‘someone has a so-and-so’
I often see this kind of wording in documents that I’m editing:
❌ A process exists for performing this function
❌ We will ensure that an adequate security policy exists
❌ A technology strategy does not exist for the company
I wonder whether the people who write this stuff would ever say it out loud? I doubt it, unless they actually want to get funny looks.
There’s a useful adage to follow here: ‘Write like a human.’ In almost any context, this is the way to go. It means writing things like this instead:
✔ There is a process for performing this function
✔ We will ensure that there is an adequate security policy
✔ The company does not have a technology strategy
Don’t these versions ‘sound’ more familiar and less jarring? That’s one of the keys to getting your message across smoothly. (Oh, by the way, an editor can help you with this kind of thing.)
Thoughts on Words
An editorial blog. Posts by Graham Hughes.