Talking Chairs
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Nouns have gender; people have sex

Our language is full of confusing word pairs. Have you ever tried to explain the difference between “comprise” and “compose”? One particularly troublesome pair is “gender” and “sex.” Fortunately, there’s an easy way to remember that those two words cannot be used interchangeably. Just remember that nouns have gender. People have sex. According to the American Medical Association Manual of Style, sex is the “classification of living things as male or female, according to their reproductive organs and functions assigned by...
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10 tips for more compelling writing

My youngest sister is in graduate school, earning her Ph.D. in biology. Suddenly immersed in the “publish or perish” culture, she’s been struggling with the tiresome task of co-authoring research papers. She once sent me a text at 2:30 a.m. that said, “I don’t know how you can write as your career. I want to set my laptop on fire right now.” Whether it’s academic, corporate, or technical text, or you’re simply trying to think of what to scribble on a colleague’s birthday card, writing can be bewildering, tedious work. To make it less so, I pulled...
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Acronyms: Avoiding the alphabet soup

I work for a hospital system where TLAs (three-letter acronyms) are ubiquitous. Not only do we use health care acronyms, but also acronyms related to our system, and acronyms related to each facility. I was recently at a training seminar with co-workers from different departments. Our first exercise was to set the ground rules and expectations for the class. One ground rule that was quickly established: No acronyms were to be used in the class unless they were first defined. By the end of the seminar, we were discussing plans to create a group called the EAA: Employees...
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What’s your headline style?

PR Daily readers have strong opinions when it comes to style. On this site, we’ve debated topics such as the use of the serial comma, the overuse of the exclamation point, and the capitalization of titles. And who can forget the lively conversations over spacing after punctuation and the use of nouns as verbs. One issue I would like ask PR Daily readers to debate is headline style. At my company, we recently changed our headline style to down style. With down style, only the first word, the first word after a colon or em dash, and proper nouns are capitalized in the...
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Vitalize your writing with anagrams

Like many other PR Daily readers, I’m always looking for ways to keep my writing fresh. Over the past several weeks, I’ve been playing around with rhetorical devices, such as alliteration, metaphors, and euphemisms. I’ve been having the most fun with anagrams. Anagrams are words or phrases that are formed by rearranging the letters of another word or phrase, using the original letters only once (dictionary: indicatory). There are several online anagram servers for novices (Internet Anagram Server, Word Explorer, and Online Anagram Solver), but as I’ve discovered,...
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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:...