Writing Tips

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Use a before words beginning with a consonant or consonant sound (including y or w sounds).
Use an before words beginning with a vowel or vowel sound.

a lot/alot
Write the phrase as two words: a lot. The phrase is very informal and should not be used in technical writing.

Accept is a verb meaning "consent to," "agree to take," or "admit willingly."
Except is a preposition meaning "other than" or "excluding."

Advice is a noun that means "counsel" or "suggestion."
(i.e. My advice is to sign the contract today.)
Advise is a verb that means "give advice."
(i.e. I advise you to sign the contract today.)

Affect is a verb that means "influence."
Effect can function as a verb that means "bring about" or "cause" or as a noun that means "result." It is best to avoid using effect as a verb. A less formal word, such as made, is preferable.

agree to/agree with
When you agree to something, you are "giving consent."
When you agree with something, you are "in accord" with it.

all right/all-right/alright
All right means "all correct," as in "The answers were all right." It means "good" or "acceptable." It is always written as two words, with no hyphen; all-right and alright are incorrect.

Allude means to make an indirect reference to something not specifically mentioned.
Elude means to escape notice or detection.
Refer is used to indicate a direct reference to something.

An allusion is an indirect reference to something not specifically mentioned.
An illusion is a mistaken perception of a false image.

already/all ready
Already is an adverb expressing time.
All ready is a two-word phrase meaning "completely prepared."

awhile/a while
Awhile is an adverb meaning "for a short time."
A while is a noun phrase that means "a period of time."

Bad is an adjective that follows linking verbs such as feel and look.
Badly is an adverb.

Between is normally used to relate two items or persons.
Among is used to relate more than two.

cannot/can not
Cannot is one word.

Capital refers to either financial assets or to the city that hosts the government of a state or nation.
Capitol is written with a small c when it refers to a state building, but is always capitalized when it refers to the home of the United States Congress in Washington, D.C.

connected with/in connection with
Both are wordy phrases that can usually be replaced by in or with.

Continual means "happening over and over" or "frequently repeated."
Continuous means "occurring without interruption" or "unbroken."

each and every
Although this phrase is commonly used, it's redundant. Replace with each or every.

Eminent describes someone or something that is outstanding or distinguished.
Imminent describes something that is about to happen.

few/a few
In certain contexts, few carries more negative overtones than the phrase a few does.
(i.e. You have made a few good points. ~positive
       You have made few good points. ~negative)

Fewer refers to items that can be counted.
Less refers to mass quantities or amounts.

Foreword is a noun meaning "introductory statement at the beginning of a book or other work."
Forward is an adjective or adverb meaning "at or toward the front."

Good is an adjective. (i.e. John presented a good plan.)
Well is an adverb. (The plan was presented well.)
However, well can also be used as an adjective to describe someone's health.
(i.e. She is not well. She is looking well.)

i before e except after c

In means "inside of".
Into implies movement from the outside to the inside.

inside/inside of
In the phrase inside of, the word of is redundant and should be omitted.

Lay is a transitive verb and means "place" or "put." Its present tense form is lay. The past tense form of lay is laid. The perfect tense form is also laid.
Lie is an intransitive verb and means "recline" or "remain." Its present tense form is lie. The past tense form of lie is lay. The past perfect tense is lain.

Loose is an adjective meaning "not fastened" or "unrestrained."
Lose is a verb meaning "be deprived of" or "fail to win."

maybe/may be
Maybe (one word) is an adverb meaning "perhaps."
(i.e. Maybe the legal staff can resolve the issue.)
May be (two words) is a verb phrase.
(i.e. It may be necessary to ask for outside help.)

Nor always follows neither in a sentence.
(i.e. They will neither support nor approve the plan.)
Or always follows either in a sentence.
(i.e. They will accept either a short-term or a long-term loan.)

Numbers zero through nine should always be spelled out in a sentence. For numbers 10 and above, use the number in sentences. Always spell out the number at the beginning of a sentence.

The expression okay (also spelled OK or O.K.) is common in informal writing but should be avoided in more formal writings or reports.

On is a preposition maning "supported by," "attached to," or "located at."
Onto implies movement to a position on or movement up and on.

Oral refers to what is spoken.
Verbal literally means "in words" and can refer to what is spoken or written.
To avoid confusion, do not use verbal if you can use written or oral.

per cent/percent/percentage
Percent is used instead of the symbol (%) except in tables.
Percentage, which is never used with numbers, indicates a general size.

Personal is an adjective meaning "of or pertaining to an individual person."
Personnel is a noun meaning a "group of people engaged in a common job."

possessive case
A noun or pronoun is in the possessive case when it represents a person or thing owning or possessing something.

Singular nouns show the possessive by adding an apostrophe and s.
(i.e. company/company's)

Nouns that form their plurals by adding an s show the possessive by placing an apostrophe after the s that forms the plural.
(i.e. a managers' meeting/ the technicians' handbooks)

Singular, plural, and possessive nouns that form their plurals by adding s or changing y to ies:
* singular                             company            employee
* singular possessive           company's          employee's
* plural                                companies          employees
* plural possessive               companies          employees'

Nouns that do not add s to form their plurals add an apostrophe and s to show possession in both the plural and the singular forms:
* singular                             child                    man
* singular possessive           child's                  man's
* plural                                children                men
* plural possessive               children's             men's

Singular nouns that end in s form the possessive either by adding only an apostrophe or by adding both an apostrophe and an s:
* a waitress' uniform/an actress' career
* a waitress's uniform/an actress's career

With coordinate nouns, the last noun takes the possessive form to show joint possession:
(i.e. Michelson and Morely's famous experiment on the velocity of light was made in 1887.)

To show individual possession with coordinate nouns, each noun should take the possessive form:
(i.e. The difference between Thomasson's and Silson's test results were insignificant.)

When a noun ends in multiple consecutive s sounds, form the possessive by adding only an apostrophe:
(i.e. Coles' house, Moses' journey, Jones' mailbox)

Principal means "amount of money on which interest is earned or paid," "chief official in a school," and is also an adjective and means "main" or "primary."
Principle means basic truth or belief.

Both raise and rise mean "move to a higher position." However, raise is a transitive verb and always takes an object (raise crops), whereas rise is an intransitive verb and never takes an object (heat rises).

Who refers to persons, whereas that and which refer to animals and things.

There is an expletive or an adverb.
Their is the possessive form of they.
They're is a contraction of they are.

To is used as a preposition.
Too is an adverb meaning "excessively" or "also."
Two is a number.

Both words are acceptable variant spellings of the preposition meaning "in the direction of."
Toward is more common in the United States.
Towards is more common in Great Britain.

whether or not
When whether or not is used to indicate a choice, omit or not; it's redundant.

When in doubt of which form to use, try substituting a personal pronoun to see which one fits.
* If he or they fits, use who.
* If him or them fits, use whom.

Who's is a contraction of who is.
Whose is the possessive for who or of which.

X-ray is usually capitalized and always hyphenated as an adjective and verb and usually hyphenated as a noun.

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