Friday, November 21, 2008

And the Answer Is … Whatever You Say, Boss!

“If I don’t I tell you how to decorate your house, then don’t tell me how to decorate mine!” That statement is appropriate when considering certain “rules” of writing style. A lot of those rules are determined entirely by the writer’s preference, not some grammatical law written in stone. In the corporate world, this preference is often referred to as “house style.” Here are four examples.

1. The serial comma. Although I use the use the comma before and in a series (the first example), it is optional.

I have worked for federal, state, and city agencies.
I have worked for federal, state and city agencies.

2. The superfluous that. Either of the examples below is acceptable, as both are clear. If you were running out of space, I suppose the second would be preferable.

The president said that she would make a good leader.
The president said she would make a good leader.

3. Expressing numbers both ways. As much as this practice bothers me, why argue this minor issue if it’s the house rule? There are many more points worth the fight than this one. I prefer the first example below, but not all of my clients do.

The copper tubing has 12-millimeter holes at 2-meter intervals.
The copper tubing has 12 (twelve)-millimeter holes at 2 (two)-meter intervals.

4. Punctuating a salutation. The standard remains the colon; however, some companies use the comma and others nothing at all. You can find examples of all three below in different organizations.

Dear Mr. Rodriguez:
Dear Mr. Rodriguez,
Dear Mr. Rodriguez

The main thing to remember about house style is this: Give the bosses whatever they ask for since these are such minor matters. Save your debates for the bigger issues, such as directness of style, completeness of content, and organization of ideas.