Style and Grammar Guide

EditorMarkTweetReStyleGuideThis style guide represents work I produced as the copy editor for Business Insider (though I’ve omitted proprietary and confidential entries). Entries are based on errors I found the writers made most frequently, as well as industry-specific words and phrases that often tripped them up. Therefore, it may include things you wouldn’t expect to find on a general style guide and may exclude some entries that are common to other guides.

P.S. Thank you, Mark! I’m very flattered by the endorsement. And I’m grateful for the retweet by the BYU Faculty Editors, as well!

EditorMarkRTReStyleGuide

Contents


3-D, Not 3D — Here’s Why

  • The designation 3-D is a shortened version of three-dimensional, and should therefore retain the hyphen.

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A vs. An

  • Use “a” before a word or acronym that starts with a consonant sound, and “an” if it has a vowel sound.

Examples:

    • You’d write “an MBA,” because the reader will pronounce the “m” as “em.”
    • You’d write “an honor” because the h is silent, but “a history of …” because the h is pronounced.

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A Lot, Not Alot

  • Alot is not a proper word. You wouldn’t type alittle, would you? Of course you wouldn’t. It’s a lot.

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A While vs. Awhile

  • A while is a noun, representing a time frame. If you can substitute “a week” or “a year,” or any set period of time in your sentence, then it is the noun form, a while, that you’re looking for.
  • Awhile is an adverb meaning for a time. Test your sentence to see if you can add a different adverb and still have it make sense. They walked awhile, not finding their way out of the woods until dark, sounds fine written as, They walked quickly, not finding their way out of the woods until dark, so you’re looking for the adverb form, awhile.
  • If your sentence includes the word for, you need to use the noun form, because an adverb can’t be the object of a preposition (in this case, for). So, I’ll be outside for a while.

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Abbreviations

  • In headlines, do not use periods in the abbreviations US, UK, and UN.
  • Within the body of a post, always use periods in the abbreviations U.S., U.K., and U.N.
  • Never use periods in EU.
  • Generally, spell out versus, but when abbreviating, use vs. in all cases except court rulings, where it is abbreviated v. (Marbury v. Madison, Roe v. Wade).
  • See below for abbreviating state names.
  • Do not add an extra period when an abbreviation appears at the end of a sentence.

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Acronyms

  • Spell out acronyms the first time you use them and include the acronym in parentheses immediately afterward. In other words, the first time you refer to the Republican National Committee (RNC) in a story, do it like that.

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Affect Vs. Effect

  • Affect, in most cases, is a verb meaning “to influence.”
  • Effect, in most cases, is a noun meaning “a result.”

An easy way to remember which one to use is to ask yourself which AVENUE you should take with your sentence.

    • Affect is a
    • Verb and
    • Effect is a
    • Noun
    • Unless it’s one of the rare
    • Exceptions

So how do you tell if it’s being used as a noun or a verb? Seems like a silly question, but these two words can sometimes stump even the best writers, so little tricks can make all the difference. Here’s mine: Look for an article somewhere preceding it; if there’s a the, an a, or an an nearby, then you know you’re dealing with a noun*.

    • An interesting effect …
    • There was a very limited effect …
    • It had the secondary effect of …

*Beware trying to apply this trick to the word affected. Affected is an adjective, as in, the affected area, and because adjectives describe nouns, may also have articles preceding them. We’re just talking about affect and effect here.

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All Right, Not Alright

  • Alright is not a proper word. Really, it’s not. No matter how much you insist. In all cases use all right.

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American English vs. British English

  • Business Insider is an American publication, so just as you would not write colour, theatre, realise, etc., please use the American spelling for the following, and any other words common to both American English and British English but with different spellings:
    • Toward (towards is the British spelling).
    • Backward (backwards is the British spelling).
    • Upward (upwards is the British spelling).
    • Aging (ageing is the British spelling).
    • Gray (grey is the British spelling).
    • Modeled (modelled is the British spelling).
    • Traveled/Traveling (travelled/travelling are the British spellings).
  • There is a more comprehensive list, organized by letter groupings, that can be found here. But the above are the ones most frequently found misspelled.

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Attain vs. Obtain

    • Attain means to reach. Obtain means to get.

In order to attain success in his field, John had to first obtain a specialized degree.

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Awkward Phrasing

  • Poorly-placed verbs and/or adverbs make sentences awkward. Watch for things like the examples below:
    • Awkward: also are used.
    • Better: are also used.
    • Awkward: as already many have done.
    • Better: as many have done already.
    • Awkward: As I’ve explained often recently.
    • Better: As I’ve often explained recently.
    • Awkward: CNN reporters on air questioned.
    • Better: CNN reporters questioned on air.
    • Awkward: New York City will tomorrow institute an odd-even gas rationing system.
    • Better: New York City will institute an odd-even gas rationing system tomorrow.

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Back door vs. Backdoor

  • Backdoor is an adjective that describes an action taking place secretively or indirectly.
  • When you want the noun, use the two-word back door.

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Begs the question

  • As defined by famous lexicographer Henry Watson Fowler, begging the question is “the fallacy of founding a conclusion on a basis that as much needs to be proved as the conclusion itself.”

His example of a sentence that is begging the question: “Foxhunting is not cruel, since the fox enjoys the fun.” This assumes facts not in evidence: that the fox enjoys the fun. Therefore, it’s begging the question.

And in spite of the fact that dictionaries are starting to give up the battle, it is best avoided, and “raises the question” or similar be substituted, if for no better reason than avoiding sneering from pedants.

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Bellwether, not Bellweather

  • The correct spelling is ‘bellwether’.

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Bitcoin

  • A bitcoin or bitcoins are lowercase in the context of actual usage, just like dollar, euro, and other currencies. As the concept of virtual currency, Bitcoin is capitalized.

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Books, Movies, And Other Titles

  • Put quotation marks around book titles, movie titles, computer game titles, album and song titles, radio and television program titles, and the titles of lectures, published studies, speeches, and works of art.
  • Do not use italics.
  • Capitalize prepositions and conjunctions of four or more letters; lowercase when three or fewer.
    • “Dances With Wolves”
    • “Dawn of the Dead”

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Browser Titles

  • Want more page views? The 40-character guideline is as much for your benefit as it is for the publication’s — here’s why:
    • The browser title is the first element search engine crawlers examine when they read a page, and is one element of determining the post’s page ranking.
    • The most popular search engine, Google, only indexes the first ~40 characters. So if the most likely search terms in your browser title come after the 40th character, your posts are less likely to be found by people searching for those keywords.
    • Google News and Search comprise about one-third of the traffic to Business Insider, so you don’t want to miss out on the opportunity to be found and read by not making the best browser title.

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Bulleted Lists

  • In lists, always capitalize the first word and always use periods at the end of each section, whether it is a full sentence or just a phrase.

Example:

The general is accused of charging the government for personal expenditures such as:

    • Use of government-rented vehicles to run errands including collecting flowers, books, football game tickets, and snacks.
    • Dinner and a Broadway show — paid for by a government contractor — before meeting Denzel Washington and staying in the five-star Waldorf Astoria Hotel.
    • Wife joined him on 52 of his 79 trips even though she had no official capacity.

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Co- Terms

  • Hyphenate when forming nouns, adjectives, and verbs that indicate occupation or status, with one exception*:
    • co-founder, co-partner, co-owner, co-author, co-pilot, co-chairman, co-host, co-sponsor, co-star, etc.
    • *EXCEPTION: Coworker should be spelled without the hyphen because the non-hyphenated version delivers multitudes more hits on search, and for Search Engine Optimization, we recommend deviating from the rule on this word.
  • Capitalize the first letter following the hyphen in headlines:
    • Co-Partner, Co-Owner, Co-Pilot, etc.

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Coal Mine, not Coalmine

  • This should be two words: coal mine.

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Colons

  • Capitalize the first word following a colon if it begins a complete sentence. Do not capitalize if it begins a simple list.
    • I learned two things: My husband cannot sing and I cannot dance.
    • I learned two things: singing and dancing.

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Compliment vs. Complement

  • Compliment means to praise.
  • Complement means to complete or go together well.

“Well that’s nice,” you say. “But how do I remember whether I want the “li” version or the “le” version?” Great question. Try these tricks:

  • You’d give praise to something or someone you like, so use the “li” version: compliment.
  • Does what you’re talking about blend, unlike “cousin Vinny”? Use the “le” version: complement.

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Compound Word Or Two-Word Phrase?

  • Compound words can be closed, hyphenated, or open. Often, creating a compound word from a two-word phrase will change the intended meaning in your sentence.

Pay attention to the part of speech you want in your sentence to determine whether you should be using a closed or hyphenated compound word, or an open compound phrase. For instance:

    • Every day is used as an adverb that tells the reader how often something occurs, whereas everyday is an adjective meaning something is ordinary.
    • One should back up (verb) their work frequently so as not to lose changes, but you may have a back-up copy (adjective) in addition to your working copy.
    • Any modifies way when we write “in any way” or “any way the wind blows.” Anyway is an adverb meaning regardless or however.

Other examples:

    • Anyone can take that class, but any one of the participants could fail.
    • I will follow up with you next week, and if necessary, arrange an additional follow-up for two weeks after that.
    • Suffering from a layoff at his job, Peter was unable to lay off the sauce.
    • Though I’m terrified of takeoff when I fly, if this plane doesn’t take off soon I’m going to scream.

How To Construct Compound Modifiers

    • Use a hyphen for compound adjectives before the noun:
      • brand-new operating system, well-known actor, full-time job, 20-year sentence, box-office hit.
    • Do not use a hyphen when the compound modifier occurs after the verb:
      • The house looked brand new, The actor was well known. Her job became full time. He was sentenced to 20 years. It bombed at the box office.

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Corporate Names

  • eBay
      • When eBay starts a sentence, capitalize the ‘e’: “EBay Inc founder and Chairman Pierre Omidyar rejected investor Carl Icahn’s call to separate the company’s fast-growing PayPal payments unit, saying the businesses were better off together.”

  • JPMorgan
    • Use JPMorgan, no spaces, no periods.

  • Mt. Gox
    • It’s Mt. Gox in headlines and stories, not Mt Gox, MtGox, or any other spelling others around the Web may be using.

  • Names On First Reference
    • AP differentiates style only on first reference in a story: Walgreen Co. on the first reference, then Walgreens on followups. J.C. Penney Co. (sometimes with Inc.) on first reference, then JCPenney, etc.

  • Names With Symbols: Yahoo, E-Trade, Etc.
    • Do not use symbols in company names: Yahoo, not Yahoo!; E-Trade, not E*Trade; Wal-Mart, not Wal*Mart, etc.

  • Wal-Mart
    • AP calls for using the hyphenated spelling Wal-Mart in text references, including Wal-Mart retail stores. Website addresses, however, have to use the one-word spelling: http://www.walmart.com/

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Dangling Modifiers

  • Descriptive phrases should always modify the nearest noun. When they modify a noun somewhere else in the sentence, or don’t appear to refer to anything in particular, they’re said to be dangling. Comedians are great at turning dangling modifiers into jokes:

One morning I shot an elephant in my pajamas. How he got into my pajamas I’ll never know. ~ Groucho Marx

The modifying clause “in my pajamas” is clearly supposed to describe the behavior of the speaker, but grammatically it appears to apply to the elephant — the closest noun to it.

A dangling modifier walks into a bar. After finishing a drink, the bartender asks it to leave.

Who finished the drink — the bartender or the dangling modifier?

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Dashes

  • Em Dash: Use proper em dashes (—) in headlines and text for parentheticals, never double hyphens (–) or the shorter en dash (–). An em dash should be set open, meaning there should be spaces on both sides. (NOTE: This change to the AP Stylebook calling for open-set em dashes occurred in late 2012, making it now match up with the “New York Times Manual of Style and Usage” on this topic.)
    • To render an em dash using a Mac, use the keystroke combination: Shift+Option+Minus sign (or hyphen).
    • To render an em dash using a PC with a number pad, use the keystroke combination: Alt+0151
    • To render an em dash using a PC laptop, use the keystroke combination: Shift+NumLk then Alt+mjij. Use Shift+NumLk again to unlock the number pad on the keyboard and return to text.

Try not to overuse em dashes. An abundance of them can be annoying to your reader.

HINT: If your fingers are just too “trained” to type hyphens and it trips you up or slows you down to break pace and do the keystrokes necessary to get a proper em dash as you type, just type as usual, then when you finish, use the Find/Replace feature to change all the double hyphens to em dashes in one fell swoop. Easy.

  • En Dash: The shorter en dash (–) is used to separate a range of values or things; such as dollars, percentages, distances, locations, etc. An en dash should be set closed, meaning there should be no spaces on either side.
    • To render an en dash using a Mac, use the keystroke combination: Option+Minus sign (or hyphen).
    • To render an en dash using a PC with a number pad, use the keystroke combination: Alt+0150
    • To render an en dash using a PC laptop, use the keystroke combination: Shift+NumLk then Alt+mjim. Use Shift+NumLk again to unlock the number pad on the keyboard and return to text.

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Data Point, not Datapoint

  • There is no such word as datapoint; it should be written as two separate words — data point(s).

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Dates

  • Use the day of the week, not “today,” “yesterday,” or “tomorrow.”
    • The debate on Wednesday was a rife with factual errors.
  • When a month is used with a specific date, spell out March, April, May, June, and July, and abbreviate Jan., Feb., Aug., Sept., Oct., Nov. and Dec., and use only cardinal numbers for the date.
    • Jan. 3
    • April 15
    • Aug. 22
  • A date expressed without the name of the month takes the ordinal form.
    • He will be sentenced on the 14th.
  • Spell out all months when using alone or with only a year.
    • The report is expected to be released some time in November.
    • The February ruling came as a surprise to many legal experts.
  • When stating only a month and a year, do not separate the month and year by a comma.
    • December 1987

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Decades

  • Decades are plural, not possessive, so numerically they would be written as 1990s, not 1990’s; 2000s, not 2000’s, etc.
  • If you are abbreviating it to “the nineties,” when written numerically it is a contraction eliminating the first two digits, so it requires an apostrophe to represent what’s missing: ’70s, ’80s, ’90s. Do not put an apostrophe before the final s. When in doubt, imagine it spelled out: sixties, not sixty’s; seventies, not seventy’s, etc.

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Different From vs. Different Than

  • Always use different from instead of different than. The exceptions are so rare that you really can’t go wrong abiding by this form.

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E-Terms

  • Use the AP rule of construct for e- terms.
    • Email does not take a hyphen.
    • Use a hyphen with all other e- terms, such as: e-book, e-business, e-commerce, etc.

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Ellipsis …

  • An ellipsis ( … ) is used to indicate the deletion of one or more words when condensing quotes, texts and documents; or to indicate a thought that the speaker or writer does not complete. Therefore it should be treated as a three-letter word itself and have spaces on both sides of it.
  • When an ellipsis follows a complete sentence, use the correct punctuation — a period, question mark, exclamation point, etc. — followed by a space, then the ellipsis.
    • Work on the project was scheduled to begin May 1. … Contract negotiations appear to be derailing that start date.
    • Was he serious? … It was hard to tell.
  • Do not use an ellipsis when omitting material that precedes the portion you are quoting. In other words:
    • Incorrect: Lincoln reminded us that our nation was “… conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.”
    • Correct: Lincoln reminded us that our nation was “conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.”

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Fewer vs. Less

  • With rare exceptions, use “less” when referring to things “en masse” and “fewer” for things you are counting.

Keep them separate in your mind by remembering that “less” and “masse” both contain double-s.

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Financial Terms

    • Cash flow vs. Profit
      • “Cash flow” is different from “profit.” The latter is an accounting construct (lots of non-cash accruals, amortization, etc.). The former is net cash in/out the door.

    • Nonfarm, not Non-Farm
      • It’s “nonfarm payrolls,” no hyphen, not capitalized. This is how the BLS does it, and since they are the official source for this data, we follow their style.

  • Revenue vs. Profit
    • You don’t “earn” revenue, you earn profit. You “generate” or “book” revenue.
    • “Revenue” is the same thing as “sales.”

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Flout vs. Flaunt

  • Flout means to treat with scorn or contempt; to “flout the rules.” Flaunt means to show off.

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Formal Titles


Formal Titles

  • Only capitalize formal titles when they are used immediately before one or more names: Chancellor Angela Merkel, President Barack Obama, Governors Chris Christie and Rick Scott.
  • Use lowercase and spell out titles when they are not used with an individual’s name: The president issued a statement. The pope gave his blessing.

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Health Care, not Healthcare

  • While healthcare is an acceptable alternative in some dictionaries, for consistency, follow the recommendation of the AP, which calls for two words: health care.

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Here’s vs. Here Are

  • Here’s is a contraction of here is and should not be used when identifying plurals.
    • Incorrect (real examples):
      • On the other hand, here’s some things I don’t like.
      • Here’s the Top 10.
      • Here’s a few charts we’ve gotten.
      • And here’s initial jobless claims.
      • There’s still the sequester spending cuts.
    • Correct:
      • Here are some things I don’t like.
      • Here are the Top 10.
      • Here are a few charts we’ve gotten.
      • And here are initial jobless claims.
      • There are still the sequester spending cuts

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Idioms And Foreign Words And Phrases

  • Double check for correct spelling and usage.

Examples (incorrect usages taken from actual published posts):

      • All of a sudden, not all of the sudden.

      • Bona fide, not bonafide.

      • Chaise longue, not chez longue.

      • Chalk this one up, not chock this one up.

      • De facto, not defacto.

      • Dribs and drabs, not drips and drabs.

      • Footing the bill, not fitting the bill.

      • Insofar, not in so far.

    • Segue, not segway.

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Internet, Web, website

  • Internet is always capitalized.
  • World Wide Web and its shortened version, Web, are always capitalized.
    • People search the Internet for Web pages.
  • However, website is a word unto itself and not a shortened version of World Wide Web, so it is not capitalized.

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Its vs. It’s

  • It’s with an apostrophe is the contraction of either it is or it has; it does not represent possession — ever.
  • Its without an apostrophe is a pronoun like his, hers, yours, and ours, and therefore does show possession.

When in doubt, spell it out. This was an actual headline:

    • GOLDMAN: The Shale Oil Revolution Is Real, And It’s Impact On The Global Economy Is Dramatic

Spelled out, that reads:

    • GOLDMAN: The Shale Oil Revolution Is Real, And It is Impact On The Global Economy Is Dramatic

That does not make any sense. Therefore you would use its, not it’s.

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Jargon — Don’t Use These Terms

  • Imagine that your readers aren’t as knowledgeable as you about your specialty. What is basic knowledge to you may be entirely unknown to your reader. If you want them to understand what you’re writing about, don’t use terms that are specific to your industry without explaining what they mean. Some terms shouldn’t even be used at all, and replaced with words that are more commonly known. In order to ensure the greatest degree of clarity for the average reader …

    • DO NOT USE ANY OF THE FOLLOWING AT ALL:
      • Authored
        • Like “penned,” this is used as a tool to avoid saying “wrote.” But it’s a pretentious cliché. “Author” is a noun; use the verb “wrote.”

      • Boasts
        • As in, “This amazing gadget boasts 12 hours of battery life.” This is infomercial speak. You’d never tell a friend you got a new phone that “boasts” some feature, so don’t write it that way, either.

      • Fires off
        • As in “He fired off a memo.” This has become cliché; avoid using it.

      • Graces the cover
        • People appear on covers, they don’t “grace” them.

      • Inks
        • As in, “They inked a deal.” People do not “ink” deals; they cut deals or sign deals.

      • Pens
        • As in, “She penned an article.” Henry Blodget: “I don’t know about you, but it has been about 25 years since I have ‘penned’ anything other than a stick-up note. No one ‘pens’ books or articles anymore. And no normal human would ever say in conversation that someone had ‘penned’ something. So please don’t write it.”

      • Piece
        • As in, “a nice piece on Obama.” Ordinary people don’t call them “pieces.” They call them “articles” or “profiles.”

      • Print
        • As in unemployment print, PMI print, Pending Home Sales print, “Analysts were expecting a print of 13.” Regular people don’t know what that means. Use “print” only in relation to actually printing things.

      • Scoopage
        • As in, “an impressive piece of scoopage by Nick Carlson.” Most people know what “scoops” are, but who got the story first it isn’t important to them. Only journalists care about scooping each other. “Scoopage” is insider-speak, so just call it what most people would know it as: an exclusive story.

      • Tick tock
        • As in, “an excellent tick-tock on Ballmer’s departure from Microsoft.” Most people will have no idea what this means. It’s better known as a “behind the scenes story.” Say it that way.
  • Also, as a reminder, please continue to avoid all corporate-speak.
    • Companies do not “acquire” one another — they “buy” each other.
    • Companies do not “enter into” deals. They sign deals, cut deals, or strike deals.
    • Companies do not “sign definitive agreements.” They “agree.”

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Jive vs. Jibe

  • Jive is a style of music, or, as slang, exaggerated talk.
  • Jibe, when used with with, is an idiom meaning agreement. Never use jive with when you mean something does or does not agree or work together — the term you want is jibe with.
    • INCORRECT: That information doesn’t jive with previous reports. (The information isn’t taking previous reports to a dance.)
    • CORRECT: That information doesn’t jibe with previous reports.

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Lead/Led

  • The word led is the past tense and past participle of the verb “to lead.”
  • The word lead, when it sounds like red is a metal, not the past tense of “to lead.”

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Life Hack, not Lifehack

  • This should be written as two words: life hack. That includes plurals, possessives, and all other variants: food hack, clothing hack, etc.

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-Maker Suffix

  • In general, hyphenate noun and adjective forms: smartphone-maker, decision-maker, headline-maker, doughnut-maker, etc.
  • Exceptions:
    • automaker, automakers.
    • carmaker, carmakers.
    • cheesemaker.
    • chipmaker(n.) chipmaking (adj.).
    • coffee maker.
    • drugmaker.
    • filmmaker.
    • moneymaker.
    • Newsmaker.
    • oddsmaker.
    • pacemaker.
    • peacemaker, peacemaking.
    • policymaker, policymaking.
    • speechmaker, speechmaking.
    • winemaker.

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Meta Description

  • This field is among the most important for gaining visibility for your post. When your post comes up in search results, the meta description is what appears below the title and the link. Keywords from the user’s search that are in your meta description appear in bold. This is where you have the opportunity to “sell” your post by writing a compelling description of what it’s about. When you leave this field blank, search engines (and social media sites) will automatically default to using the first 160 or so characters from your post, and these aren’t always the best selling points to entice clicks. This is also the blurb that appears along with the headline on Facebook when people share your post, so make sure it’s compelling.

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Misspellings In Quoted Material

  • When copying text from another source that contains spelling, grammar, or punctuation errors, either:
    • Replace the incorrect word or words with the correct word or words within [brackets].
    • Place (sic) after the error.

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Newspaper And Other Publication Names

  • Capitalize the article “the” in a newspaper’s name if that is the way the publication prefers to be known; lowercase the article “the” if it is not actually part of the newspaper’s name.

When in doubt, check the website browser title or masthead of the publication to see how they refer to themselves.

    • Do not italicize publication names.

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Numbers

  • In general, spell the numbers one through nine. Use figures for numbers greater than nine. Use figures in headlines.
  • Spell out a number at the beginning of a sentence. If necessary, recast the sentence. There is one exception: a number that identifies a calendar year.
  • Place a zero in front of decimal points: 0.75, $0.50, 0.25%.
  • Percents
    • Spell out the word percent.
    • Use figures for percent and percentages, even for numbers below ten, which are ordinarily spelled out: 1 percent, 2.5 percent (use decimals, not fractions), 4 percentage points.
    • For a range, only write the word percent behind the last figure: From 30 to 40 percent, or, between 60 and 70 percent.
    • For amounts less than 1 percent, precede the decimal with a zero: The cost of living rose 0.6 percent.
  • Fractions:
    • Spell out fractional amounts less than 1, using hyphens between the words: two-thirds, four-fifths, seven-sixteenths, etc.
    • Use figures for precise amounts larger than 1, with a full space between the whole number and the fraction: 1 1/2, 2 5/8, etc. However, convert to decimals whenever practical.
  • Betting Odds:
    • Use figures and a hyphen: The odds were 5-4, he won despite 3-2 odds against him.
    • The word to is seldom necessary, but when it appears, it should be hyphenated in all constructions: 3-to-2 odds, odds of 3-to-2, the odds were 3-to-2.

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Oxford, or Serial Comma

  • An Oxford, or serial comma, is a comma that appears before the final conjunction in a list of items in a sentence. Some publications, including Business Insider, call for the use of Oxford commas, which is a deviation from the AP style.
  • Examples:
    • The recipe calls for marjoram, thyme, salt, and pepper.
    • We ordered enough food to feed an army: 12 turkey sandwiches, five pounds of spaghetti, eight sausage and pepperoni pizzas, and 40 drinks.

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People Who, Things/Entities That

  • If you dig around, you may be able to find a rogue source that allows for the use of that when writing about people. But it is a non-standard usage (no offense to Chaucer), so stick to the rule:
    • Person or people who; things or entities that.

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Plead/Pleaded

  • Do not use the colloquial past tense form, pled; use pleaded.

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Plurals, Possessives, And Contractions

  • Plurals do not, as a general rule (there are rare exceptions), use an apostrophe; possessives do. (It’s not that writers don’t know this, but it is actually one of the most common errors made, so just keep the rule in mind as you write to avoid making it.)
    • Plural: The books were well-read.
    • Possessive: The book’s cover was worn.
  • Use ONLY an apostrophe, not apostrophe “s” with the following possessives
    • Proper names ending in “s.”
      • Steve Jobs’ car.
    • Plural nouns ending in “s.”
      • The lions’ enclosure.
    • Nouns that are plural in form, whether singular or plural in meaning.
      • Measles’ effects.
    • Singular nouns ending in “s” followed by a word beginning with “s.”
      • The witness’ story.

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Possessive Form Of Words Ending In “S”

  • Use Only An Apostrophe, Not Apostrophe “S” With These Possessive Forms:
    • Proper names ending in “s.”
      • Steve Jobs’ car.
    • Plural nouns ending in “s.”
      • The lions’ enclosure.
    • Nouns that are plural in form, whether singular or plural in meaning.
      • Measles’ effects.
    • Singular nouns ending in “s” followed by a word beginning with “s.”
      • The hostess’ seat.
      • The witness’ story.
  • Use Apostrophe “S” With Singular Nouns ending In “S” Followed By Words NOT Beginning With “S.”
    • The hostess’s invitation.
    • The witness’s answer.

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Prefixes

  • The general rule for adding a prefix to words that start with a consonant is: Do not hyphenate.
    • bimonthly, extrajudicial, intramuscular, multimillionaire, multifamily, overhyped, pretax, semimonthly, superpower, ultramodern, underperforming, unsheltered.
  • The general rule for adding a prefix to words that start with a vowel is: Do not hyphenate if the vowels differ between the prefix and the following word. Hyphenate when the prefix ends in the same vowel as the first letter of the following word.
    • Don’t hyphenate: antiaging, biannual, multiauthored, prearrange.
    • Hyphenate: anti-incumbent, co-op, multi-industry, pre-eminent, pre-exist, pre-empt, semi-independent.
      • Exceptions: cooperate, coordinate.
  • Hyphenate if the word that follows the prefix is capitalized.
    • pre-Christmas.
  • Hyphenate after the first prefix when you use double prefixes.
    • sub-subparagraph.
  • Big Ol’ Exception To All Of The Above: the prefix anti-. Whether the word following anti- starts with a consonant or a vowel, hyphenate almost all anti- words.
    • anti-abortion, anti-labor, anti-aircraft, anti-social, anti-bias, anti-war, anti-inflation, etc.
    • The exceptions to this exception are the following words which have specific meanings of their own and therefore don’t take a hyphen:
antibiotic antigen antipasto antiseptic
antibody antihistamine antiperspirant antiserum
anticlimax antiknock antiphon antithesis
antidepressant antimatter antiphony antitoxin
antidote antimony antipollution antitrust
antifreeze antiparticle antipsychotic antitussive

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Quotation Marks Used In Headlines

  • Use single quotation marks in headlines.
    • CBS Ends ‘Jericho’ in New Schedule
    • Obama Tells Congressional Black Caucus To ‘Stop Grumbling’

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Quotation Marks Used In Text

  • The period and the comma always go within the quotation marks.
  • The dash, the semicolon, the question mark and the exclamation point go within the quotation marks when they apply to the quoted matter only. They go outside when they apply to the whole sentence.
  • Don’t place single quotation marks around individual words, phrases, or titles unless they fall within a larger quote; use double quotation marks.
  • When nesting quotes, use double quotation marks around the primary quote and single quotation marks around quotes within the quote.
    • The New York Times reports “Mr. Romney recounted how, as he sat in David’s hospital room, the teenager called him ‘Brother Romney’ and asked him about ‘what’s next.’”
  • When a quote spans multiple paragraphs, do not put a closing quotation mark at the end of each paragraph, but do put a quotation mark a the beginning of every paragraph.

INCORRECT:

“During the last recession, the economy bottomed out in November 2001 and GDP growth was robust in 2002 but the U.S. stock markets kept on falling all the way through the first quarter of 2003. So not only were the stock markets not forward looking, they actually lagged the economic recovery by 18 months–rather than lead it by six to nine months.

A similar scenario could occur this time around. The real economy sort of exits the recession some time in 2010, but deflationary forces keep a lid on the pricing power of corporations and their profit margins, and growth is so weak and anemic, that U.S. equities may–as in 2002–move sideways for most of 2010. A number of false bull starts would occur as economic recovery signals remain mixed.

Thus, most likely, we can brace ourselves for new lows on U.S. and global equities in the next 12 to 18 months.” — Nouriel Roubini on March 12, 2009

CORRECT:

“During the last recession, the economy bottomed out in November 2001 and GDP growth was robust in 2002 but the U.S. stock markets kept on falling all the way through the first quarter of 2003. So not only were the stock markets not forward looking, they actually lagged the economic recovery by 18 months — rather than lead it by six to nine months.

“A similar scenario could occur this time around. The real economy sort of exits the recession some time in 2010, but deflationary forces keep a lid on the pricing power of corporations and their profit margins, and growth is so weak and anemic, that U.S. equities may — as in 2002 — move sideways for most of 2010. A number of false bull starts would occur as economic recovery signals remain mixed.

“Thus, most likely, we can brace ourselves for new lows on U.S. and global equities in the next 12 to 18 months.” — Nouriel Roubini on March 12, 2009

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Reflexive Pronouns

  • Myself, Himself, Herself, Themselves, etc., are always the object of a sentence, never the subject. Think of them as “reflecting” a noun or pronoun when the noun or pronoun is doing something to itself.

Correct:

    • “He sees himself as an entrepreneur.”
    • “They took themselves out of the running.”

Incorrect:

    • “It took her partner and herself a year to build the first app.”

Hint: Isolate the pronoun in the sentence above to see how it stands on its own:

    • “It took herself a year to build the first app.”

This is clearly wrong, so therefore the personal pronoun her should be used.

    • “It took her and her partner a year to build the first app.”

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Renown vs. Renowned vs. Known For

  • Renown is a noun, as in, “He has achieved great renown.”
  • Renowned is an adjective, as in, “The renowned author died in his home Thursday.”
  • Neither of these things mean “known for,” as in, “The author was known for his vibrant prose.”

In other words, you would not write, “The author was renowned for his vibrant prose,” as that would be the wrong usage of the word.

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Ripe vs. Rife

  • Rife means “full of,” or “abounding with,” and is used with the word ‘with.’ Obama’s second term has been rife with international controversy.
  • Ripe, on the other hand, means “fully developed,” or “mature.”

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State Abbreviations

  • Effective May 1, 2014, AP style calls for spelling out all 50 U.S. state names in the body of text.
  • Continue to abbreviate state names in:
    • Datelines.
    • Photo captions.
    • Lists.
    • Tabular material.
    • Short-form identification of political affiliation.
  • When abbreviating, do not use the U.S. Postal Service abbreviations.
  • Place one comma between the city and the state name, and another after the state name, unless at the end of a sentence or in a dateline.
  • When abbreviating U.S. states, do so as follows:
    Ala. Fla. Mass. N.C. Nev. Tenn.
    Ariz. Ga. Md. N.D. Okla. Va.
    Ark. Ill. Mich. N.H. Ore. Vt.
    Calif. Ind. Minn. N.J. Pa. W.Va.
    Colo. Kan. Miss. N.M. R.I. Wash.
    Conn. Ky. Mo. N.Y. S.C. Wis.
    Del. La. Mont. Neb. S.D. Wyo.

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Staunch vs. Stanch

  • Staunch means strong, steadfast, sturdy.
  • Stanch means to stop the flow of.

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Supposed vs. Supposed to

  • Suppose means to assume/speculate (is never followed by “to”).
  • Supposed to means is expected.

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Swath vs. Swathe

  • Swath means the space created by a cutting instrument, or in idiomatic use, “to call attention to,” as in “He cut a swath through the room when he entered.”
  • Swathe, on the other hand, means to bandage, wrap, or enfold something.

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That vs. Which

  • Use that when your sentence requires the clause in question to make sense or to be accurate.
    • With the clause: 10 Stats That Show How Chinese Manufacturing Makes The Rest Of The World Look Tiny
    • Without the clause: 10 Stats Make The Rest Of The World Look Tiny
  • Use which when the clause in question can be left out without changing the meaning of your sentence.
    • With the clause: Chinese manufacturing, which has been under much scrutiny lately, is on the decline.
    • Without the clause: Chinese manufacturing is on the decline.

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Then vs. Than

  • Then marks time or a sequence of events. Definitions: At that time; Immediately following; As a consequence; In addition; In that case.
    • Now and then.
    • First this event, then that event.
    • If this happens, then that follows.
  • Than is used in comparative statements.
    • Bigger than, smaller than.
    • Louder than, quieter than.
    • More than, less than.
  • Test yourself — substitute “in comparison to” and see if your sentence still makes sense.

    • If yes, use than.
    • No? Use then.

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Time Of Day

  • Ante meridian (before noon) and post meridian (after noon) are abbreviated in lowercase with periods.
    • 11 a.m., 1 p.m., 3:30 p.m., 9-11 a.m., 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
  • Spell out noon and midnight.
  • Avoid redundancies like 10 a.m. this morning or 10 p.m. Monday night. Use 10 a.m. or 10 p.m. Monday, etc.
  • Using “o’clock” is acceptable, but using numbers followed by a.m. or p.m. is preferable.

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Was vs. Were

  • Use was (indicative) when there is a probability or likelihood of something being true. Use were (subjunctive) when there is no likelihood, merely “wishful thinking.”
    • Correct: If I were king of the forest. If I were a rich man. I Would Vote for Gov Romney if He Were a Democrat.
    • Incorrect (actual headline): I Would Vote for Gov Romney if He Was a Democrat.

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Weight Loss, not Weightloss

  • This is two words: weight loss.

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Well-Being, not Wellbeing

  • This is a compound noun and is hyphenated: well-being.

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Who vs. Whom

  • Who refers to the subject of a clause — the one doing something.
  • Whom refers to the object of a clause — the one having something done to them, or the one something is happening to.

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Work- words

  • Most common “work-“ words (workweek, workplace) are one word. The exception is work force, which is two words.

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