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One space, not two spaces, after a period. Period.

A sign showing an exclamation point.For many years, writers were taught to include two spaces after periods and certain other punctuation marks, such as colons. There was good reason for this at the time: Typewriters produced a typeface that made it aesthetically unpleasant to have only one space separating sentences.

However, those days are long gone. The fonts computers produce have made the two-space method unnecessary. Today, every major style manual (including the Chicago Manual of Style and the AP Stylebook) makes it clear that one space is proper.

Does it matter if you still use two? Actually, yes. Anytime we see two spaces in an article that was written in recent years, we immediately think “amateur hour.” And that’s the last thing you want your reader to think about you.

Now, that’s an embarrassing typo: AP Stylebook edition


If you’re ever uncertain about how to spell a word, it’s always worth the time to look it up. As we mentioned in this earlier post, it takes only seconds to look up a word on an online dictionary.

By the same token, if you write quite a bit, it’s definitely worth the $15 to get online access to the AP Stylebook, the best go-to guide for proper usage. It’s a phenomenal resource you can check out here.

However, a visit to the site’s Frequently Asked Questions page reminds you that anyone can make a mistake. The FAQ’s second item reads:

Is the 2008 Associated Press Stylebook available? No, it has sold out and is not going to be reprint. The ISBN number is 978-0-917360-52-7

The obvious goof here is that “reprint” should be “reprinted.” But if we’re going to be picky (and you just know we are), the answer also is missing a period at the end.

And that’s not simply a “style” consideration, ironic as that would be. All of the other answers in the FAQ (including another that ends in a series of numbers) end with a period.

Again, we strongly recommend a subscription to the AP Stylebook to anyone who writes professionally on a regular basis (rest assured, we don’t receive a commission or anything else from the Associated Press).

But we have given the AP a heads-up about the FAQ goof, and we’re curious to see how quickly it gets fixed.

Can you find all 14 writing mistakes?

Here are some basic mistakes that do not get flagged by a spell checker. Can you spot all the errors?

I consider people talking loudly on there cell phones in public to be offense of. They should of taken care of business at home or at there work sight. Do they have more rite to be herd in public then others?

I mite just go up to a loud cell talker and say, “Are thoughts could be as important as yours. We cant here them because your so loud. You deserve an Olympic mettle for rudeness!”

There are 14 words used mistakenly in context. Did you find this type of writing to be a turnoff? One friend told us, “When I read something like this, I die a little inside.”

As we’ve said before: you must review and edit everything you write.

Winning grant proposals must be error-free

A winning grant proposal is error-free

A winning grant proposal is error-free.

In the last post, we talked about how clear and grammatically-correct writing alone is not enough to get your proposal funded. On the other hand, a proposal that meets funding criteria and is submitted by a worthy organization will not be funded if it contains writing and grammatical errors.

Some proposal reviewers (judges) score sections filled with grammatical and typographical errors in the lowest range of points available for the section. Even I, a copyeditor and grammarian, am amazed at the large number of points often deducted.

These are the explanations I have been given:

“A sloppy proposal indicates that the organization would operate a sloppy project.”

“They must have put this proposal together overnight, since they clearly didn’t have it proofread.”

“I don’t think these people can be very bright.”

“The proposal was too hard to read – the sentences went on forever and there were no commas to indicate pauses or necessary separations between words.” (more…)

The Best Writing Tip Ever: Put your words in the right order

When one guys wearing makeup and the other ones wearing a mask, its rather important to know whos who.

When one guy's wearing a mask and the other one's wearing a wig and makeup, it's rather important to know who's who.

For our latest installment of the Best Writing Tip Ever series, let’s touch on a subject that seems like a no-brainer, but it’s a mistake that can appear in everything from a text message to, let’s say, an article in the Los Angeles Times.

Case in point: today’s Times review of the psychological thriller Orphan. Glenn Whipp’s brief article reads just fine until this sentence:

The film does boast fine, slumming performances from Vera Farmiga and Peter Sarsgaard, playing John and Kate, the couple coping with Esther’s alarming antics.

True, Whipp writes elsewhere that Orphan boasts a surprising twist, but we’re pretty sure the twist isn’t that Vera plays John and Peter plays Kate.

Granted, Whipp didn’t use the word respectively in his sentence to indicate “in the order given,” but switching the order mid-sentence still makes for confusing reading.

And if the error wasn’t clear because of the genders, we’d be left thinking the actors played the wrong roles.

For example: either of the two people who never saw The Dark Knight certainly would get the wrong idea if one wrote “Christian Bale and Heath Ledger provide dynamic performances as the Joker and Batman.”

See more entries in the Best Writing Tip Ever series by clicking here.

Trailer conventions that have to go? Cool, but bad grammar has to go first.

FilmHype.Net ripped on the Old Dogs trailer, leaving it to us to rip on this awful, painfully Photoshopped poster.

FilmHype.Net ripped on the "Old Dogs" trailer, leaving it to us to rip on this awful, painfully Photoshopped poster.

I care about good writing, but we don’t expect everyone to be perfect all of the time. Misspellings and typos happen.

However, it’s impossible to stress too highly how important it is to make a good impression right up front in anything you write. If you have an important 10-page document, I’d love for you to carefully proofread all 10 pages.

But at the very least, make sure the first few pages are golden. If nothing else, the first page must be pristine.

Case in point: I’d never before heard of FilmHype.Net, but there’s a link to an article on the site today at the Internet Movie Database. As film buffs, we check out IMDb all the time. And the link sounded interesting: “Movie Trailer Conventions That Have To Go.”

I was intrigued. So I clicked on the link and read the article’s introduction. Here’s the first paragraph (the bold emphasis is mine):

In an industry filled with sequels, prequels, remakes, and sell outs, it’s sometimes difficult to find something truely noteworthy within the realm of cinema. But even worse than the films themsleves are the trailers that promote them; born from a world lacking any originality and at the hands of a single editor whose name is presumably Satan.

And suddenly I wasn’t very interested in the article anymore (you can find it here).

I realized that the writer might make some pretty good points in the article, but an opening paragraph that has at least two grammatical mistakes any high-schooler should understand (plus a third that’s admittedly a little nitpicky) makes me tune out immediately. (more…)

Wolverine would like to compliment you on your use of the term “complement”

Here’s a quick writing tip along the lines of last week’s discreet/discrete posting. We often see compliment and complement switched up, most recently in a review of the new X-Men Origins: Wolverine video game on the IGN website. (Okay, so the review was published April 30. We’re behind in our reading.)

We note this not only to remind you that even great sites such as IGN can occasionally get confused about grammar, but as a trick to include a photo of Wolverine in this post. (Hey, you try to come up with a cool image that represents homophone confusion.)

We’d like to believe everyone knows what a compliment is: to say something nice to someone. Compliment can be a noun or verb. Here’s a fine way to compliment Wolverine:

“Gee, Wolverine, what wonderfully shiny claws you have. To you get them professionally polished?”

Meanwhile, complement, in this usage, is something that, when added to another quality, makes something complete or whole:

“Wolverine, your unbridled aggression is the perfect complement to Cyclops’ cool reserve on the X-Men team.”

Complement can also mean the quantity or number needed to make something whole: “The addition of Wolverine gave the X-Men a full complement of mutant superheroes.”

Spell check is not your friend: discreet vs. discrete

spHere’s the first appearance of another new segment at the wewriteforyou.com blog: Spell check is not your friend.

Sure, spell check can be a useful utility. But it is not necessarily your friend. Because as soon as you start to rely too much on your spell checker, it will toss you under the bus.

That’s because spell checkers do a fine job of recognizing words from non-words, but they’re still a long way (mostly) from knowing whether you’re using the right word.

Today’s case in point: the homophones discreet and discrete. With growing regularity, we’re seeing writers using discrete when they mean to use discreet. (We almost never see it the other way around.)

Discreet means “prudent” or “tactful” — many people also use it to mean “subtle,” which we suppose is okay. Discrete, however, means “distinct or “separate.” For example… (more…)

The Best Writing Tip Ever: “Have went,” NEVER. “Have gone,” sure.

Tom Petty HAS GONE to the theater. The Heartbreakers HAVE GONE to the theater. (Now maybe Petty SHOULD GO for a haircut and a shave.)

Tom Petty HAS GONE to the theater. The Heartbreakers HAVE GONE to the theater. (Now maybe Petty SHOULD GO for a haircut and shave.)

We’re going with the assumption that virtually anyone reading this blog already knows this, but maybe we shouldn’t: there is no such phrase as “have went.” Not ever. Never, ever, ever.

We bring this up because we recently “officially” joined Twitter (shameless plug: click here to follow us on Twitter), and one of our followers claims to have three undergraduate degrees. He further claims to be working on a postgraduate one.

We have no reason to doubt these claims, yet he recently “tweeted” that a certain talk show host’s rating “have went up” in recent days.

Ouch. Total fail, man.

Presumably this particular grammatical issue hasn’t hurt him so far — he’s apparently well-educated and always well-spoken (well, at least until now). But maybe it has.

Maybe writing “have went” cost him a fellowship here or a promotion there. He’ll never know. An employer just passed him by, not knowing he’s a very bright guy making one very bad grammatical error.

For the record, it’s “I went to the store” or “I have gone to the store,” and so on. You never say “I should have went to her birthday party.” You should have gone.

(Speaking of which, you really should have gone to her birthday party. What, were you too cheap to buy a present?)

As usual, we won’t bore you with the English 101 details. Just understand that “have” and “went” should never be adjacent. (And next time, go to the party!)

Informal doesn’t always mean unprofessional

…just as “formal” doesn’t always mean professional. Here’s what we mean:

Your job as a writer is to service the reader — whoever the particular reader is in that particular instance.

Nice shirt, nice tie, but decidedly unprofessional.

Nice shirt, nice tie, but decidedly unprofessional.

For some readers, your thoughts will be best expressed through very clinical, technical wording — very formal, if you will. Others might benefit more from a light, conversational tone — quite informal, if you will.

Just because your tone is informal doesn’t make it unprofessional. We could have written this post, for example, with no contractions — “Here is” and “does not,” for example.

While that’s more formal, it doesn’t make the post easier to read. Contractions are grammatically correct and do a fine job of lightening your writing’s tone.

An informal tone is not appropriate for all occasions, of course. And don’t use informality as an excuse to be unprofessional — but that’s a discussion for another day.

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