Usage

Be Accurate. Be Clear. Be Concise.

Avoid inaccuracy, vagueness, ambiguity, triteness, jargon, and wordiness. See also Troublesome Terms.


Active Voice

To best identify who is responsible for what action in a sentence, avoid using passive voice. The person or agency who is taking an action should be the subject of the sentence.

The council proposed new regulations.
not
New regulations were proposed.


Agreement

Nouns must agree with verbs in number (i.e., singular or plural).

Each student consults an advisor.
but
Smart students consult advisors.

Whenever possible, maintain the same verb tense throughout a single communication. Use the present tense for habitual actions, and reserve will for events that actually occur in the future.

Students buy (not will buy) their books when they arrive in September.
but
The soccer game will be played next Friday.


Bafflegab and Gobbledygook

Avoid complicated, highfalutin, obscure, pompous, wordy language that is likely to confuse the reader. Bafflegab is, as Milton Smith so accurately charged, “multiloquence characterized by consummate interfusion of circumlocution or periphrasis, inscrutability, and other familiar manifestations of abstruse expatiation commonly utilized for promulgations implementing Procrustean determinations by governmental bodies.”

In short, avoid language that clouds meaning.


Computer Terms

Use the following forms:

  • database (not data base or data-base)
  • email (not E-mail or e-mail)
  • homepage (not home page)
  • internet (not Internet)
  • online (not on-line)
  • web (not Web)
  • website (not web site or web-site)
  • World Wide Web (not World-Wide Web)

Denotation

Although some words may seem to be interchangeable, try to use the best term to express your intended meaning. The verbs assure, ensure, and insure illustrate this kind of precise word choice.

I assure you that it’s true.
Arrive early to ensure yourself a seat.
You should insure valuable property.


Euphemisms

Substitute clear, simple words for vague, misleading euphemisms: tax increase, not revenue enhancement; died, not passed away; fired, not terminated. Call things by their most common names.


Jargon

Avoid marketing lingo, institution-speak, or technical words, phrases, and idioms of a particular class, profession, or occupation. Their use tends to sound exclusive and can often alienate the reader.

All the fish died. (not The biota exhibited a 100 percent mortality response.)

When jargon is necessary, explain or define terms that will be difficult for most readers to understand.


Parallelism

Parallel structures require parallel forms. For example, a numbered list should be given either in complete sentences or in sentence fragments, not a mixture of both.

Two requirements must be met:

  1. At least a 3.50 grade point average in upper‑division economics courses
  2. A research paper, written under the guidance of a faculty member, for 4 credits in Research (EC 401)

or

Fulfill two requirements:

  1. Attain a 3.50 grade point average or better in upper-division economics courses
  2. Write a research paper under the guidance of a faculty member for 4 credits in Research (EC 401)

Pronouns

Avoid the use of awkward or unpronounceable pronoun combinations.

his or her (not his/her)
him or her (not him/her)
he or she (not s/he)

Another way of avoiding sexist pronouns is to use plural forms that refer to both men and women.

Students may pick up their pay checks Monday morning.

Reflexive pronouns (myself, ourselves, yourself, yourselves, himself, herself, itself, themselves) refer to people or things already mentioned or implied in the same sentence.

I took the photograph myself.
Deliver it to the director yourself.
Deliver it to the director herself or to me. (not to the director or myself)
Call Ms. Allajian or me for more information. (not Ms. Allajian or myself)
Either Dan or I can help you. (not Dan or myself)

and not

To extract a critical response from anyone such as myself involves a good deal of incentive.


Websites and URLs

Brevity and simplicity are best, so the preferred URL form is the shortest and simplest that works. Check that the URL works in web browsers as listed in your text document.

Drop the hypertext transfer protocol (http://) if the reader can get to the URL without it. However, in instances involving the listing of secure websites, always include the https:// prefix.

Avoid breaking URLs over two lines. Refer to The Chicago Manual of Style, Section 7.42, for further instructions.


Word Choice

Think of who will read your writing before using jargon, terms with special meaning, or unexplained abbreviations or acronyms. The general public or people in other fields may not understand them, so endeavor to be as inclusive as possible when composing your message. Strive for simplicity and clarity.

Except for common Latin abbreviations such as e.g. or i.e., spell out words or phrases before abbreviating them.

grade point average (first use)
GPA (subsequent uses)

Graduate Record Examinations (first use)
GRE (subsequent uses)

Avoid using -wise or -wide as a suffix.

She gives fascinating lectures. (not Lecture wise, she's a fascinating teacher.)
Distribute the fliers throughout the campus. (not campus wide)

Use nouns as nouns and verbs as verbs.

That decision had an impact on my life. (not That decision impacted my life.)
The subject code has been changed from ARE to AAD. (not The subject code has transitioned from ARE to AAD.)

In general, avoid adding -ize to a noun or adjective to create a verb.

The plans will be completed (not finalized) by May 1.

Beware of overstatement and exaggeration.