Write for Business - Blog

UpWrite Press understands the importance of writing skills in business: We're business people just like you. On this blog you'll find tips to improve your writing, along with topics of interest to our staff.

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    Avoid Sentence Agreement Errors

    Friday, September 14, 2012

    Nothing makes writing look amateurish and unprofessional like basic sentence errors. This week we look at errors in pronoun-antecedent agreement and subject-verb agreement.

    Pronoun-Antecedent Agreement
    First, let’s define some terms. A pronoun is a word that stands in for a noun (or noun phrase). An antecedent is the noun (or noun phrase) it stands in for. Pronouns and antecedents must agree in number, person, and gender.

    Number: Use singular pronouns for singular antecedents and plural pronouns for plural antecedents.

    • Everyone on the committee took his or her [not their] seat.
    • All the committee members cast their [not his or her] vote.

    Person: Pronouns may be first person, referring to the speaker(s), second person, referring to the listener(s), or third person, referring to something being spoken about. Always match the person of the pronoun to its antecedent.

    • Survey responders are asked to include an email address with their [not your] submissions.

    Gender: Pronouns may be masculine (he, his, etc.), feminine (she, hers, etc.), or neutral (it, its). Make sure to match the correct gender between pronoun and antecedent.   

    • The tugboat broke loose from its (not her) moorings.

    For more information about pronoun-antecedent agreement, see pages 325-326 in Write for Business and pages 366-367 in Write for Work.

    Subject-Verb Agreement
    The verb of a sentence must agree with the subject in number (singular or plural). Here are two basic examples.

    • Our manager happily agrees to order pizza for everyone. (singular subject and verb)
    • We certainly agree about that great idea. (plural subject and verb)

    Many things can make subject-verb agreement a bit tricky. Here are three examples.

    • Two subjects joined with and call for a plural verb.
    • When two subjects are joined with or, the verb must match the last subject.
    • Collective nouns (class, family, team, and so on) may be singular or plural, depending upon how they are used.

    See pages 323-324 in Write for Business or 363-365 in Write for Work for more explanations and examples.

    —Les

    Photo by Orin Zebest

    Is Led a Word?

    Tuesday, July 10, 2012

    One common search-engine query that lands business writers on the UpWrite Press site is the question, "Is led a word?" The short answer is "Yes." Led (short e sound) is the correct past tense of the verb lead (long e sound). Consider these examples.

    • Today I will lead my robot army to the zoo.
    • Yesterday I led them to the amusement park.
    • My robots are made of lead.

    Any spelling confusion likely rises from that final usage. Lead with a short e sound is a soft, dense metal that is great for shielding from radiation. It is, however, poisonous. In English, the same word is used for the graphite in pencils.

    —Lester Smith

    Photo by Ryusuke Seto

    One Word, Many Meanings: bound

    Thursday, May 03, 2012

    The word bound is another term that can have many different uses in English.

    As a verb…
    bound can mean

    • tied or wrapped (past tense of bind).
      She bound her hair with a ribbon.
      The nurse bound
      the wound tightly.
    • leap or bounce. 
      We watched the dog bound across the field.
      (The past tense of bound is bounded.)

    As an adjective…
    bound can mean

    • connected or fastened.
      She was bound to her ailing sister by love and by guilt.
      Her long hair was bound with ribbons of red satin.
    • headed for a destination.
      The train was Seattle bound.
    • very likely.
      The storm was bound to hit soon.

    As a noun…
    bound can be

    • a leap or a bounce.
      The victory put a bound in his step.
    • a limit or a boundary (used in plural form).
      The action was outside the bounds of decency.

    In idioms…
    bound is frequently used in the following ways.

    • Out of bounds points to a metaphorical limit.
      That line of questioning was out of bounds.
    • Bound up, similar to caught up, indicates preoccupation.
      She was so bound up in the music that she didn't hear us arrive.

    Conclusion
    The more you immerse yourself in the English language, the more your writing will positively impact your readers. So take some time now and then to explore a dictionary or a thesaurus—just for fun. You're bound to enjoy it.

    —Joyce Lee

    Photo by Emery Way

    Writing in Cars with Boys

    Thursday, October 06, 2011

    Have you ever bought a used car?

    Recently my youngest daughter asked me to look over a used car she was considering buying. The dealer's salesperson smiled and walked us over to it, saying, "Great body. Not a scratch on her." I got in, started the engine, looked over the interior - all in good shape. I got back out, opened the hood and looked at seals, hoses, and so on, then bent down to look at the tires and underbody. The wheel wells were rusted completely through. When I asked the dealer's mechanic about repairing them, he took a look and replied, "The whole underbody is rusted out. I wouldn't feel comfortable selling this car to your daughter."

    Now for the other side of the picture. One of the first cars my wife and I owned was a used Buick. Mechanically, that car was wonderful. Cosmetically, it was a mess. The paint was peeling off the roof. The hood had been replaced, and its color didn't match the rest of the car. The rear bumper was falling off and had to be held up with a rope tied inside the trunk. My wife was embarrassed to be seen in the thing, but I loved it: Good on gas, dependable starter even in the coldest weather, a smooth ride, and so on.

    Those two cars represent different attitudes about business writing.

    Writing teachers often focus on grammar training, punctuation practice, spelling, and correct word usage, as if these were what make writing perform. But this is like paying attention to how a car looks without considering how it runs. A great paint job and leather upholstery do no good if the underbody has rusted through or the engine is broken.

    Business leaders often focus on content to the exclusion of grammar, punctuation, spelling, and correct usage, arguing that the only thing that really matters is communication. But this is like driving my old junker back and forth to work. Other people really do care how your ride looks.

    Having been a writing teacher, I understand that grammar, punctuation, spelling, and word usage are easiest to grade. Ideas, organization, and voice require more expertise and energy. Working in business, I also understand that communication and delivery speed are essential. Devoting time to proofreading can seem counterproductive. (And maybe we still have some slight resentment toward those teachers who marked up all our papers in school.)

    The truth is, of course, that we need both. A piece of writing must be well designed and mechanically sound to communicate. It must have sound ideas, a logical organization, and an appropriate voice for its audience. But it must also look good if we are to be taken seriously. This is where editing and proofreading become important - to ensure correctness in spelling, punctuation, grammar, word choice, and sentence construction. Page design (use of headings, columns, lists, graphics, and so on) is also important, of course, to help readers quickly comprehend your message.

    You can find tips about all of these things by using the search box on this site, and more in-depth information in our print publications. You might consider these your toolboxes. Here's wishing you the best on your writing journey.

    - Lester Smith

    Photo by Ross Griff

    Pronoun/Antecedent Agreement: Collective Noun Antecedents

    Tuesday, September 21, 2010

    Use a singular pronoun in place of a collective noun that refers to a group as a unit. Use a plural pronoun when the collective noun refers to the individuals in the group.

    The committee reported that it will present its agenda to the board of directors at noon.
    (group as a unit)
    The committee must sign their names to the document before they leave.
    (group as individuals)

    (From Write for Business, 2nd ed., page 325)