You might also be interested in a list of courses in business writing.

How to Choose the Most Effective Online Technical Writing Course

When you choose an online technical writing course, look for the following qualities.

Quality 1

The online technical writing course has writing evaluations by a qualified instructor.

Many businesspeople have patterns of writing that they have gained over years in school and college. Some of these patterns make the technical writing unclear and frustrating for readers. To identify these ineffective patterns, the course must have an instructor involved who evaluates the technical writing and helps the writer revise the writing until it is high-quality, effective technical writing.

Quality 2

The instructor has a background in technical writing.

Instructors have various backgrounds. Most have degrees in English, but business writing is very different from academic writing. Technical writing requires clarity over clever wording. The technical writer has readers who benefit from headings, bulleted lists, shorter sentences, straightforward wording, and examples of the technical content. Choose an instructor who has had experience in doing technical writing on the job. For example, Dr. Robert Hogan, instructor with the Business Writing Center, managed a software documentation company, was a senior writer with Applied Science Associates consulting with companies about their technical writing, and has been a professor in the College of Business, Illinois State University.

Quality 3

The technical writing course includes a number of writing samples the instructor evaluates.

A course in technical writing must include writing practice activities the instructor evaluates. The instructor must then help the trainee revise the writing using the skills in the course. As a result, the trainee can see the quality his or her technical writing will have as a result of learning the skills taught in the course. The Business Writing Center’s Technical Writing course, for example, has extensive examples, a number of practice activities the instructor comments on, and five full writing samples the instructor coaches the trainee through perfecting.

Quality 4

The focus of the technical writing course is on clear English writing.

Some technical writers learned early in their business careers to write using long sentences and complex wording. They saw others using that style and felt that must be good technical writing. Nothing could be further from the truth. Long sentences and complex, difficult wording cause misunderstanding and confusion for readers. The course in technical writing must help writers use technical jargon in ways that communicate easily to readers.

Quality 5

The technical writing course allows for training in grammar, punctuation, spelling, word usage, and sentence structure.

The technical writing instructor must look for skills in language usage each trainee needs and provide the coaching that will help the trainee write with correct usage.

Recommended Courses in Technical Writing

Technical Writing

The Business Writing Center Technical Writing course will teach you how to prepare reports about subjects that require technical explanations, analyses, data presentation, and information understood by technical readers. The Technical Writing course teaches the technical writer how to present information to technical readers so they understand the concepts and can apply them in their work.

The online lessons contain clear explanations and many examples. Trainees go at their own pace and submit assignments when they are ready. The instructor evaluates the activities and examinations, comments on skills learned and skills that still need polish, coaches trainees through learning the skills, and certifies trainee competence. Trainees receive a graduation certificate at the end of the course.

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Writing Technical Explanations for Non-technical Readers

The Writing Technical Explanations for Non-technical Readers course teaches the skills required to produce clear technical writing for readers who are not specialists in the subject and do not know the technical subject jargon. The course teaches how to structure and write the technical report so it is well organized and easy to follow and understand.

The online lessons contain clear explanations and many examples of technical report writing. Trainees go at their own pace and submit assignments when they are ready. The instructor evaluates the activities and examinations, comments on skills learned and skills that still need polish, coaches the trainee through learning the skills, and certifies the trainee’s competence. Trainees receive a graduation certificate at the end of the course.

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Writing Specialized Reports

The Writing Specialized Reports course teaches the skills required to write clear, well-organized business reports of a special type, such as a special technical writing report. The five writing examinations in this course ask trainees to submit technical reports they write as part of their normal technical report writing activities. Their instructor helps them apply the general skills of technical report writing to the specialized technical reports they write. The instructor writes detailed notes in trainee reports, helps the trainee revise them, and coaches the trainee through learning any technical writing skills the trainee needs to learn.

The online lessons contain clear explanations and many examples. Trainees go at their own pace and submit assignments when they are ready. The instructor evaluates the activities and examinations, comments on skills learned and skills that still need polish, coaches you through learning the skills, and certifies the trainee’s competence. Trainees receive a graduation certificate for framing at the end of the course.

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Business Writing Skills

The Business Writing Skills course teaches the best practices businesspeople must know to be able to write clear, effective, professional business documents, including email, memos, letters, and reports. It teaches a structured approach to writing that makes writing easier and guides readers through the content. Graduates report that they receive high praise for their writing, and other employees begin to copy their style.

The course contains twelve practice activities and four competency examinations. The online lessons contain clear explanations and many examples. Trainees go at their own pace and submit assignments when they are ready. The instructor evaluates the activities and examinations, comments on skills learned and skills that still need polish, coaches the trainee through learning the skills, and certifies competence. Trainees receive a graduation certificate at the end of the course.

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Choose the Right Word

Do you want “lie,” “lay,” “laying,” or “lying”? This article contains memory aids to help you learn to choose the  right word.

Lay
Place something down flat.
Lie
A person or thing reclines.

Examples

I lay the book down.

A hen lays eggs.

A crane lays a steel beam on the ground.

I lie down to sleep.

The dog lies on his bed.

I like to lie in the sun.

Clairton lies between Pittsburgh and Washington.

Memory Aid

“Lay” means to place something. Lay and place both have the long “a” sound. When you’re deciding which word to use, think of “lay-place.”

“Lie” has the long “i” sound, just as “recline” has the long “i” sound. When something is already in place, it lies there. It is “reclining.”

Present Participle of “Lay”

When something or someone is resting in place, it is “lying.” That can be confusing. However, remember that “lie” and “lying” both have the “i” sound of “recline,” meaning “resting.” It isn’t an action. It has already happened.

Examples

The flowers are lying on the table.

We found the keys lying on the dash.

Our dog was lying on the porch swing.

Past Tense of “Lie”

The past tense of “lie” is lay. Now that’s confusing. However, when we’re referring to the past, it’s an action in the past, just as laying something down is an action. So when you lie down in the past, the action is “lay,” meaning you’re placing yourself there. “Lay” is for the action. “Lie” is for the result at rest.

Memory Aid

“Lie” and “lying” have the “i” sound, as in reclining.”Lay ” means the action of putting something somewhere. When we put something into a reclining position in the past, we refer to the action. Remember that “lie” changes to “lay” when the action is in the past.

Guidelines

These guidelines follow the standard practices for abbreviating in business writing. The guidelines contain information about the following types of abbreviations:

  • 6.A. Spell out first names; don’t abbreviate
  • 6.B. Abbreviations of titles
  • 6.C. Abbreviations of group names and organizations
  • 6.D. Abbreviations of time designations
  • 6.E. Abbreviations in addresses
  • 6.F. Abbreviations of weights and measures
  • 6.G. Abbreviations of commonly used expressions

Guideline 6.A.

Spell out first names; don’t abbreviate

Example

Correct

William Taft
George Washington
Charles Atwater

Incorrect

Wm. Taft
Geo. Washington
Chas. Atwater

Guideline 6.B.

Abbreviations of titles

  • Spell out titles when they appear with the last name only.
  • Titles may be abbreviated when both the first and last names appear together.
  • Abbreviate academic degrees and professional designations following names.
  • Do not abbreviate a position title in a letter address.

Example

Correct

Senator Proxmire or Sen. William Proxmire
General Powell or Gen. Colin Powell
Attorney Bryant or Atty. Greg Bryant
Mr. Franklin Pierce, Treasurer

Barrister Implements
378 East Belmont Avenue
Fresno, CA 93701-1603

Incorrect

Sen. Proxmire
Gen. Powell
Atty. Bryant

Mr. Franklin Pierce, Treas.
Barrister Implements
378 East Belmont Avenue
Fresno, CA 93701-1603

Guideline 6.C.

Abbreviations of group names and organizations

Write abbreviations without periods for agency names, broadcasting companies, unions, and other similar groups.

Example

Correct

AAA
FBI
IRS
AMA
NAACP

Incorrect

A.A.A.
F.B.I.
I.R.S.
A.M.A.
N.A.A.C.P.

Guideline 6.D.

Abbreviation of time designations

  1. Abbreviate time designations with periods.
  2. Abbreviate standard time zones without periods.
  3. Do not abbreviate days and months except in limited spaces such as tables or business forms.

Example

Correct

A.D.
a.m.
EST
B.C.
p.m.
Their Grand Opening was held on Monday, August 19, 1999.

Incorrect

AD
am
E.S.T.
BC
PM
Their Grand Opening was held on Mon., Aug. 19, 1999.

Guideline 6.E.

Abbreviations in addresses

  • Spell out street addresses (Chicago Manual of Style).
  • With ZIP codes, use state abbreviations in all capital letters without periods. Do not use the two-letter state abbreviations without zip codes.

The AP Stylebook suggests that you may use abbreviations for compass points (N., E., S., W.) when the compass point follows an address number (house at 743 N. 40th Street), but not when the address number is missing (house on North 40th Street).

Spell out “Street” in addresses.

Example

Correct

2310 Lee Avenue, NW
on South Main Street (or at 200 S. Main Street: AP Stylebook)
San Diego, California or San Diego, CA 92101-7006

Incorrect

2310 Lee Ave., Northwest
on S. Main St.
San Diego, CA

Guideline 6.F.

Abbreviations of weights and measures

Weights and measures may be abbreviated in technical writing and on business forms, but not in text.

Example

Correct

The amount used was 3 ounces.
Total loss was 368 gallons.
The underwriter weighed 268 pounds.

Incorrect

The amount used was 3 oz.
Total loss was 368 gals.
The underwriter weighed 268 lbs.

Guideline 6.G.

Abbreviations of commonly used expressions

Commonly used expressions may be abbreviated in text in informal and standard business writing (but not formal business writing).

Example

Correct

ASAP
as soon as possible
RSVP
répondez s’il vous plaît
CEO
chief executive officer
SASE
self-addressed stamped envelope

Other commonly used expressions may be abbreviated, but only in business forms, tables, and statistics.

Common words such as “info” or “subj.”

Do not abbreviate words such as “info” or “subj” in business writing.

Abbreviated words in company names.

You may abbreviate a word such as “Brothers” in a company name if the company has the abbreviation in its name in all of its legal documents.

Example

Correct

acct.
account
km/h
kilometers per hour
att.
attachment
mph
miles per hour
doz.
dozen

Knowledge Post-test

Take this post test of your abbreviation knowledge.

Definition of active voice

English verbs have two voices: active voice and passive voice. It is important to know the difference between active and passive voice. In active voice, the person acting is clear: “The manager wrote the report yesterday.” The person acting is the manager.

In passive voice, the person acting isn’t specified: “The report was written yesterday.” It could have been written by the secretary, the manager, or Albert Einstein—we don’t know.

The sentence is still in passive voice if the actor is specified later in the sentence: “The report was written yesterday by the manager.”

Why use active voice?

Passive voice makes the writing unclear by keeping the identity of the actor secret. At times the identity is obvious, but often it isn’t. Even if the reader has an idea of who the actor is, passive voice creates weak sentences that don’t communicate immediately and emphatically.

This report is made up entirely of passive voice sentences:

The pipeline was inspected and was found to have cracks at three joints. The decision was made to replace the three joints and a contractor was engaged. After the work was completed, the leaks stopped.

Change the passive voice sentences to active voice unless you have a good reason to use passive voice:

The foreman inspected the pipeline and discovered cracks at three joints. The plant maintenance manager decided to replace the three joints and had the contracting department engage a contractor. After the contractor completed the work, the leaks stopped.

Now the reader knows who discovered the cracks, who decided to replace them, who engaged the contractor, and who did the work. When issues come up about the pipeline and what happened, the reader won’t have to be Sherlock Holmes to discover who was involved.

Two special cases for active voice

Two ways of writing sentences are active, even though they may look like the text contains no actor:

1. Sentences with “you understood.”

This sentence doesn’t look like it has an actor, but the actor is “you understood,” meaning we know that the subject is “you,” even though we don’t use “you” in the sentence. This is an example:

Example

Call the client about meeting on Thursday.

The “you” isn’t in that sentence, but we know it means “You call the client about the meeting on Thursday.” That is called “you understood,” meaning we understand the actor is “you.” As a result, it is in active voice.

2. Sentences with one subject and two verbs joned by “and.”

The second way of writing an active sentence that may look like the sentence has no actor is when the sentence has two verbs with one subject. This is an example:
Example

Brian met with the managers and told them about the merger.

“Brian” is the actor. The first part of the sentence is obviously active: “Brian met.” However, the second part is also active: “told them about the merger.” The reason is that Brian is still the actor. It is as though the sentence were, “Brian met with the managers and Brian told them about the merger.” In our language, we just drop the second “Brian.” We know it’s the same actor.

This sentence is also in active voice because “you understood” applies to both the first action and second action:

Example

Call the client about the meeting on Thursday and ask whether the time will work for her.

The actor is “you understood.” The sentence could be rewritten “You call the client about the meeting on Thursday and you ask whether the time will work for her.”

One special case that is passive voice

A sentence is considered in passive voice if the actor follows the verb:

Example

The managers were told about the merger by Brian.

That sentence is in passive voice. It is weak and not as clear as an active-voice sentence. This is the same sentence in active voice:

Example

Brian told the managers about the merger.

Use passive voice sparingly

Business writers should use the passive voice very sparingly. Use passive voice only when you do not know the actor, you want to hide the identity of the actor, or the actor is not important to the meaning of the sentence.

Changing passive voice to active voice

To change passive voice to active, identify the performer of the action. If the performer is in a “by the” phrase, simply move the performer to the subject position, just before the verb. If the writer did not name a performer, choose a subject that fits the context. “The test results will be announced next week” easily becomes “We will announce the test results next week” or “The researchers will announce the test results next week.”

Avoid mixing active and passive voice in the same sentence. The first half of this sentence is active, but the second half is passive: “We found the lost contract, and the client was notified immediately.” Instead, use active voice throughout: “We found the lost contract and notified the client immediately.”

Business writers should prefer active voice for most documents. Active voice is more direct and concise than passive voice. Passive voice is often awkward and evasive. Readers may interpret passive voice as an attempt to avoid admitting responsibility, as in the following example:

“A mistake was made that resulted in an overcharge to your account that has now been corrected and will be shown on your next statement.”

Active voice sounds more responsible: “Our data entry clerk made a mistake and overcharged your account, but she corrected the entry. Your next statement will show the correction.”

Use active voice at all times unless you have a good reason to use passive.

Practice changing passive voice to active voice

Change the passive-voice constructions in these sentence to to active voice. Look for the actor in each sentence. The sentence must contain the actor, positioned before the verb.

Write your answer in the boxes below the sentences before comparing your sentences with the samples. When you are finished, close this window to return to your assignments page.

In your business reports, you present the information in such a way that the reader can learn the critical information about the subject without having to review and evaluate the raw data you have used. Your role as a report writer is to reduce the reader’s time from 100 hours of analyzing the data to two hours of reading one source–you. You do the 98 hours of reading, thinking, and synthesizing; you then present it in such a clear, orderly fashion that the reader grasps the concepts after only two hours of reading.

You must make judgments about what to include and how to explain your findings. As you decide what to include, you will choose from four types of content: facts, conclusions, inferences, and judgments. Your readers will expect some balance of these four types of content, depending on the subject and your company or agency. Some reports must contain predominately facts. Others may include inferences and judgments. A few will even include judgments.

This article explains how you can evaluate your reports for the amount of each of the four types of content: facts, conclusions, inferences, and judgments. You will have a better understanding of the balance among these four types of writing in your writing so you can decide whether your readers and company or agency will be satisfied with the balance.

Facts, Conclusions, Inferences, and Judgments

Imagine that the report writer has three sources describing a company’s difficult times during 1993, 1994, and 1995. The total number of pages is 33. Her report will describe those difficult times in two paragraphs. She might use any of these three descriptions to introduce the two paragraphs:

  1. “The company nearly failed in the 1990s due to poor management practices and delaying action on the losses.”
  2. “The company suffered heavy losses in 1993, 1994, and 1995 and filed for bankruptcy. Speculation was that the losses were due to young, inexperienced management. The losses and delays in acting upon them nearly caused the company to fail.”
  3. “The company lost $5 million to $8 million on revenues of $68 million to $76 million in 1993, 1994, and 1995 and filed for Chapter 11 in 1995. During that period, two rating services described the company as being “top-heavy with inexperienced management” (Lohman 45) and “filled with young, untested upper-level managers” (Bradshaw 4).

All three descriptions explain the company’s situation during 1993, 1994, and 1995. However, the first uses generalized words that required judgment on the writer’s part. The last reported the facts without judgment. The description in the middle used conservative statements that required some judgment by the writer, but less than the first.

The differences among the descriptions are in the use of facts, conclusions, inferences, and judgments. The explanations that follow will help you assess the proportions of facts, conclusions, inferences, and judgments in your writing.

Facts

Facts are objective and verifiable: “Two companies attempted to use portable monitoring devices to measure source pollution, but both stopped using the devices after the testing periods.” The statement is made up of facts. Someone could check company records and know that, in fact, two companies tried the portable monitoring devices over a period of time; the companies used them to measure source pollution; the companies stopped using them after the testing periods.

In the descriptions of the company’s losses in 1993, 1994, and 1995, it was a fact that Lohman and Bradshaw made the statements, but it was not necessarily a fact that the company had inexperienced management or young, untested upper-level managers. The report writer could not verify those facts, so she quoted the sources directly and cited them. She made no claim that the reports were true; she only reported, factually, that the two writers stated those words.

The more unbiased and objective the report must be, the more necessary it is that the writer reports facts without inferences or judgments. The third description of the company’s situation uses all facts. Most of your report writing will be factual without conclusions and may avoid inference and analysis.

Conclusions

Conclusions are based on the facts, but are not themselves facts. When based on facts, conclusions have the feel of being logical or justified. They result from deductions: if A is true and B is true, then C must be true.

In the statements about company losses in 1993, 1994, and 1995, the writer’s conclusion might be that since two writers described the company’s management as “young” and “inexperienced,” the company must have had young, inexperienced management. However, that is a conclusion based on fact, not a fact itself. It is a fact that the two writers used the words “young” and “inexperienced” to describe the management team, but the writer does not have the evidence to conclude that, therefore, the management team was young and inexperienced.

The second of the three descriptions of the company that suffered losses in 1993, 1994, and 1995 contained one conclusion: “The company suffered heavy losses.” The word “heavy” requires a conclusion that losses of $5 million to $8 million on revenues of $68 million to $76 million were “heavy” losses.

The first description is made up largely of conclusions and judgments: “The company nearly failed in the 1990s due to poor management practices and delaying action on the losses.” We would expect that the writer has the facts to conclude that the company nearly failed in the 1990s. The writer could have facts to show the near failure was due to poor management and delaying action on the losses. If the reader could ask the writer what the facts were that led to the conclusion and the writer produced them, that would mean it is a justified conclusion. If the writer does not have facts, then the statement is an inference or a judgment.

Inferences

Inferences are based on facts but are not themselves facts. The assumption that having a young, inexperienced management team resulted in the losses may be an inference. It is not a fact. It cannot be proven. It is “reading between the lines” to create a statement that seems to flow from the facts, but may not.

Inferences generally use words that describe the probability of truth of the statement: “probably,” “might,” “may,” “could,” or “possibly.” “It is possible that the losses were due to an inexperienced management team,” or “It is probable that the losses were due to an inexperienced management team.” By introducing the degree of probability, the writer moves the statements more toward being an objective statement and further from being judgment.

After all, it is possible that the losses could be due to poor management, just as it’s possible that they could have resulted from two dozen other factors. If the writer stated that it was probable that the losses were due to poor management, then the writer would have gone further from the factual end of the continuum toward the inferential end.

The first and second of the three descriptions of the company that suffered losses in 1993, 1994, and 1995 contained the inference that action was delayed because the company waited three years to file for Chapter 11.

Generally, avoid inferences in your report writing. The reader may draw inferences in the process of doing his or her analysis based on your objective, factual presentation. You may have the latitude to point out inferences to the reader to help the reader interpret the data. If so, state the inference that could be drawn, but state it clearly as an inference: “One inference, not based in any factual data, is that the higher error rates resulted from the presence of two new staff during the audit period.”

Judgments

Judgments are very much like conclusions, but the writer has made a value judgment. Judgments require some leap from the facts to a conclusion that might not be so easily supported by the facts. They often imply good, bad, right, or wrong. “The company needs a work ethic policy.” “Their plans to expand to the other market are ill-advised.” “Without reducing their expenses, the company will fail.”

Some of the statements about the company that suffered losses are inferences that border on being judgments: “The company nearly failed in the 1990s due to poor management practices and delaying action on the losses.” We only know from the research that the company lost money for three years and filed Chapter 11. We don’t know that it nearly failed. We don’t know that their difficulties were due to “poor management practices” and “delaying action on the losses.” All of these are very close to being judgments.

Evaluate the Proportions of Facts, Conclusions, Inferences, and Judgments in Your Writing

You can evaluate the proportions of facts, conclusions, inferences, and judgments in your writing to see how much of each type of content you have. You can then decide whether you must change the proportions to reflect your company or agency’s preferences.

  1. Use a report you have written. Open it in Microsoft Word.
  2. Use Microsoft Word’s highlighters to mark the facts, conclusions, inferences, and judgments. Make sure you use the highlighter so the background is colored, not the letters. You can read about the function at this link.
  • Use yellow for facts.
  • Use green for conclusions.
  • Use cyan for inferences.
  • Use red for judgments.

You can see an approximation of the proportion of each of the types of writing. For a more exact measure, make four copies and delete all but one colored text in each. Microsoft Word will tell you how many words are in each selection. Calculate the percentages by dividing the number of words in each by the total number of words.

Use your understand to adjust your writing as necessary to fit your company or agency’s preferences.

Business Writer

What many business writers refer to as “business vocabulary” contains difficult or archaic words and phrases people do not use in everyday speaking, such as “cognizant” instead of “aware,” “initiate” instead of “begin,” and “endeavor” instead of “try.” The writers feel using difficult or archaic words makes their business writing seem more professional and shows the writer’s intelligence. Using common, everyday words in business writing feels to these writers like it’s dumbing down the writing and patronizing the reader.

However, research* by Daniel M. Openheimer at Princeton University indicates the writers who use these words may not be projecting the image of themselves they think they are projecting. Dr. Oppenheimer conducted a series of experiments to see what readers think about writers who use difficult and archaic words. He wrote several documents using difficult, archaic words such as those some business writers use. He asked groups of readers what they thought about the documents. He then rewrote the documents replacing the difficult words with common, everyday words and asked groups of readers what they thought about the writers of the simpler documents.

Readers more often felt the documents using common, everyday words were written by writers who were more intelligent than the writers of the documents containing difficult, archaic words.

The results were that the readers more often felt the documents using common, everyday words were written by writers who were more intelligent than the writers of the documents containing difficult, archaic words. Dr. Oppenheimer concluded, “Anything that makes a text hard to read and understand, such as unnecessarily long words or complicated fonts, will lower readers’ evaluations of the text and its author. . . . One thing seems certain: write as simply and plainly as possible and it’s more likely you’ll be thought of as intelligent.”

Common, everyday words are the most up-to-date words in the language. Languages change over time, and the changes appear first in the words people speak. Words business writers use lag behind the up-to-date words of the spoken language, sometimes by centuries.  In the eighteenth century, sending a letter “under separate cover” referred to sending a letter wrapped in a sheet of paper that was folded around the letter and sealed with sealing wax so the letter would arrive at its destination undamaged.  These covers were used until around 1840 when envelopes were invented.  Today, no one says, “I wrapped the letter in a cover and sent it.”  “Cover” has been replaced by “envelope.”  However, some business people still write that they have sent something “under separate cover.”

You will make your writing clearer and more effective immediately by being careful about the words you use. Here are some tips to help you use business vocabulary that communicates most clearly to readers and may impress readers with your intelligence.

Business Writing Best Practice 1

Write using the plain English words you would speak

Write as though you were speaking to the reader. That doesn’t mean you use informal, street words like “bugs him” for “bothers him” or “pad” for “home.” Choose words you would use if you were speaking to the readers in a business meeting. Business writing today is a medium for conveying to readers what you would speak to them if you were with them. You wouldn’t sit across a table from a co-worker and say, “Karen, we initiated the endeavor to ascertain where the pipe malfunctioned utilizing our video equipment, but subsequently were compelled to excavate the line.” Karen would think you had lost it. Unfortunately, many business people write using words like that. Instead, you would say to Karen, “We began to try to locate the broken pipe using our video equipment, but ended up having to dig up the line.” Karen would understand you easily and feel you regard her as a colleague because you communicate with her in common English. Write using the words you would speak.

Business Writing Best Practice 2

Write your first draft freely, as though you were speaking it

Good business writers create clear, effective business writing when they do their editing. Writing the first draft is just a way of putting the ideas into words so you can start to edit them. If you look at an early draft of the Declaration of Independence, you’ll see insertions and strike throughs from beginning to end. No one writes a first draft that is as clear and correct as it must be to achieve the writer’s goals with the reader. All accomplished business writers will tell you they have to edit their first drafts to massage them into the documents they want them to be. Write your first draft as the words come to you. Don’t edit sentences while you’re writing the first draft.

Writing the first draft as though you were speaking also helps eliminate writer’s block. If it takes you a frustratingly long time to write an email or report, you’re likely trying to make every sentence perfect as you write it. That’s like holding up building your house because you spend weeks building the bathroom, painting its walls, putting up prints, installing curtains, and taking a shower before you build the framework for the rest of the house. You’ll write more clearly and quickly if you prepare notes and an outline of the document, then write your first draft as though you were speaking to the reader using the outline. Edit your spoken draft to make it a clear, well-organized document by removing fragment sentences, unclear statements, and overly casual words. However, keep the clear, everyday words you would speak.

Business Writing Best Practice 3

As you edit your writing, if you see words you wouldn’t speak, change them to the common, everyday words

You likely will fall into using the difficult, archaic words when you write a business document. We see so much business writing using these words that it seems like it’s the appropriate vocabulary for business. As you edit your writing in preparation for creating the final draft, if you see a word or phrase you wouldn’t say if you were sitting with the reader speaking the message, change the word or phrase to the simpler alternative.

Business Writing Best Practice 4

Use jargon words only when the reader uses them commonly

Jargon words are the vocabulary specialists in a field use when writing about activities in the field. If you are talking to someone in finance, you’ll use finance jargon. Talk to someone in engineering and you’ll use engineering jargon. You both expect to write and read the specialized words you use in your field. However, don’t use the jargon words with people who aren’t specialists in your field. Replace the jargon words with the plain English alternatives.

Business Writing Best Practice 5

When you are writing to someone who is a specialist in your field, use common, everyday words for the text that isn’t jargon

When you write a business document to someone who is a specialist in your field, use the jargon words for your field, but for all other words, use common, everyday vocabulary. The fact that you’re communicating with another expert in your field doesn’t mean you should make the writing sound stilted and difficult. You will communicate most clearly using common, everyday words even with your colleagues in the field.

Business Writing Best Practice 6

Avoid using abbreviations

Avoid using abbreviations and acronyms unless the reader knows them well. For example, you would use “IBM” or “NASA” because those abbreviations are common knowledge. If your company referred to the employment review process as ERP and every employee knew that, you could use the abbreviation in an email to an employee. However, avoid using the abbreviation in an email to someone outside of the company who does not know the process unless you believe that other person needs to learn the abbreviation.

Important reasons for preferring the full set of words are that readers may not remember the abbreviation or may open the document to a page past the page with the definition when trying to find specific information in the document later. Besides, writing the full set of words has no negative effects on readers—they don’t mind reading them.

If the full set of words is very long, prefer to use a shortened version for it (such as “Engleman” for the firm name “Engleman, Breighton, Dawson, and Filburton”). The shortened version provides the reader with enough of the name to enable him or her to recall the full name.

Avoid abbreviations you must explain in parentheses the first time you use them. If any reader has a less than perfect memory, you will be creating confusion because the reader may have to later browse through the earlier pages of the document to find the definition.

Business Writing Best Practice 7

Don’t use alternative terms for names, such as “Company” for “Jansen Manufacturing”

Don’t use alternative terms such as “Company” for a firm’s name or “Plaintiff” for a person’s name. A growing number of businesspeople, attorneys, judges, engineers, and others whose disciplines commonly use unnecessarily complex language have joined forces to form the Plain English Movement. They are encouraging all professionals to use language anyone can understand. Lawyers, especially, must understand that replacing names with generic terms such as  “Company,” “Plaintiff,” or “Defendant” makes their writing unnecessarily difficult to follow.

Example

We recommend you not write text such as the following example:

This letter is in response to your request for a preliminary proposal for providing programming services to Beckwith, Trainer, and Associates, Inc. (hereinafter “Company”). Pivotal Programming, Inc. (hereinafter “Vendor”) will create a record-keeping system for use by agents of Company at their regional offices. Vendor will design, program, and test the program over a period of six months, beginning after the contract between Company and Vendor is signed.

Instead, use the complete name or a shortened version of the name, as in this rewritten version:t

This letter is in response to your request for a preliminary proposal for providing programming services to Beckwith, Trainer, and Associates, Inc. (“Beckwith”). Pivotal Programming, Inc. (“Pivotal”) will create a record-keeping system for use by agents of Beckwith at their regional offices. Pivotal will design, program, and test the program over a period of six months beginning after the contract between Beckwith and Pivotal is signed.

You don’t need the shortened version of the name in parentheses after the longer version, but it lets the reader know you will use the shortened version in the remainder of the document.

Business Writing Best Practice 8

Use the plain English words for these difficult or archaic words

Complex, unusual words Simple words
accelerated sped up
advise tell
along the lines of like
are of the opinion believe
ascertain find out, learn
assistance help
assumption belief
commence begin, start
consummate close, bring about
deem think
despite the fact that although, though
during the course of during
financial deficit losing money
for the purpose of for, to
for the reason that because
forward send, mail
give consideration to consider
have need for need
in order to to
in view of the fact that because, since
indicate show
initiate begin, start
make use of use
multiple several, many, more than one but prefer the exact number)
nevertheless but
on the occasion of when
peruse read, study
preceding year last year
predicated based on
prior to before
reside live
subsequent to after
succeed in making make
terminate end
utilize use
we would like to ask that please
with reference to about

Write using clear, common, everyday words. It will pay off for you when your readers understand your messages and respond as you expect them to. They’ll see you as well organized and intelligent because you communicate clearly.

Why Using Plain English Isn’t Dumbing Down the Meaning

Writing a message using plain English doesn’t change the meaning of the message. Writing has two levels: a deep structure and a surface structure. The deep structure is the meaning you want to convey. The surface structure is the words, phrases, and sentences you use to convey the meaning. If you want the reader to know your vendor must provide a display by Wednesday, the deep structure is the message: “we need the display by Wednesday.” The surface structure could be “We need the display by Wednesday to finish the project” or it could be “Regarding the display, project completion necessitates acquisition of the display by EOD Wednesday” or it could be “Gotta have the display Wednesday or we’ll be in a world of hurt.” All three of the sentences have the same deep structure, but very different surface structures. The first version uses simple, everyday words that will communicate most clearly and give the reader the feeling the writer sees him or her as a colleague. The version using difficult words will not communicate as clearly and will give the reader the feeling the writer sees the reader as a stranger deserving only a form-letter message. Of course, the third, informal version will get the point across, but may give the reader the feeling the writer is not taking the job or the reader seriously. However, regardless of the words the writer uses, all three convey the same deep structure without a loss of meaning: “we need the display by Wednesday.”

Use the surface words that communicate clearly. The reader will get the same message you might try to convey using difficult or archaic words, but will more likely understand it and thank you for being clear.

*Oppenheimer, D. M. (2006). Consequences of Erudite Vernacular Utilized Irrespective of Necessity: Problems with Using Long Words Needlessly, Applied Cognitive Psychology, 20, 139-156.

This article explains how to write a clear, effective business email. When you apply these methods, you will write more quickly and confidently, knowing your emails will be so well written you always get the response you want.

Formatting tips and best practices are in the explanation below the following email.

We’re going to examine the following email from Jessica to her team. An explanation of what makes the email clear and easy to understand follows the email.

To: Larry, Tom, Susan, Bree, and Sandra
From: Jessica Barnes
Subject: Need your advice on two issues by tomorrow afternoon
Dear Larry, Tom, Susan, Bree, and Sandra,

Our company experienced phenomenal growth last year, largely because of your industry. Keep up the good work.

One of the reasons for our success has been your creativity and willingness to share suggestions with me. I need your advice on two issues before our next meeting.  Call me or send me an email by tomorrow afternoon with your thoughts.

First, I would like your opinions on our Web site:

  • What are your thoughts on usability, appearance, and functionality?
  • Should we consider incorporating a limited e-commerce model?

Second, most of you have said we need to place more emphasis on recruiting. As you know, there are many methods available to us for doing so. I’d like to know what you feel are the best routes for going about doing this.

Call me or send me an email by tomorrow afternoon with your thoughts.  I look forward to meeting with all of you next week.

Jessica
314 826-5138
Jessica.worth@turtledynamics.com
(412) 232-4820

An explanation of the format and content of a clear, effective email follow.

To: Larry, Tom, Susan, Bree, and Sandra 
From: Jessica Barnes
Subject: Need your advice on two issues by tomorrow afternoon Write subject lines in all your emails. Don’t put a message in the subject line. Write a few words clearly identifying what is in the email, what is important for the reader to know, or what must be done. If there is a time by which something must be done, include it so the reader knows he or she must read this email now. Use “you” wording if the email contains information important to the reader or you want the reader to be engaged.
Salutation Dear Larry, Tom, Susan, Bree, and Sandra, Write salutations in your emails, even informal emails to coworkers. In a phone call, we always start with “Hi Vernon.” Salutations, with as little as “Hi” give a sense of regard for the reader. Write the readers’ names when you have a small number. It shows more regard and a feeling of collegiality. Use the first name and a comma for people you know. If the writer has signed emails to you using a courtesy title such as “Ms.,” use the courtesy title here. Don’t write the person’s first and last name. “Dear,” “Hello,” “Hi,” “Good morning” are all acceptable for emails to people you know. For emails to people you don’t know, prefer “Dear.”
Skip one line.
Introduction Our company experienced phenomenal growth last year, largely because of your industry. Keep up the good work.
Start with anything the reader needs to know about you if you don’t know the reader. Write any appreciative or congratulatory words that are appropriate. You build teams and partnerships with these statements of thanks and regards. They also set a positive tone for the email. Putting these positive statements into their own paragraph gives them strength.
Skip one line.
Introduction One of the reasons for our success has been your creativity and willingness to share suggestions with me. I need your advice on two issues before our next meeting.
State the reason for the email and any background the reader needs. If your email contains information, state what you will be presenting.
Skip one line.
Give commendations and reasons One of the reasons for our success has been your creativity and willingness to share suggestions with me.
Provide commendations when the opportunity arises. Your coworkers, employees, clients, and vendors will appreciate them. This also shares with readers your reason for asking them to perform the task. Sharing reasons builds a sense of partnering.
Skip one line.
State what is in your email I need your advice on two issues before our next meeting.
For all of your business documents, state what is in the document after your introduction. Also introduce all lists. Don’t simply start a list.
Skip one line.
State actions and important points early Call me or send me an email by tomorrow afternoon with your thoughts.
In the introduction paragraph, state any actions the reader must perform and the important point of the email if there is one. Don’t put them just at the end. Readers often don’t make it that far. For actions, state what, when, how, and if appropriate, why and where. Avoid writing just “I need your advice” without telling the reader how to get it to you and when.
Introduce the first section First, I would like your opinions on our Web site:
Divide your emails in clearly visible sections. Start a new paragraph for each. Introduce each section with a statement of what is in the section. When you have more than one section, you might use an ordinal (first, second, and so on).
Break out lists
    • What are your thoughts on usability, appearance, and functionality?
    • Should we consider incorporating a limited e-commerce model?

Be specific about what you want the reader to do and provide all the detail the reader needs to accomplish the task. Break out lists with bullets or numbers. Don’t leave lists in paragraphs.

Introduce the second section Second, most of you have said we need to place more emphasis on recruiting.
Clearly mark each subsequent section. This is Section 2. The writer breaks for a paragraph and begins with the ordinal “Second” to show the reader clearly that the writer is beginning a new topic. The writer then states the new topic clearly.
Skip one line.
Clearly state the additional task As you know, there are many methods available to us for doing so. I’d like to know what you feel are the best routes for going about doing this.
The writer then explains the second topic. The writer adds a task.
Skip one line.
Close by restating the action and important point, the task Call me or send me an email by tomorrow afternoon with your thoughts.  I look forward to meeting with all of you next week.
Close the email by repeating the actions and important point, in this case the task. Place this critical information at the beginning and end. End cordially. This writer writes a cordial ending while reminding the reader of the meeting.
Skip one line.
End with your name and contact information Jessica
314 826-5138
Jessica.worth@turtledynamics.com
(412) 232-4820
Write your name and contact information at the end. Don’t send emails without your name.

Video Workshops in Writing Email

Five to ten minute videos about the best practices in writing emails follow. You may duplicate and distribute them with Business Writing Center contact information. These are the videos:

  • Email etiquette
  • Writing subject lines
  • Planning emails
  • Organizing emails
  • Tone and formality in emails
  • Writing a persuasive email
  • Writing a request email
  • Writing an email responding to a request
  • Writing an email describing  a problem

This article explains how to write a letter containing bad news or an apology. These are letters containing some bad news that likely will not be received well by the reader, or they contain an apology for some issue. Don’t try to soften the bad news by leaving out important messages or consequences, even if they are negative. Instead, create the letter so you present it in the most positive light that is warranted, considering the circumstances.

Focus on three areas.

  1. Begin by preparing the reader to receive the message with an understanding of what it’s all about.
  2. Write the message including the bad news with as positive a tone as is warranted, considering the message and consequences.
  3. Write the message clearly and effectively.

We’re going to examine a bad news letter written to Janice Porter, a customer, by Beth Simpson, an account representative for Coleman Bank of State. Janice had three overdrafts for which she received overdraft charges. When she spoke with a teller about the charges, the teller explained the reason for them and said they could not be reversed. Janice left the bank unhappy and wrote a letter saying she was offended that the teller didn’t seem reasonable. The letter we’re looking at is Beth’s reply to Janice’s letter.

Below is the letter. A description of the important parts of an effective letter containing bad news or an apology follows this letter.

CBS Coleman Bank of State

1032 North Sixth Street, Clairton, PA 15025 ~ 412 232-4817 ~ information@colemanstatebank.com

June 15, 2020

Ms. Janice Porter
143 Pennsylvania Avenue
Clairton, PA 15025

Dear Janice,

I am Beth Simpson, account representative for Coleman Bank. On June 13, we received your letter explaining that you were not satisfied with the teller’s explanation of the overdraft charges to your account the previous week.

We value you as one of our regular customers and want all of your contacts with Coleman Bank to be satisfying. I’m sorry you weren’t happy with the teller’s explanations. I want to assure you we’ll continue to work to make sure all of your visits are satisfying ones.

In your letter, you asked that we remove all three charges the teller described to you that resulted from your three overdrafts in one week. We are pleased to let you know that we are able to remove the first one because you didn’t realize your account had insufficient funds. We are not able to remove the other two because they resulted from overdrafts after you realized your account was overdrawn.

I will make sure your account is credited for the first overdraft charge within 24 hours.

We value you as one of our regular customers, and when you have an issue you want to bring to us, I invite you to call me or drop by. My phone number is (412) 232-4820.

Sincerely,

Beth Simpson
Customer Service Representative
Coleman Bank of State
(412) 232-4820

An explanation of the parts of the letter that make this a good letter of apology follows.

Font: 12-point or 11-point Times New Roman or Arial Black Margins: One-inch margins all around

Letterhead CBS Coleman Bank of State

Skip three to six lines

Date June 15, 2020
Reference number Ref: File 10384 If you have a reference number, put it just below the date or two spaces below the date. Then skip two blank lines before the inside address. If you have no reference number, allow three to six blank lines between the date and inside address.
Inside address Ms. Janice Porter 143 Pennsylvania Avenue Clairton, PA 15025 Skip one line.
Salutation Dear Janice, Prefer to use only the first name and a comma to give the letter a more personal tone. If the writer has signed letters to you using a courtesy title such as “Ms,” use the courtesy title here. Skip one line.
Subject You might normally write a subject line next in your company or agency letters. Don’t put a subject line in this type of letter.
Introduction I am Beth Simpson, account representative for Coleman Bank. On June 13, we received your letter explaining that you were not satisfied with the teller’s explanation of the overdraft charges to your account the previous week. Start with anything the reader needs to know about you. Follow with the reason for this letter. Be specific about the dates and central issue. When you finish, start a new paragraph. Skip one line.
Set the tone We value you as one of our regular customers and want all of your contacts with Coleman Bank to be satisfying. I’m sorry you weren’t happy with the teller’s explanations. I want to assure you we’ll continue to work to make sure all of your visits are satisfying ones. The first paragraph of the body sets the tone. Begin with a buffer. A buffer is a positive statement at the beginning that sets the tone for the letter. If you have something positive you can write about the reader or the situation, write it here. If you have an ongoing relationship and something has gone well in a project that is the subject of the bad news, start with thanks or commendations. Skip one line.
Write the apology if appropriate If this letter is about a situation that might involve an apology, write the apology next. Don’t apologize if no apology is warranted. Beth apologizes that Janice was unhappy, not that the teller offended Janice. Don’t apologize in a way that seems to blame or admit guilt unless that’s clearly warranted by the problem. You don’t know what actually happened. You only know that Janice didn’t like the teller’s attitude. Don’t assign emotions to the reader that weren’t in the person’s letter to you. If Janice wrote that she didn’t like the teller’s attitude, don’t write “I’m sorry you were angry about the teller’s attitude.” She didn’t write that she was angry. She wrote only that she didn’t like the teller’s attitude. Stay with the person’s words.
Describe what is positive about your actions. In your letter, you asked that we remove all three charges the teller described to you that resulted from your three overdrafts in one week. We are pleased to let you know that we are able to remove the first one because you didn’t realize your account had insufficient funds. Begin your explanation by reminding the person what he or she wanted. Then state whatever you have been able to do that is positive. This helps defuse reactions to the bad news. Skip one line.
State the bad news We are not able to remove the other two because they resulted from overdrafts after you realized your account was overdrawn. Write the bad news after the positive actions. Always try to put the bad news into the middle of the paragraph. The opening of the paragraph is a strong position that will emphasize the bad news. Don’t use words such as “unfortunately,” “sadly,” “with regret,” or other such words that set a negative tone. Avoid using “however” and “but” as well. Don’t write words such as “company policy.” Just state the bad news.Skip one line.
Follow with the commitment to act quickly I will make sure your account is credited for the first overdraft charge within 24 hours. Break for a new paragraph and write your commitment to act on the persons’ behalf. Let the reader know what will happen next. Put this into its own paragraph to give it strength. Here, use “I” because you’re personally going to ensure this gets done. Give a timeline. Skip one line.
End with words that build the feeling of partnership and  regard We value you as one of our regular customers, and when you have an issue you want to bring to us, I invite you to call me or drop by. My phone number is (412) 232-4820. End cordially with words that build the feeling of partnership and regard. Write anything positive about the ongoing relationship that you can. Give the reader reassurances if the bad news might make him or her feel rejected or that something negative could. For example, if the bad news were that the company will be belt-tightening, here you might reassure the reader that positions will not be cut. Include the invitation for personal contact. Write your contact information to reinforce the willingness to talk about the issue, even though it is in the letterhead and below your closing. Skip one line.
Complimentary close Sincerely, For the closing, writers most often use “Sincerely.” You might also use “With regards,” “Cordially,” or “Thank you.” Don’t use “Thanking you in advance” or wording with “warm” in it. Skip four lines for the signature.
Your signature and name Beth Simpson Customer Service Representative Close with your name as you want the reader to address you. You must also address the reader using the format he or she has used in correspondence to you. Include your position.
Your company and contact information Coleman State Bank (412) 232-4820 End with information your company or agency normally puts at the end of correspondence. The ending should include your contact information.

A 60-Minute Video Workshop in Writing Letters

A 60-minute video workshop in writing letters follows. The video begins with general letter-writing skills all business writers should know. It then explains the following types of letters:

  • A letter providing information
  • A letter responding to a request
  • A letter inspiring commitment
  • A persuasive letter
  • A bad news or apology letter

This guide will help you understand when to use “me,” “myself,” and “I” and will give you memory aids to help you recall the rules later.

When to Use “I”

Use “I” when the “I” is the subject of the sentence. Usually, that means “I” begins the sentence or follows introductory words that are not the main sentence.

Examples:

  • I asked for his resume.
  • After we met, I sent him an email.
  • Sally and I were pleased to have him as a colleague.

When to Use “me”

Use “me” when the word follows a preposition.

There are 150 prepositions, but you don’t need to remember all of them. When “me” follows a word that indicates something about “me,” it’s likely a preposition. These are the prepositions most often used with “me”: about, above, for, on, under, from, onto, after, between, in, over, by, up to, around, concerning, instead of, regarding, with, at, into, because of, like, through, without, before, near, behind, except, of, to, with respect to.

Examples of “me” following a preposition:

  • of me
  • after me
  • before me
  • about me
  • because of me
  • without me

Use “me” when the word follows the verb as a direct or indirect object.

“Me” is a direct or indirect object when it receives the action of the verb. This “me” will be later in the sentence and will be the recipient of the action.

Examples of “me” following the verb as a direct or indirect object:

  • Joan came to see me.
  • She appreciates me and gives advice to me.
  • Jill chased Jack and me.
  • I assume you want me.

When to Use “myself”

Use “myself” when you’re referring back to yourself after you’ve used “I.”

Examples:

  • I have learned to be tolerant of myself.
  • I found myself in the middle of an argument.
  • I hurt myself when I fell on the ice.

Use “myself” when you want to emphasize that you will do it. You could leave off the “myself,” but adding it gives the statement strength. Also use “myself” after you have already written “I” as the subject and want to refer to yourself.

Examples:

  • I wanted to do it myself.
  • It’s done right when I do it myself.
  • I found myself in the wrong restaurant.

When not to Use “myself”

Don’t use “myself” in place of “me” or “I.” If you can use “me” in the sentence, use it instead of “myself.”

Examples:

Not

I volunteered Jim and myself to do the work.

Instead

I volunteered Jim and me to do the work.

Not

Set it up so myself could do it.

Instead

Set up so I could do it.

Not

She built it for myself.

Instead

She built it for me.

Memory Aids

Using “I”

“I” am the subject. Think of “I” as one strong letter by itself, like a pillar. “I” is the subject.

Using “me”

“Me” is in a secondary position, called the object. Think of “me” with two letters as being a little squeal. It comes after the action or preposition. Little “me” always trails behind.

Using “myself”

“Myself” has “my” and “self.” It repeats itself! You’ll use it when you want to emphasize yourself.

A Short Exercise to Help You Remember

This simple guide will help you capitalize words in titles and headings correctly. The three major style guides, The Chicago Manual of Style, The Associated Press Stylebook, and the MLA Handbook have the same guidelines, with two exceptions. This guide explains the common rules and those that differ among the stylebooks. For the most part, if you identify the words you should not capitalize, you won’t have to remember the rules for words you should capitalize.

Summary ~ Capitalization of Titles and Headings

Capitalize the following:

  • The first and last words in the title
  • Words normally capitalized, such as names (Frank, Oregon, Ford)
  • Adjectives (large, red, round, bitter)
  • Adverbs (beautifully, firmly, early)
  • Nouns (bird, Washington, building)
  • Verbs (run, throwing, left)
  • Pronouns (they, he, she)
  • Subordinating conjunctions (because, since, therefore)

Do not capitalize the following

  • Articles (a, an, the)
  • Coordinating conjunctions (and, but, for, nor, or, yet, so)
  • Prepositions (above, across, against, at, between, by, along, among, down, in, around, of, off, on, to, with, before, behind, below, beneath, down, from, near, toward, upon, and within)

Exception

The APA stylebook and MLA stylebook suggest capitalizing all words with four or more letters.

Detail ~ Capitalization of Titles and Headings

Capitalize the First and Last Words in the Title

Capitalize the first word and last word in the title, even if the last word is one of the words in the list of words you should not to capitalize.

Examples:

  • Gone with the Wind
  • The Shape You’re In
  • The Trial of the Century

Capitalize Nouns and Pronouns

Capitalize nouns and pronouns. Nouns are the names of persons, places, or things. Pronouns are words that stand for nouns, such as “he,” “it,” and “they.” If the noun is “George,” the pronouns are “he,” “him,” and “his.”

Capitalize Verbs and Helping Verbs

Capitalize verbs, the action words of the sentence and helping verbs. You don’t have to memorize the helping verbs. Just look for words that are connected to the verb. These are helping verbs: am, are, is, was, were, be, been, being, do, does, did, have, has, had, might, will, would, most, can, could, may, shall, should, ought to, and must.

Example:

  • Why We Must Learn the Lessons of the Past
  • The Dogs of War Were Sleeping
  • Blue Skies Give Way to Storms

Capitalize Adverbs and Adjectives

Capitalize the words that modify verbs, called “adverbs,” and nouns, called “adjectives.” If a word in the title is defining or modifying another word, it is an adverb or adjective. Capitalize it.

Example:

  • The Radical Objectives of the Greenday Movement

(“Radical” modifies “objectives” by telling the reader which types of objectives.)

  • They Look Greedily at the Shiny Objects

(“Greedily” modifies “look” and “shiny” modifies “objects.”)

  • Some Costly Gems Are Not the Rarest

(“Costly” modifies “gems.”)

Words You Should Not Capitalize

Articles

There are three articles: “a,” “an,” and “the.” Don’t capitalize them.

Coordinating conjunctions

Lowercase these conjunctions: and, but, for, nor, or, yet, so.

Prepositions

Lowercase these prepositions: above, across, against, at, between, by, along, among, down, in, around, of, off, on, to, with, before, behind, below, beneath, down, from, near, toward, upon, and within.

Differences Among the three Stylebooks

The APA stylebook and MLA stylebook suggest that all words with four or more letters should be capitalized in the title. The APA stylebook suggests that the second word in a compound word should be capitalized, such as “Self-Report.”

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