Talking Chairs
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Breaking the law: which style guide rule...

Editors and writers often take on the role of enforcer when it comes to our company’s (or client’s) style rules. Whether we use the AP Stylebook, the Chicago Manual of Style, or a house style guide, we can explain, cite, and apply the rules with ease. But sometimes even the enforcers want to break the rules. Think carefully. Are there any style guide rules that you refuse to follow? Any style standards you will not adopt? Is it a rule that just recently changed or one that never made sense to begin with? In my own work, I routinely break three rules. They...
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21 more fortunes for writers

I’ve always thought it would be fun to write the fortunes found in fortune cookies. And since I have no idea how to land that job, I settled for writing a post about fortunes for writers. Now, inspired by another clever fortune (“About time I got out of that cookie.”) here are 21 more fortunes for writers, editors, and PR professionals. 1. Remember . . . your style guide is just a guide. 2. It all comes out in the wash. 3. Beware of cookies bearing fortunes. 4. Using the word “utilize” instead of “use” does not make you sound smarter. 5. Be sure to test...
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Is there a definitive answer to this cap...

While trying to answer co-worker’s question last week, I unearthed a contentious capitalization conundrum. (Try saying that 10 times fast.) And much like the wrangling over the serial comma, or for that matter, capitalization, this debate does not appear to have an easy answer. The question: do you capitalize a lowercase brand name if the brand name is used at the beginning of a sentence? Here are a couple examples: eBay has a fabulous collection of vintage tube tops. iTunes must now compete with Amazon’s Prime Music. The Chicago Manual of Style has this to say:...
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25 words that are difficult to spell

I’ve been writing professionally for more than 15 years (starting when I was 10 years old, of course), but I still struggle with certain basic aspects of putting words into Word. I still edit while I write. I don’t take breaks when I need to. I sometimes get too hung up on following the style guide. This week, I’ve been struggling with spelling. There are certain words that I always look up in the dictionary. No matter how many times I write them, I can’t remember how to spell them. Maybe I should try writing these 10 times each: 1. acquiesce 2. aficionado 3....
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Add flavor to your writing with colorful...

As writers, we have an arsenal of rhetorical devices and figures of speech at our disposal to enliven our copy. The devices most often used are similes and metaphors. When used correctly, these phrases help us paint pictures with words, adding depth to our messages. (Under John’s leadership, our workplace had become like “Animal Farm.”) When used incorrectly, the results can be confusing and silly. (It sticks out like a sore throat.) It’s also important to avoid clichés—metaphors that are so commonplace that they’ve lost their power completely. (Clichés can...
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11 weird spelling facts

Not to put too fine a point on it, English spelling rules are just weird. We have words that sound the same but are spelled differently (such as “their,” “they’re,” and “there”); words with letters that have nothing to do with how the word is pronounced (“brought,” “although”); words that contain silent letters (“gnat,” “pneumonia”); and words that simply don’t follow any spelling rules. Here’s a look at 11 weird, random facts about English spelling. Not sure this will make our jobs as writers and editors any easier, but it’s a nice...
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36 redundant phrases to eliminate from y...

As writers, editors, and PR professionals, we are keenly aware of having to fight for readers’ attention. My daily sanity check is to ask, “Is someone actually going to read this?” One way I’ve found to help readers is to use concise language and eliminate redundancies. As Strunk and White advise, “Make every word tell.” Below is a list of phrases in which every word does not tell. These phrases are redundant, repetitive, wordy, and verbose. Paring phrases such as these is an easy way to tighten your writing. (Redundant words are italicized.) • added...
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What kind of a word nerd are you?

There’s only one thing more annoying than having a “selfie-obsessed” friend on Facebook: having a friend who is constantly taking those “What kind of ______ are you?” quizzes and sharing the results. I’ve seen: “What kind of best friend are you?”; “What kind of cupcake are you?”; “What kind of coffee drink are you?”; “Which ‘Little House on the Prairie’ character are you?” What’s next? “What kind of fungus are you?” However annoying it is, this phenomenon has inspired me to develop my own quiz. It’s called, “What kind of word nerd...