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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    Big Trouble in Little Commas

    Tuesday, September 25, 2012

    Consider the little things that often cause trouble—the speck in your eye, the pebble in your shoe, the drip in your sink, and so on. In writing, one such trouble is the omission or misplacement of commas. Here are quick reminders of three places commas should be used.

    • Following introductory clauses and phrases: Commas are needed to set these off from the rest of a sentence.

      Example introductory clause: Although we had gone over the company’s requirements, the advertising campaign fell woefully short of our needs.

      Example introductory Phrase: By my reckoning, we needed to obtain at least three more sales to finish the year in the black.
    • Between independent clauses: A comma is needed to separate two or more complete thoughts in one sentence. Place the comma before the coordinating conjunction.

      Example 1: Madeleine spoke about making the office more environmentally friendly, and then she introduced our new energy plan.

      Example 2: You can elect to go with the company insurance plan, or you can select the HMA option.
    • Around nonrestrictive modifiers: Use commas to separate modifying phrases that aren’t critical to understanding the sentence.

      Example 1: Chris introduced the new hire, a recent college graduate, to the rest of the team.

      Example 2: The contract, which had been extensively revised, was finally signed.

    Want more? Check out page 258 of Write for Business for more information on using commas to set off different elements in sentences.

    —Joyce Lee

    Image by Brett Jordan

    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

    Using Punctuation: Hyphen to Create New Words

    Friday, April 22, 2011

    A hyphen is usually used to form new words after the prefixes self, ex, all, and half. Also, a hyphen is used to connect any prefix to a proper noun, a proper adjective, or the official name of an office.

    A hyphen is also used with the suffix elect.

    self-portrait       all-inclusive
    half-finished       ex-employee

    For more business-writing tips, browse our blog or use the search box atop the page. Or purchase our handy Proofreader's Guide ebook or Write for Business handbook.

    Using Punctuation: Hyphen to Make a Compound Adjective

    Monday, April 18, 2011

    A hyphen can be used to join two or more words that form a single adjective (a single grammatical unit) before a noun. Do not hyphenate the words forming the adjective when they follow the noun.

    Only double-insulated wire should be used in this situation.
    Only wire that is double insulated should be used in this situation.

    Note: Do not use a hyphen when the first of these words is an adverb ending in ly or when a letter or number ends the grammatical unit.

    freshly painted conference room (adverb ending in ly)
    grade A milk (the letter A is the final element)

    Also Note: When such a group of words is used as a noun, it is usually not hyphenated.

    She usually takes a middle-of-the-road position. (adjective)
    He usually takes the middle of the road. (noun)

    For more business-writing tips, browse our blog or use the search box atop the page. Or purchase our handy Proofreader's Guide ebook or Write for Business handbook.

    Using Punctuation: Hyphen When Words Have Common Elements

    Friday, April 15, 2011

    A hyphen is used when two or more words have one or more common elements that are omitted in all but the last term.

    The new travel policy applies to lower-, mid-, and upper-level management.

    For more business-writing tips, browse our blog or use the search box atop the page. Or purchase our handy Proofreader's Guide ebook or Write for Business handbook.