Great Online Style Guides

Cover of "The Yahoo! Style Guide: The Ult...

Cover via Amazon

When writing any project, you may find yourself wondering about a specific word, phrase or punctuation mark. Where do you turn to answer these questions?

Most businesses and corporations don’t ascribe to a specific style code, such as The Associated Press. If this is true for your organization, consider adopting an online style guide; they offer consistent and practical information. Best of all, they’re free and easy to search to find exactly what you need.

Here are my three favorite online guides:

Purdue Owl: Purdue University’s online writing lab offers a wealth of information and guidelines. The general writing section will answer many of your questions on grammar, punctuation and mechanics. The professional and technical writing section is a great source for research and extensive information to improve professional writing.

National Geographic Style Manual: This guide to “preferred National Geographic Society style and usage” is perfect for quickly looking up a specific issue. For example, is it life-size or life-sized? When you visit this online guide, just click on “L” to find the answer in seconds.

The Yahoo! Style Guide: This is one of the best guides for web writing. Based on Chris Barr’s sourcebook, the site offers best practices for online copy as well as a word list of terms relating to communications, technology and branding.

Do you use an online style guide? Please pass along any others you find useful!

5 Big Grammar Mistakes Common in Web Writing

As business writers, we create content for websites, blogs and intranet sites almost every day. This writing can be challenging because it’s more difficult to catch small mistakes on a computer screen than on a piece of paper. Yet, these mistakes are visible to all your readers, including employees, customers and potential clients, making you appear careless.

Your web writing is important, so make sure you avoid these common mistakes that destroy your credibility.

1. Loose vs. Lose (homonyms)

Wrong: We can’t loose this account.

Right: We can’t lose this account.

2. It’s vs. Its (homonyms)

Wrong: Bring the presentation, along with it’s adjoining documents.

Right: Bring the presentation, along with its adjoining documents.

3. They’re vs. Their vs. There (homonyms)

Wrong: The executive team is currently in they’re meeting.

Right: The executive team is currently in their meeting.

4. Effect vs. Affect

NOTE: In general, affect is a verb which means “to influence,” while effect is a noun which means “the result.” There are exceptions to this, such as “a happy affect” and “to effect change.”

Wrong: The work-life balance symposium has had many positive affects on our company’s culture.

Right: The work-life balance symposium has had many positive effects on our company’s culture.

5. Overuse of Ellipsis

NOTE: The ellipsis (” . . . “) is a series of marks that indicates the intentional omission of a word, phrase or section. The ellipsis also indicates an unfinished thought.

Web writing, especially blogs, use the ellipsis too frequently. Using the ellipsis to indicate an unfinished thought has great impact in fiction and poetry, such as portraying melancholy. However, they should be used sparingly in business writing. Frequent use of ellipsis makes the writer appear lazy or unable to finish a complete thought.

Subject Verb Agreement

Lacking subject-verb agreement is a common grammatical error, especially in business writing where we write and re-write sentences frequently. Most mistakes arise when you edit sentences and forget to change the verb or when you don’t identify the sentence’s subject correctly.

For any sentence to be correct, the verb must agree with the subject in number and person. Take a look at these examples:

1. Each of these communications supports the new brand strategy.

Subject: “Each,” not “communications”

Verb: “Supports,” not “support”

2. There are two topics that we need to address in today’s meeting.

Subject: “Topics,” not “we”

Verb:”Are,” not “is”

3. Marie shares her progress with me every day.

Subject:”Marie,” not “me”

Verb: “Shares,” not “share”

4 Ways to Avoid Confusion with Commas

The punctuation mark comma

Image via Wikipedia

As punctuation devices go, commas are often the most useful. They separate the structural elements of a sentence into more manageable segments of information, preventing confusion. The rules surrounding comma use, however, can be vague and flexible. Unlike semicolons, for example, there are few hard-and-fast rules.

Most writers, including business writers, don’t use commas enough to make their writing easier to understand. Here are a few strategies to help make your writing perfectly clear:

Use a comma to:

1. Address someone directly:

Wrong: Thank you Sheila! or Will you commit James?

Right: Thank you, Sheila! or Will you commit, James?

2. Separate a sentence’s introductory clause:

Wrong: Yes I received the report.

Right: Yes, I received the report.

3. Separate a sentence’s contrasting elements:

Wrong: My role includes these responsibilities not yours.

Right: My role includes these responsibilities, not yours.

4. Separate two distinct clauses: 

Wrong: Our department chose to support the Boys and Girls Club of America and Human Resources chose the Humane Society.

Right: Our department chose to support the Boys and Girls Club of America, and Human Resources chose the Humane Society.

Without the use of a comma, these sentence’s meanings are generally understood. However, with a comma, they are crystal clear and avoid any confusion.