The devil is in the details

One lowly apostrophe separates a business that knows its shit from a business that knows it’s shit.

A single letter will turn my precious husband into my previous husband.

Many of us have left the “l” out of at least one public appearance.

The point is, small mistakes matter. Take this example from DamnYouAutocorrect:

What are your worst small mistakes?

Editor etiquette

When you critique other people’s work, it’s hard not to compare what you’re reading to what you would have done. “He should have started with a quote,” you think, shaking your head. Or “Oh God, not the passive voice!”

This attitude will not make you popular with your colleagues. More to the point, it doesn’t serve the project.

If the writer is guilty of poor grammar or word choice, awkward phrasing or other laziness, you need to call him on it. But before you do, think about what’s really bothering you. Is it the way he writes? Or the fact that he doesn’t write like you?

When the writer does make a mistake, your criticism should be constructive. Scrawling “AWK” all over the piece won’t help. Neither will rewriting it–he’ll be insulted and you’ll be angry that you had to spend so much time on someone else’s work. Try to offer concrete suggestions (“rephrase as an active statement,” “eliminate repetition”) and vent your frustration somewhere other than on the page.

Capital punishment

It’s Saturday evening and I had a glass of wine before I wrote this, so I have to share: God, I hate extraneous capital letters. They smack of self-important posturing and unearned respect. People who use them seem to think they add weight and importance, much as the use of the third person does for the Queen. But the truth is that they’re just annoying.

Law firms are major offenders, especially those that refer to themselves as “The Firm.” Why is your firm “The Firm” while Weedy, Footsore & Dank LLP is not? Or is every firm “The Firm?” What about proper names that include those two words, like the John Grisham novel and the San Francisco boutique?

Here are the rules, people: A person’s title is capitalized when it precedes his or her name and is therefore seen as part of the name—Judge Judy, President Barroso. Further references to the person holding the title appear in lowercase: the judge, the president.

The name of a group is capitalized when it is the full name: the Department of Bloodsucking Bottomfeeders. Further references are lowercased: the department.

Which means that Backbite, Snivel and Drone is a firm, not The Firm. You’re welcome.

I must dash

I admit it—I use too many em dashes. I just—I don’t know—all right, I love them. It’s as if—in some indefinable way—they express the ebb and flow of my thoughts. Which—for some reason—I need to share with you.

Should I curb my enthusiasm for the em dash? Sometimes I’m just being lazy; where colons, semicolons or commas are appropriate, they should be used instead. When I’m blithering (as above) or repeating myself, they should be slashed without mercy.

But occasionally—where emphasis is needed—I think they have a place in business writing. Do you?